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AECbytes "Building the Future" Article (June 21, 2006)

AIA Integrated Practice 2006 Conference

In the last AECbytes newsletter, I captured the highlights of the AIA TAP (Technology in Architectural Practice) conference that was one of the pre-convention workshops preceding the annual US AIA National Convention and Expo 2006, held in Los Angeles from June 8 to Jun 10. The TAP conference was followed the next day by an associated, but separate event, the AIA Integrated Practice conference. While both conferences had a similar format, the TAP conference was more focused on the application of technology within the architectural profession while the Integrated Practice conference took a broader look at technology and process changes across the building industry as a whole.

Entitled "Architecture on the Edge," the Integrated Practice conference featured an opening and closing session, and 9 concurrent sessions in three groups on topics such as the fundamental business issues that must be resolved to achieve the vision of integrated practice, the joys and pains of process changes needed to implement BIM, how construction firms are using BIM, alternate project delivery models, increasing design cost awareness through improved collaboration between the architect and contractor, a new AIA document being developed to encourage project participants to discuss and finalize a project's digital requirements, integrated practice in action at the GSA (General Services Administration), and the use of BIM in the design of the Freedom Tower. The highlights of the three breakout sessions I was able to attend, the issues discussed during the opening and closing sessions, and my analysis of the conference as a whole are captured in this issue of the AECbytes "Building the Future" series.

The Use of BIM (or is it DIM?) by Mortenson Construction

This session was intriguingly entitled, "Leading BIM in Integrated Practice (If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!)," and it was supposed to discuss three architects' recent projects and experiences working for a contractor, leading design/construction projects by leveraging BIM. The three presenters of this session—Dace A. Campbell, David Stone, and Philip Lazarus—were all former practicing architects who are now working with Mortenson Construction, a firm that is already well known for its use of 3D and 4D technology. One of my recent articles, "BIM Symposium at the University of Minnesota," included an overview of a presentation by Jim Yowan, Vice President of Mortenson Construction, who described how the firm used 3D/4D technology in challenging projects such as the Walt Disney Concert Hall (designed by Frank Gehry) and the Denver Art Museum Expansion (designed by Daniel Libeskind). While there is little doubt that relative to construction firms, Mortenson is very advanced in its use of technology (the only other U.S. firm that comes to mind in this regard is Webcor Builders), the Mortenson presenters at the Integrated Practice session started off, in my opinion, on a wrong footing by derogatorily referring to current BIM solutions like Revit and ArchiCAD as DIM solutions, where DIM stands for Drawing Information Modeling. Their rationale was that these products are being used primarily by architects for drawing production at the moment, and that no one is still doing BIM fully yet, going by their definition of it—which is "digital, spatial, accessible, comprehensive, measurable, and durable information." And then, after calling BIM as DIM, they then spent the rest of the session describing how Mortenson is doing BIM!

Provocative statements reflecting such condescending attitudes—that architects are doing DIM while contractors are doing BIM—are likely to drive architects and contractors further apart rather than foster collaboration and nurture integrated practice, and should be avoided, particularly if they are not even accurate to begin with. Architects may be primarily realizing the automated drawing production benefits of BIM applications right now, but that doesn't make the applications dumb or DIM. They have the ability to support analysis and evaluation, and when more of these tools are developed, architects will be using them to carry out various analyses such as energy, cost, daylighting, egress, circulation, code-checking, and so on (see the articles, "Building Energy Performance—Going Mainstream" and "CORENET e-PlanCheck: Singapore's Automated Code Checking System"). In fact, I believe that eventually, the use of such tools will become mandatory in order to ensure that a proposed building meets the required standards of quality control. BIM applications are also being used by architects and engineers for multi-disciplinary collaboration, and in some cases, for downstream processes such as cost estimating, fabrication, and so on (see the article, "Multi-Disciplinary BIM at Work at GHAFARI Associates"). Taking all these developments into account, by what stretch of imagination can BIM applications be called DIM?

