Utilizing BIM for Sustainable Architecture

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

Archive for the ‘BIM & Stakeholders – Communication & Workflows’ Category

How do we improve AEC relationships in an economic downturn?

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on September 24, 2010

I came across an insightful post by Phil Bernstein entitled: “The Destruction of Trust,” which talks about the current state of AEC groups during this economic downturn.  Generally speaking, the combination of high-unemployment, low-balling fees, cut-throat bidding and skepticism within the building industry has created a climate of distrust between AEC groups.  The biggest fear, according to Bernstein, is that the surviving AEC groups and the building industry as a whole could be permanently damaged if these trends continue.  The key to avoiding this fate would be for all project stakeholders to maintain a vested interest and commitment to long-term sustainable practices (not only environmental, but also economical and social), which would include not low-balling fees and the discouraging of highly competitive bidding practices.

The practice of developing healthy relationships between stakeholders might be a good credo or mission statement, but I believe it is much harder to put into practice.  So how can this goal be achieved in a practical fashion; how do you create trust in a distrustful environment?  Well, as I explain in Chapter 5 of my thesis, my theory is that “collaboration can happen earlier in the design process and new relationships can solidify faster with the use of BIM.”  I realize that BIM, in and of itself, is probably not a panacea for eliminating the ills currently afflicting the building industry, but this economic downturn presents an opportunity for AEC groups to use BIM as a means for holding everyone to a higher standard of accountability and creating more transparent decision-making workflows.  I believe this opportunity will determine which AEC groups will survive over the long-run and will inevitably shape a lasting impression on the building industry as a whole.

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AIA Article on Green Affordable Housing

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 27, 2010

The Greening of America’s Public Housing: More Options, More Technologies, More Support” by Mike Singer.  This article discusses the growing interest by affordable housing developers to specify “green materials and energy-efficient technologies.”  Since affordable housing projects have long-term financing structures (they need to remain affordable over a period of “x” number of years), there is a concerted interested in utilizing durable green technologies to minimize long-term maintenance and operational costs.  Apparently, HUD has green criteria associated with its affordable housing funding, but it is voluntary compliance at the moment.  (For more information about HUD affordable/green housing funds, see my previous post).  In the case of the Alley Flat Initiative, the City of Austin has an incentive for developers/builders to meet green building criteria in exchange for waiving inspection and permitting fees.  The addition of energy-efficient buildings are in the city’s best interest, since Austin Energy is the city-owned utility company.

I’m interested to know how many of these projects have explored or are leveraging the capabilities of BIM to further improve upon affordable/sustainable goals.  I discuss the potential benefits of BIM in Chapter 3 and Chapter 5 of my thesis as a means for reducing hard/soft project costs and for performing a wide array of analysis to improve overall energy/resource efficiency.  Perhaps, along with requiring green building criteria, HUD could also require the use of BIM for the design/construction process – I know this would be a huge leap and could potentially stall the development of affordable/green housing since most non-profit developers and small-scale architects have still not invested in BIM technology.  Nevertheless, housing authorities and funding organizations like HUD or city governments could help to subsidize the cost of BIM tools and even help to train staff.  I’m sure BIM developers would be open to the idea of discounting software/training costs for non-profit groups.

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BIM/IPD workflow and collaboration

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 13, 2010

This is an older article, but it is still relevant: “NEXT-GEN BIM: Graphisoft Teamwork 2.0 will revolutionize BIM/IPD workflow and collaboration” by Jerry Laiserin, July 2009.  This is an interesting introduction and analysis of how BIM authoring tools approach project sharing and collaboration where the goal is to enable greater project integration without sacrificing workflow flexibility.  The article also brings up an interesting point regarding how worksharing capabilities tend to benefit larger firms/projects while penalizing smaller firms/projects with unnecessary management complexity.  This article focuses on the [new] teamwork framework for Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD 13.  Although I’m personally biased towards Autodesk’s Revit suite, I think they could learn a thing or two from Graphisoft’s approach and I think they are going in this direction (if not already with v2011).

For more information on this topic, see Chapter 3 of my thesis discussing BIM/IPD and comparing various BIM technologies.

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“Builders try to prove green homes can be affordable”

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 13, 2010

I came across this article about affordable ‘green’ housing developments in Oregon and Arizona.  This is positive news in a time of economic recession, but I’m not sure what the builders of these homes (or author) considers “affordable” – the Oregon housing development has housing units starting at $257,900 while the Arizona development begins at $174,900 – is this at least 80% MFI?  I doubt it.  The Alley Flat Initiative case study in Austin Texas, which I discuss in Chapter 4 of my thesis, has been able to achieve 60% MFI at $100,000 for a one-bedroom house.

