Utilizing BIM for Sustainable Architecture

An analysis and continuation of my graduate thesis at the University of Texas at Austin.

Abstract

The purpose of this thesis is to determine if Building Information Modeling (BIM) is an effective means for encouraging stakeholder collaboration throughout the building design/construction process and improving upon affordable and sustainable strategies for infill housing development.

The research methodology includes literature reviews, interviews, case studies, simulations, and experimentations. Literature reviews include documentation regarding BIM, housing affordability and policy, sustainable design strategies, and integrated design practice. I conducted interviews with local stakeholders who had participated in local affordable/sustainable housing projects. The primary case study was the Alley Flat Initiative (2003-2010) which I had the opportunity to be involved with in various capacities as a participant observer. Simulations were performed using a BIM software tool to ‘redesign’ the first Alley Flat Initiative prototype and compare design workflows. Finally, experimentation was done involving the instruction of BIM software and exploring its use within an academic design studio environment.

The findings indicate four significant conclusions. First, the research suggests that inflated soft project costs (overhead, administration, and services) can be reduced if local city governments were to adopt BIM in conjunction with housing review and permitting processes. In addition, the city could use BIM data to quantify building impacts on energy and resources over time. Second, sustainability innovation can be easier to integrate within a BIM workflow due to the high-capacity of the software to exchange information with third-part analysis tools. One particular barrier that must be overcome, however, are financial barriers due to software and staff training costs associated with BIM technology. Third, BIM requires ‘front-loading’ projects with more information earlier in the design process, which encourages greater transparency and more direct collaboration between stakeholders. A fully leveraged BIM workflow may not be feasible beyond local small-scale architects and builders due to the relatively steep learning curve and higher software costs, but a hybrid approach might be possible depending on how residential construction practices and BIM software development evolves in the near future. And fourth, BIM can make project information centralized, accessible, and long-lasting – serving as a communication and learning tool across disciplines and between expert and non-expert participants.

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