Utilizing BIM for Sustainable Architecture

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

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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Thesis Excerpt: The Economy of BIM

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

A sixth topic of inquiry might involve more closely examining the economical aspects of using a BIM process to facilitate communication between stakeholders.  As I outlined in Chapter 5, the use of an alternative incentive structure oriented around BIM could significantly impact soft costs, especially for city governments, which typically incur the greatest overhead costs.  In addition, the cost savings could be used to offset the initial software purchases and continual training costs associated with higher-capacity BIM tools.  While I proposed a hypothetical incentive structure for Austin Texas, it would be beneficial to test this framework in a given city and document the observed barriers and opportunities.  The State of Texas and the State of Wisconsin both require that state buildings use a BIM process, but this regulation has yet to be mandated for other building types, such as housing.  This research would undoubtedly require the orchestration and testing of partnerships between BIM software developers, city governments, city utilities, local architects/contractors, and clients/owners.

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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Thesis Excerpt: BIM for Housing?

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

A fifth area of research not addressed in this thesis involves comparing current BIM software tools in terms of appropriateness for affordable and sustainable housing.  In an effort to conduct thorough simulation research in a reasonable timeframe, I focused solely on Autodesk’s Revit.  However, I am not convinced that this software is necessarily the ‘right tool for the job’ with regard to the design and construction of affordable and sustainable housing.  An interesting continuation of this research might involve testing various BIM tools (i.e. Vectorworks, Revit, Microstation, and ArchiCAD) for a given affordable/sustainable housing development project and comparing how each performs in specific categories.  Eastman, et al. (2008), has already compiled a pros and cons list of various BIM platforms, but the comparisons lack a specific context, stakeholder group(s), or project type.  This further research could also help to determine to what degree the technology is influential on affordability and sustainability.

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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Thesis Excerpt: BIM & Design-Analysis

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

A fourth extension of research involves developing and testing sustainable parametric ‘plug-ins’ for BIM software tools.  The intent is that design and analysis become a seamlessly integrated process, where design decisions have quantifiable results through continuous analysis, which in turn helps to inform further design optimizations.  As I explained in Chapter 2, I attempted to create a parametric photovoltaic array that could be used in a BIM tool like Revit to quickly approximate the potential for renewable energy production.  Unfortunately, it was not successful and it could be argued that other software tools (such as Ecotect and PVWATTS) are better suited to addressing this type of simulation.  One investigation could be to determine which types of sustainable analysis are appropriate for BIM tools and which should be exclusive to third-party analysis tools.  The next step would be develop some of these ‘plug-ins’ specifically for BIM tools and test their effectiveness for improving sustainable design strategies.

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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Thesis Excerpt: BIM to Digital Fabrication

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

A third area of research involves exploring the benefits of using BIM for digital fabrication.  This could take two forms:  digital fabrication for model representation (i.e. 3D printing) or digital fabrication for full-scale construction components.  A promising benefit to using BIM tools for design and documentation is that material components can be fabricated directly from the BIM model.  While this has already been done for representation and construction applications, it has yet to be applied specifically for affordable and sustainable housing development.  It would be interesting to determine how communication between stakeholders might be affected if scale models of various design options were 3D printed as opposed to hand-constructed.  Also, it would be interesting to research the cost savings by using BIM models for digital component construction to reduce waste and construction time.

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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Thesis Excerpt: Comparing Site Built vs. Prefab/Modular Construction

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

First, an issue which I mentioned in chapter 5 involved comparing site built construction with pre-fabricated and/or modular construction to offset hard costs and increase housing affordability.  In the case of the AFI, these strategies have been compared during the bidding phase for a single project which utilized a non-BIM workflow and it was determined (at the time) that pre-fabrication or modular construction was not economically feasible.  A potential area of research could be to investigate the impact a BIM workflow would have on a pre-fabricated or modular design in terms of overall construction costs.  It might be determined that the only way to make pre-fabrication or modular construction affordable (BIM or not), is to increase the scale of production.  A related and possible continuation of this research topic would be to explore the benefits of BIM versus CAD workflows for a multi-unit development.  This concept has been envisioned as a possible strategy for scaling-up the AFI, but it has yet to be tested as a real project.  Several local architects and contractors I interviewed in Austin all agreed that a multi-unit development would bring down costs, but it is unclear by how much and if BIM would have a significant impact if any.  Aside from hard costs, it could be theorized that at least soft costs could be reduced by using BIM on a multi-unit development by reducing the time needed to complete construction documents and make corrections/changes.  Overall, this research would require testing BIM and non-BIM workflow strategies for single housing developments and multiple housing developments over entire project timelines.

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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Thesis Excerpt: BIM & GIS

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

A second area of research involves combining or linking information between BIM and GIS.  Most counties and cities in the U.S. have GIS data, which typically include topography, vegetation, utilities, building footprints, streets, land-use, zoning, plots, and demographics.  This information is very valuable for gathering statistics and for development planning.  BIM on the other hand is also valuable for gathering specific information about building components and local site information.  GIS is certainly a macro-information tool and BIM by comparison would be a micro-information tool, however, each tool tends to reference information that is represented in the other.  There has been increasing interest in how GIS and BIM databases might link and share data between platforms.  Considering the current challenges in trying to achieve a usable exchange format even among proprietary BIM companies (IFC or otherwise), it seems unlikely that an even broader exchange format might be developed between these same BIM platforms and various GIS platforms.  Nonetheless, the potential benefits of merging information databases could have enormous long-term benefits for city planners and developers.

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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Congo Street Green Initiative

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 5, 2010

This is an interesting affordable/sustainable infill housing development  – similar to the Alley Flat Initiative (AFI) in Austin Texas.  This project is managed by buildingcommunity WORKSHOP, a not-for-profit community design center in Dallas, which has partnered with the University of Texas at Arlington School of Architecture, CDM AmeriCorps, and The Real Estate Council.  There is more information about this initiative on their blog: <http://bcw-congo.blogspot.com/>.  Below are some images from the house currently under construction at 4533 Congo Street.

What was interesting about the Congo Street Initiative is that the homes are being built around $50-60,000 per house (this doesn’t include soft costs, which probably adds to the cost 10-15%).  The construction labor is mostly through Americorps, which is estimated to be saving about $10,000 per project.

Besides the financial aspects, I was curious about the construction quality.  The homes built so far have achieved LEED (for Homes) Gold and Platinum certification.  My assumption is that it is similar to Austin Energy’s Green Building Program and it’s five star rating system, but I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison yet to see the differences/similarities.  The materials and building systems are typical for residential construction with the exception of increased insulation (spray foam + 2 in. rigid exterior foam).  The noticeable differences are in the details, which definitely sets this housing development apart from the typical cookie-cutter spec homes.  The homes are about 70% designed by the time construction begins and the typical project time-frame is approximately 4 months (design + construction).

In terms of design technology and communication workflows, BIM is not being utilized.  I’m in the process of finding out what the design process is like for these projects and how it compares to similar initiatives like the AFI.

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Chapter 7: Future Research – Uploaded!

Posted by Justin Firuz Dowhower, AIA, LEED AP on August 2, 2010

And finally, the last chapter of my thesis has been added, which outlines related topics of inquiry.  These topics would either benefit and be of benefit to the research I’ve compiled.  The discussion categories will undoubtedly touch on a few of these in the near future.

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