Firm Profile: HDRAECbytes Profile (October 1, 2015)

HDR, a global firm specializing in engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

Founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1917 and still headquartered there today, HDR has grown from a single 15 employee office to nearly 10,000 employees in 225 locations around the world. By the 1930s, our company helped rural communities develop the infrastructure that lifted them from frontier status. Just 20 years later, we added architectural services and expanded our engineering services to include resource management, community planning, transportation and more. Our entrepreneurial spirit continued into the 1990s, as our employee-ownership energized the company and won more global projects. We continue to collaborate with our clients to push boundaries and uncover new possibilities.

What is the firm's current focus? What are the key projects it is working on?

We specialize in engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services. While we are most well-known for adding beauty and structure to communities through high-performance buildings and smart infrastructure, we provide much more than that. We create an unshakable foundation for progress because our multidisciplinary teams also include scientists, economists, builders, analysts and artists.

Today, we are working on a variety of exciting projects including healthcare, science, education, community, federal architecture and engineering, mining exploration and development, oil and gas, power and deliverable renewable energy, private development, aviation, freight rail, highways and local roads, transit, solid waste facilities and landfills, energy-from-waste, drinking water, wastewater and water resource management (Figure 1).  

Figure 1. Some of HDR's recent projects across the broad spectrum of disciplines it works in (clockwise from top left): Energy Sciences Building at Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, Illinois, USA; 140 William Street, Perth, Australia; Beijing International Medical Center, Tongzhou District, Beijing, China; Wastewater Collection and Treatment System, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.

When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important is AEC technology to the firm?

HDR has always remained a step ahead on the technology curve. From the days of running shifts on multi-user computers, to the introduction of personal CAD workstations, through the evolution of CAD programs and the introduction and evolution of BIM, HDR has remained on the forefront of technology.

Today, HDR is taking its decade-plus of BIM experience from its facilities groups into the infrastructure markets (Figure 2). HDR has a three year plan to use modeling and information management in all its design and construction groups. We want BIM to be part of our project delivery culture.

Figure 2. 4D construction sequencing model of the Council Bluffs Interstate system, Iowa, USA.

Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? If so, what is it?

We take a thoughtful approach to new technology and do our due diligence, which includes conducting pilots and/or proof-of-concepts. We work with willing partners to deliver innovative new processes and technologies. One key objective is to ensure high quality deliverables for our clients. (Figure 3)

Figure 3. A rendering of the Billing Wastewater Treatment Plant Montana, USA.

What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?

We talk about the "intelligent" use of technology like BIM.  We don't use new technology just for its own sake.  Rather, we look for the value in the technology, first for our planet, the society, our clients and then for our project teams and other stakeholders. As we discussed earlier, we are spreading our BIM experience into our infrastructure market sectors. Challenges include reticence to adopt internally and externally, interoperability within a single vendor's tools and between multiple vendor tools and others.  We are addressing these challenges with a good plan, great communication, training opportunities, thorough documentation and supported project implementations.

Two promising areas that we are currently exploring are:

  • Existing conditions capture using tools like Lidar and Photogrammetry (Figure 4)
  • Appling augmented and virtual reality to our designs to give clients experiential immersion into our designs

We are in the pilot stage with several projects and discussing uses throughout a project's life cycle.

Figure 4. Existing conditions point cloud of the Billings Wastewater Treatment Plant, Montana, USA, captured with Terrestrial Lidar.

How does the firm see AEC technology evolving in the future?

We constantly talk about what is the "next big thing." We think that the ability of computer based simulation will continue to grow. We also are looking into the emerging importance of data. Data about our client's projects, data in our models, data used throughout the life cycle of an asset. Computational design is an emerging capability for design at HDR that combines automation, analysis, and parametric flexibility. It is a differentiating capability that allows us to connect decision making to information-based metrics in order to deliver high value design. All these areas point to the significance of data intelligence in our industry. 

If the firm had a wish list for AEC technology, what would it be?

One of our biggest issues is with interoperability with emerging technologies, particularly among tools from different vendors. Today, we are concerned about interoperability of engineering analysis software with our modeling software. If we could have one wish fulfilled, it would be acceptance and implementation of data interoperability standards such as Industry Foundation Classes and Uniformat, a standard for classifying building elements that are major components common to most buildings and infrastructure assets.

Are there any additional information/observations/insights on AEC technology that the firm would like to share?

When we implement BIM on a project, we take steps to ensure that it will deliver value to our clients in both the short and long term. Sustainability is at the core of our delivery principles for all projects.

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  • In this article, John Tobin, Director of Architecture at EYP, shares his insights on how the two contrasting types of innovation, "sustaining" and "disruptive" — as popularized in the book, The Innovator's Dilemma — can be applied to the AEC technology industry.