Firm Profile: LEO A DALYAECbytes Profile (April 8, 2015)

LEO A DALY, a top-ranking architecture, engineering, planning, interior design, and program management firm with offices all over the world, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

LEO A DALY was founded 100 years ago, in 1915, on the idea of comprehensive design. Leo A. Daly Sr. believed that by combining architecture, engineering, planning, and interior design into one package, he could innovate faster, save his clients time and money, and produce more cohesive designs and better documents.

Today, under the third-generation leadership of Leo A. Daly III, we continue to build on that foundation. LEO A DALY is an internationally-recognized architecture, engineering, planning, interior design, and program management firm with 31 offices worldwide. We are consistently ranked among the top design firms in the world, with an award-winning portfolio that includes projects in more than 87 countries, all 50 US states, and the District of Columbia. As a firm, we are committed to design excellence that enriches and enhances the human experience. Across a broad range of markets, our work touches every part of human life, from where we work, play and live, to how we travel, learn, invent, worship, and heal.

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

We design to capture the imagination, excite the spirit, and create structures of lasting beauty and functionality. With this as a guiding focus, we operate across a broad range of markets, providing comprehensive services from program management to interior design. We focus on the following markets: Aviation, Civic, Corporate/Commercial, Higher Education, Federal, Gaming and Entertainment, Healthcare, Hospitality, Manufacturing and Distribution, Science and Technology, and Venues.

Some of LEO A DALY's work in the Aviation market.

Today we are working on a variety of exciting projects, including the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Intelligence Community Campus in Bethesda (ICC-B), Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport – North Terminal, the Wynn Palace Cotai Resort High Rise Hotel in Macau, China, and Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute.

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

LEO A DALY has been at the forefront of AEC tech implementation since the 1960s, when we began using IBM computers for engineering calculations. Our CAD experience dates back to 1979, when we became one of the first AE firms to implement GDS CAD. We started using AutoCAD in the early 1980s to improve analyses, increase productivity, cut costs, and improve budget monitoring. We continued as pioneers of computer-aided design, and in the 1990s were participants in the Revit Early Adopter Program.

LEO A DALY uses AEC technology in everything we do. By spending more time with BIM early in the design process, we find we are able to dramatically reduce documentation effort during the construction stages and save up to 30 percent in staffing cost over the design process. BIM also gives us a greater understanding of our projects throughout their lifecycle—a consideration that is increasingly important to us and our clients.

Two recent projects on which BIM was used for design at LEO A DALY: The Intelligence Community Campus in Bethesda (top image), and the Zayed Military Hospital in Abu Dhabi (lower image).

Revit allows for quick editing of design parameters to create multiple design iterations within a short period of time. As design changes, we can update quantity schedules in real-time, allowing for verification of our clients’ wishes. This is invaluable, and saves us and our clients time, stress, and money. BIM is also key in holding onto information during different stages of the design process—from program management to design, to construction documents, and as we work with the contractors. Under ideal circumstances, technology allows us to move that information without losing anything in the handoff.

Right now is an exciting time to be using BIM at LEO A DALY. A year and a half ago, we completely rebuilt our BIM committee in order to better reflect the needs of our production staff. Today’s BIM committee collects representatives from across the firm, and from different skill sets, to bridge the technological gap between the programmer side and the end user. This helps balance our company’s desire to innovate and explore the capabilities of BIM, while ensuring that those efforts are always geared toward the project itself.

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

Our approach to technology, like our firm philosophy itself, is essentially practical: What will provide the most value to our clients? In that sense, we embrace the cutting-edge, without being bleeding-edge. We don’t seek technology for its own sake, but adopt it readily if there is a demonstrated business benefit.

Because of the pervasiveness of technology in everything we do, there are many angles from which we look to leverage technology to drive our business. On the desktop level, we’ve spent the last 12 months completely revamping our hardware standards with greater insight into what applications we’re using, leading to 15-25% increased efficiency. We’ve also been investigating new ways of moving information and creating a real-time interactive environment with our consultants and clients.

For us, Revit is about making the production of architecture more streamlined. LEO A DALY has a legacy of exceptional engineering and project management, and we pride ourselves in our production capabilities. Many boutique firms seek our expertise to solve functional challenges in support of great design, and staying at the cutting edge of AEC technology is what lets us do this.

We are also a power-user of the Deltek Vision platform, which ties us together across multiple offices, and allows us to be nimble and focused, with project, resource, and accounting visibility across the firm.

Using Navisworks let the firm's architects and engineers find clashes between structural (white), ductwork (green), and gravity pipe (blue).

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

As a global firm with 31 offices, sharing jobs over multiple locations at great distance and with low to no latency is valuable. This is a multi-faceted challenge, especially when you add the complication of collaborating with subconsultants outside of our company. We are currently looking into how to solve the problem of collaboration between two companies using two different software platforms.
Another challenge related to technology is aligning the expectations of our clients with regard to technology and budget. First and foremost in our mind is always our client’s business goals; sometimes those might conflict with their preconceived notions about BIM, and our job is to cut through the hype and explain the options in a practical way.

For example, a renovation client might request a point cloud scan of their building without really understanding the cost-benefit analysis. Can we do this? Sure. But after discussing costs, sometimes they default to a more traditional approach.

On the flip side, there are cases where we really think an early investment in mapping will result in better bids, better delivery, and more information for the client later on. In those cases, it’s a challenge to make clients understand just how BIM will help us make better decisions earlier, and spend less on construction documents later.

Another challenge comes from our nature as a company that touches so many different markets. Different client types want documents delivered differently. The Federal government wants it in one format; Higher Ed wants it in another; others might want us to convert it back to AutoCAD. On the other hand, our capacity across markets allows us to understand, transform and deliver lots of different formats to serve a myriad of clients.

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

As a multidisciplinary firm, we are in a unique position where we are literally able to design a city from below-ground up, as high as you want to go. We do these things day after day, but if we could mine that information, we could gain serious insight into better ways to price projects.

Our clients are starting to expect evidence when it comes to building performance, from daylighting, to HVAC, to materials, to envelope technology, over the building’s entire lifecycle. That will involve data mining of past BIM projects, and the recording, storing, and validating of them. Soon, it won’t be enough to simply build and walk away. Continued data tracking will be required beyond what we do for ourselves and our clients.

We are looking toward the next generation of BIM tools to deliver on the promise of analysis. Having a singular building database, possibly open-source, would help with our ability to exchange data from design to analysis to construction to facility management tools without any loss of data. Inevitably, right now, transferring between two different softwares results in some kind of data loss.

We’re also very interested in seeing how other, non-AEC technologies play into our space. Sensor technology seems to promise gains in operational efficiency in a number of ways. There are a lot of different analyses we could perform if we built the technology into the structure and incorporated into HVAC systems. What we don’t know is how the application needs to change in order to facilitate using sensor technology.

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

The biggest thing on our wishlist would be more robust parametric modeling. Programs like Maya and Revit do it to some degree, but if we can be more technologically robust at earlier stages, we will know how every design decision will affect the bottom line. As soon as I move a wall, I will know I need this much more flooring, ceiling material, exterior glazing, and lighting, and I’ll know it in real time because it’s linked in the model.

When we’re mashing through design ideas with clients, their expectations change as fast as the technology. Anything we can do to robustly deliver real-time quantity and cost information during schematic design would be valuable. By using cost as a design tool, we become more believable in the eyes of the client, and quicker able to deliver solutions.

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