The energy bills are estimated at $734 annually for the 1,640 square foot (smallest) Arizona development home.  This might sound impressive, until you look at the Passive House standards, which would cut utility costs down significantly (<$100 annually).  But the increase in design/construction quality would undoubtedly increase the upfront housing costs.  I believe the way to get around this dilemma is for builders/architects to work directly with local city governments and utility companies to help subsidize the cost of housing developments if they can be proven to achieve an energy efficiency target (net-zero for example).  This would enable housing to be more affordable without sacrificing quality and it would be a direct benefit to all stakeholders involved – the builder/architect can charge more for providing ‘green’ housing and the city and utility companies can reduce peak energy demand.  In addition, if builders, city governments and utility companies utilized the capacity of Building Information Modeling (BIM) for the design, construction and data collection for these housing developments – thinking about housing units as part of a greater interdependent ecosystem, rather than as individual and isolated buildings – it would assist in quantifying and tracking actual energy usage while provide a baseline for improvement.

Posted in 'Green' Design Strategies, Affordable & 'Green' Housing, BIM & Stakeholders - Communication & Workflows, BIM for Housing - What's the Argument?, Financing Structures | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Autodesk Project Bluestreak

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 10, 2010

Here is Autodesk’s attempt to address social networking between project design team members:

Autodesk Project Bluestreak is a web-based collaboration environment for accelerating building information modeling through the open exchange of design information and ideas between desktop applications, web-based services and people. (http://bluestreak.autodesk.com/Content/html/en/LearnMore.htm)

Autodesk Project Bluestreak homepage.

I attended Autodesk University 2009 where they presented the initial concept for this and demonstrated how social interaction could happen.  Essentially, it is a Facebook-like environment with a members list, online chat and project folders.  At that time, Project Bluestreak was envisioned as more of a social collaboration tool and not a full “enterprise solution” (i.e. online BIM server).  It might be going in that direction, but who knows.  Although this online networking tool is a promising step forward in terms of increasing design information access and feedback loops, there is still the challenge of jargon translation and universal meaning (ex. I talk about the need for a “green” roof in the design – one person might interpret that as painting the roof the color “green” and someone else might understand it [correctly] as a vegetated roofing system).  While people familiar with architectural jargon may not have a problem communicating amongst one another, the challenge is broadening the conversation to include stakeholders outside the design team proper, who may also be valuable contributors.  Refer to Chapter 5 of my thesis where I discuss some interesting research done by Dammann & Elle (2006) on the subject.

I’d be interested to see what other BIM developers are coming up with to address stakeholder collaboration and improve feedback loops.  Anyone?

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Thesis Excerpt: BIM & Social Networking

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 7, 2010

Finally, a seventh area of research involves analyzing social relationships between stakeholder groups and the communication interfaces linked to BIM models.  One challenge with the AFI, for example, has been to create a design communication methodology that is transparent and universal.  Based on research conducted by Dammann & Elle (2006), it is unlikely that a universal indicator language will be developed in the near future.  One step towards this ideal common language, (as I explained in Chapter 5) is currently being explored by Autodesk in the form of a web-based social interface for project teams that would allow for quick and easy collaboration and document sharing.  Unfortunately, this type collaborative tool is still under development and it is unclear if multiple interfaces will be developed to cater towards specific stakeholder needs and if these interfaces will be able to “translate” and facilitate the integration of various types of user knowledge.  Furthermore, it is unclear if future BIM social networking interfaces will be proprietary (specific to certain BIM platforms), or if they will support multiple platforms.  This would require greater in-depth research about stakeholder project needs with regard to specific project type(s), including affordable/sustainable housing.  Similar to comparing BIM platforms as suggested earlier under future research topic five, it would be worth comparing various web-based interfaces in terms of accessibility, programming, maintenance, and compatibility to name a few.  The development of stakeholder interfaces might lead to greater design and construction transparency in addition to faster project development timelines due to increased access to information.

Source:  Dowhower, Justin Firuz.  Adapting Building Information Modeling (BIM) for Affordable & Sustainable Housing:  Chapter 7:  Future Research.  Austin, TX:  The University of Texas at Austin, 2010.

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