But getting back to the presentation by the three architects who, in their words, "jumped the fence" to go to Mortenson, they provided, after their initial faux pas, a useful overview of Mortenson's use of BIM. This can range from simple visualization of a project in 3D to more advanced uses such as analyzing complex conditions, clash detection, MEP coordination, 4D scheduling, constructability review, creating composite site models and concrete lift models, prefabrication and assembly of components offsite, as well as onsite construction activities such as the layout of concrete decks and studying the accessibility of specific portions of the building. If the architects and engineers do not provide 3D models for a project, Mortenson creates them from scratch using the 2D drawings. The firm has created a specific position called the "design contractor," typically filled by an architect or engineer, who ensures constructability of a project during construction using BIM. Mortenson is realizing numerous benefits from its use of BIM, including reduced RFIs, reduced construction errors, and improved scheduling. The presenters also shared some lessons they have learnt, such as making the model as detailed as possible, using BIM for any type of building, and getting everyone in the same room during design development whenever possible so that all the critical decisions can be made in real time. The company is in the middle of developing metrics to determine the impact of using BIM, as it is seeing a lot of interest in BIM among contractors. With regard to modeling software, it uses a variety of applications including SketchUp, ADT, ABS, and Revit.

Interestingly, there was no mention of cost estimating in Mortenson's presentation, in contrast to the BIM implementation of Webcor Builders, for example, which has been using Graphisoft's Virtual Construction solutions for cost estimating in addition to scheduling and constructability review (see the articles "BIM and Process Improvement" by Jim Bedrick of Webcor Builders and "BIM Goes Mainstream: Graphisoft's New Virtual Construction Solutions"). This is significant as tasks like multi-disciplinary coordination, clash detection, and 4D scheduling do not really require BIM—any geometric model will suffice. The application, NavisWorks, which is used by Mortenson for all these tasks is a generic, geometry-based solution that works for any industry dealing with 3D design, rather than being a building-specific solution (see my review of NavisWorks 3). So one could technically argue that Mortenson's use of 3D technology is not really BIM, and will not be until it creates true BIM models from which, at the very least, quantities can be automatically extracted for cost estimation. This struck me as truly ironical, considering the Mortenson architects had started their presentation by disparaging BIM solutions as DIM!

Alternative Business Models for Project Delivery

In this session, Tony Rinella of Anshen+Allen and Jim Bedrick of Webcor Builders described some new delivery models being tested in different parts of the world, which base the compensation of the project team members on the value of the project rather than its cost, and provide tangible rewards for value creation and effective team collaboration. This is in contrast to most project delivery models currently in use in the US where the compensation is based on cost alone, providing little incentive for team members to put in any extra effort to increase value and reduce costs.

One such alternative delivery method is called Performance Contracting. Here, the A/E team puts in extra effort to create a more energy efficient building. The client, in turn, puts a certain amount of fee in escrow for 2 years. After that time period, the performance of the building is evaluated. If the energy efficiency goals have been met and it is ascertained that the building performance will save the client money down the road in operating costs, the fee held in escrow is then released to the A/E firm or firms.

Another method is Shared Savings, which is used at Webcor Builders. Here, projects are undertaken based on a maximum projected cost of construction that is agreed upon between the client and the contractor. If the final construction costs come below the projected cost, the savings are split between the client and the contractor. But if the final costs exceed the projected costs, the difference is fully paid by the contractor. There is a certain amount of risk involved for the contractor, of course, but it also motivates the contractor to increase the efficiency of construction and keep a close watch on the costs to keep them under control.

