John S. McCain School: Project Profile

What are the vital statistics of the project?

The John S. McCain III Elementary School in the Buckeye Elementary School District, Arizona, is designed to have three learning communities based on age groups K-2, 3-5 and 6-8, each of which has dedicated maker spaces and shared breakout spaces to facilitate individualized learning opportunities. The conceptual design theme of the project is “Taking Flight,” derived from the life of its namesake, the late Sen. John McCain, who served as a jet fighter pilot on an aircraft carrier during his time in the Navy — it sees the school as a springboard for its students to take flight in their lives and education.

With a total area of approximately 94,000 SF, the design includes over 20 classrooms in addition to a gymnasium, a kitchen and food court, flex spaces and a band/music room. These spaces are anchored by multiple common spaces, outdoor play areas, and administrative offices. Construction on the project started in June 2020 and it is slated for completion in August 2021.

The project was designed by the Education Studio Team at Orcutt | Winslow comprising Saravanan Bala, Matt Johnson, Kasey Josephs, Brittany Jones, and Marco Rosero.

What were the main software applications used for this project, and how were they used?

The main software applications that were used were Archicad, Solibri, BIMx, SketchUp, and Rhino. Our main application, Archicad, was used to model and document the project and was used for over 90% of our production timeline (Figures 2 and 3). BIMx was used throughout the project timeline to communicate the model and the architect’s intents to the client during the design stage as well as to the contractor during construction administration.

Solibri was used extensively to check and review IFC files coming in from consultants before being brought into Archicad, as well as to coordinate the models from multiple trades. This tool proved to be invaluable to the efficiency of the collaboration process.

SketchUp and Rhino were primarily used in the schematic design and programming phase to create the original program zone layouts and massing studies for the building.

And finally, because Revit was being used by our consultants, we occasionally used it to work out some issues with the back-and-forth translation from Archicad to Revit through IFC.

Did the project have a specific approach or methodology for the application of AEC technology?

Our company’s integrated BIM workflow philosophy (shown earlier in Figure 2) and approach to our use of technology is to use all of the technology available to us, however necessary, to make the project a success. We aim to push our firm’s use of technology in the process of any project that we work on to provide a precedent and a springboard for the future development of technology use and workflows.

Additionally, our use of Archicad allowed our team to engage with BIM early on in the design process since it is so much more flexible than other BIM platforms. Many of our design team members bypass Sketchup and other mass modeling tools because of the ease of use they get with Archicad and the integration that it allows moving forward into the next phases of design.

We were also able to make use of the Archicad-Grasshopper integration to automate the creation of zones (Figure 4). As part of this integration, we used a script that pulls program data from an Excel spreadsheet that was developed in collaboration with the client for the school's program. This data is used to create simple massing boxes that are then translated into Zone building blocks in Archicad, allowing the project team to begin early design studies and minimizing data re-entry and modeling tasks.

Would you consider this project to be an example of the cutting-edge use of technology? If so, how and why?

Our goal for this project was to push our team as far as we could with the software we use and, in particular, to push our collaboration efforts with consultants to a new level that is seldom reached in our market sector. The way we were able to finetune our Archicad to Revit workflow on this project was a great improvement for our office as well as our working relationship with our consultants. The benefits that the improvement of these processes brought to the project were ultimately invaluable, especially near the end of the project, as several significant changes occurred that necessitated flexibility and speed in design. These were ultimately achieved thanks to the adaptability and interoperability of our design software.

What are some of the main challenges you faced in your implementation of AEC technology on this project?

The greatest challenges in the project stemmed from coordination amongst design consultants. Given that Orcutt |Winslow uses Archicad, and our consultants primarily work with Revit, the coordination between our models can sometimes be a little more challenging.

IFC interoperability standards and implementation vary from program to program. That does cause challenges, but one of the biggest challenges is managing changes and consultant model quality. A big issue for model coordination is time. This critical factor is often in short supply; however, we managed to develop, import, and export standards and methods and weekly file exchange routines that kept the back-and-forth communication of our constantly evolving project smooth and easy from week to week.

Were there any requirements on this project that were not addressed by currently available technologies?

All of the critical project requirements (modeling, documentation, rendering, VR, animation, model exchange, etc.) were met by technologies currently available in the market. However, there are some technology objectives that our firm is constantly reaching to achieve that were not easily attainable on this project due to technology limitations.

One example of this is an effort to create 3D details for our projects that can then be pulled up from our plans with the use of a smart-phone and augmented reality technology. As of yet, we have not found any piece of technology that provides all of the features we would be looking for in such an effort, and the technologies available are currently not smoothly integrated with AEC technology. However, our office continues to develop this effort and we hope to create a smooth workflow that will facilitate this effort in the near future.

Any additional information/observations/insights on the use of AEC technology for this project that you would like to share?

This project was designed and produced during the Covid pandemic and our team had to transition to working remotely from home. Our office standard issue 15” Macbook Pros and Archicad’s BIM-cloud allowed our team to work seamlessly from home inside a very detailed and highly integrated BIM model. The power of teamwork that is available from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection and a decent laptop has really changed the way we think about the workplace and the limitations of a physical office.

The most important take-away our team garnered from this project is that AEC technology is not the limiting factor in projects of this complexity. At the end of the day, the biggest hurdles we must cross stem from the development and management of streamlined workflows, both for firm processes and design processes, as well as from communication and coordination amongst individuals, both within our firm and across companies.

These hurdles can be overcome through the establishment and continual refinement of processes, workflows, and routines that are commonly agreed upon between all parties involved in the project. This would not be possible without clear and efficient communication. The speed and rate of communication between Architect, Consultants and Contractor in this project and the establishment of this communication early in the project is what has ultimately led to its continued success.

Acknowledgments: The responses to the questions for this profile were provided by Matt Johnson (Project Manager/Designer), Marco Rosero (Designer/Model Manager) of Orcutt | Winslow.


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