The most recent alternative delivery method, which incorporates the experiences and lessons learnt from the earlier methods, is Project Alliance, which has been implemented in Australia on 30 to 40 projects in the last few years. In this method, all the parties involved in the design and construction of a project—owners, designers and consultants, and builders and subcontractors—come together as members of the Alliance and commit to an enforceable no-blame contract. This involves various aspects such as a collective obligation to the project, limited right of action, and no prescribed dispute resolution mechanism. The bottom line is that no one can sue unless one of the parties actually defaults in some way. There is also a shared risk/reward mechanism whereby any profit or loss relative to the projected cost is shared among all the Alliance members. The joint responsibility also ensures that the cost savings in the project do not come at the expense of quality. Setting up a Project Alliance for a project is quite involved, with an elaborate selection process to decide on the members—potential candidates are required to attend a two day screening workshop. An interim PAA (Project Alliance Agreement) is established, which is then developed into the final PAA that gets executed. Currently, all the projects in Australia that have adopted Project Alliance as the delivery method have been large, complex projects (over $55 million) that have a tight timeframe. The upfront costs are higher and it calls for a high level of senior staff involvement. But the returns speak for themselves—on most of the projects, the actual cost of the project has come below the estimated cost and the projects have finished months ahead of schedule.

Project Alliance seems very promising as a model for other countries to follow. Most of the projects, as mentioned earlier, have been very successful. The experience of the design teams is also very positive, with their compensation being higher than in regular projects. Decision-making is fast, and all the parties have the incentive to achieve the design goals. Instead of each party trying to only optimize their tasks, there is the collective attitude of "sink or swim together" and "let's do what is best for the project." A professional facilitator is typically involved in putting the Alliance together, and there is constant third-party checking to evaluate the faithfulness of the project to the design intent. While BIM has not yet been used in any of the Alliance projects, there is a natural co-relation between the two, and they will probably come together in the future.

SOM's Use of BIM on the Freedom Tower Project

In the last couple of years, SOM's Freedom Tower project has become the "poster boy" project for the use of Autodesk Revit and BIM (see the AECbytes newsletters on Autodesk University 2005 and Autodesk University 2004). At the Integrated Practice conference, Paul Seletsky, the Digital Design Director of SOM's New York office, which is leading the Freedom Tower project, co-presented a session with Phil Bernstein of Autodesk, where he provided an overview of the use of BIM on this project and placed it in the context of SOM's overall approach to technology. SOM had actually been looking at the concept of BIM 25 years ago, and since no such tools were available at that time, it went ahead and developed its own building modeling system, AES, which integrated all building components including building systems and structural engineering. AES was subsequently acquired by IBM who planned to develop it further and market it commercially, but for various reasons, those plans did not materialize. SOM switched to using AutoCAD in 1992. When the concept of BIM was popularized by Autodesk Revit, SOM naturally gravitated towards it, given its history with AES, and has been implementing it since 2000. SOM's overall technological vision includes not just BIM but also associated tasks such as visualization, analysis and simulation, automated documentation, and construction sequencing, as well as more advanced concepts such as building to model feedback, model to building feedback, and robotic construction.

For the Freedom Tower project, the full use of BIM happened almost by accident. In the original design proposed in 2003, the project team started using Revit to model just the complex subgrade levels of the building in order to better visualize them. The effort was led by Revit expert, James Vandezande, and is briefly described in his AECbytes Viewpoint article, "In the Trenches with BIM," published in July 2004. It was found so useful that the team went ahead and modeled some other portions of the tower's lower and main core, and then found that they "could not stop." It was then that SOM decided to formally adopt the use of Revit for the complete project. Its complexity brought to light several issues with the software, which Autodesk went out of its way to address, as they wanted the project to be successful. SOM was also able to convince project engineers Cantor Seinuk Group (CSG) and Jaros Baum & Bolles, Inc (JB&B), to use Revit Structure and Revit Systems respectively, which were available in beta at that time. Security concerns necessitated a redesign of the Freedom Tower in 2005, and by then, the entire design team was collaborating using the Revit platform. Autodesk Buzzsaw was used for project coordination, and the web-based collaboration was greatly facilitated by the use of the DWF format. The size and complexity of the project has posed no significant problems, with three linked models coming together in one Revit file.

While SOM has realized the most common benefits of using BIM in the Freedom Tower project such as automated and coordinated documentation, improved visualization, exploring more design options easily, and improved multi-disciplinary collaboration, it was somewhat disappointing to find little evidence of the use of tools for analyzing energy use, traffic flows, cost, and other aspects of the building that made use of the Revit model of the Freedom Tower. For such a signature project where security and emergency egress would be one of the main driving factors of the design, it is not clear how the use of BIM helped SOM to ensure that the design satisfied security concerns, as well as energy goals and other key criteria. As I pointed out earlier, one of the most critical aspects of BIM is its ability to support analysis and evaluation, and it would be good to see more evidence of this in signature projects that are showcased for their use of BIM.

Other Issues Discussed, Analysis, and Conclusions

As in the TAP conference, the Integrated Practice conference had an opening and closing session in addition to the breakout sessions. Many of the issues discussed here were the same that had been discussed at the TAP conference the previous day. However, since this conference was taking a broader look at integrated practice rather than only the technological aspect of it, there were some additional points that were highlighted. It was posited that what was needed to make integrated practice—defined as a collaborative, integrated process encompassing all project stakeholders—a reality was leadership by the owner, an integrated project structure, and virtual modeling tools. The key elements needed for the transformation are thinking beyond project costs to include other significant aspects of the building, BIM, open information sharing, strategic preplanning, rethinking of contracts, and effective contingency and cost management. The benefits of integrated practice over the traditional approach are analogous to the benefits of BIM implementation over CAD, except that they apply to entire projects and not just individual practices. The AIA is pushing the cause of integrated practice by putting together discussion groups and a strategic workgroup, as well as spreading awareness among architects through events such as the BIM panel discussion at last year's AIA National Convention (described in AECbytes Newsletter #22). The AIA also has a website devoted to integrated practice and it has put together a "Report on Integrated Practice" featuring contributions from industry practitioners, researchers, educators, vendors, and consultants such as Thom Mayne, Chuck Eastman, Renee Cheng, Ian Howell, Kristine Fallon, and others. The inaugural copies of this report were handed out at the conference.

Organizations such as CURT (Construction Users Round Table), an influential public/private owners group, are also strongly pushing for integrated practice. They are aiming to communicate the benefits of this transformation to owners, most notably, reduced cost, improved quality, and less litigation. CURT is doing this through a series of white papers, and has also partnered with the AIA to form an A/E Productivity Committee to explore how productivity can be improved in the building design process. Other noteworthy happenings are a joint summit of the AIA and the AGC (Associated General Contractors of America) that was recently held in May to foster closer collaboration between architects and contractors. That, after all, is one of the most critical components of successful integrated practice.

Another important aspect that was discussed, which surprisingly did not come up during the earlier TAP conference, was the disconnect between education and professional practice. There is already a critical shortage of people with BIM expertise—many audience members even complained of how their "BIM people" were "getting poached" by other firms!—which is only going to be exacerbated if the students graduating from our universities have no knowledge of BIM and integrated practice. So far, very few universities have incorporated BIM into their curriculums, but some universities such as the University of Minnesota have made a good start (see the AECbytes article, "BIM Symposium at the University of Minnesota"). Hopefully, other universities will soon follow suit.

In conclusion, I have to say that in terms of the types of sessions and the issues that were discussed, there was so much overlap between the TAP and Integrated Practice conferences that it begs the question of whether these should even be organized as separate conferences in the first place. And if they continue to do so going forward, they should be differentiated more strongly from each other. For the Integrated Practice conference, efforts should be made to invite participation from engineers, contractors, and owners to share their experiences and lessons learnt. If mostly architects are represented, the discussions are going to keep revolving around the same architect-centric issues that are brought up at the TAP conference. A broader representation and audience will be critical to drive the integrated practice movement forward.

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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