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Are We Finally Realizing BIM's Promise?

By Paula Melton
August 06, 2012
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Photo © Tom Bonner
Without BIM, the Palomar Medical Center (PMC) in North San Diego County, designed by CO Architects, would never have fully achieved its overarching design concept of connections to nature.

It’s been more than a decade since the building industry started to shift in earnest from two-dimensional CAD software to multi-faceted BIM (short for “building information modeling”). When this transition first began, people were excited about BIM’s possibilities for sustainable design: total project team integration; effortlessly embedded data about the environmental performance of each building material; and the ability to use a single tool to design, build, operate, and maintain the building for maximum efficiency.

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Although we hear some success stories, the building industry is notoriously slow to change, and BIM has been long on promise and short on delivery for years due to software incompatibility and deeply ingrained culture and workflow issues. But there’s increasing evidence that this is finally changing.

Using BIM for integrated design is “all we do, and it’s what all our clients want us to do,” says Frances Moore, AIA, associate principal at Los Angeles-based CO Architects. Moore, one of the project architects for the 740,000-square-foot Palomar Medical Center (opening in mid-August near San Diego), says her firm took a BIM leap of faith with that project in 2005—back when the software was still pretty new and the hospital was “by far the biggest project that had ever been done that way.” Her firm, she says, “worked very closely with Autodesk about how to make a model that big.”

Learning curve

CO also had to get new computers that would run the software and had to push up a steep learning curve—but it was well worth it, Moore argues.

“What came out of it was the ability to collaborate with the builders,” Moore recalls. “They were attracted to the project because we were all using BIM and we could do some new things and find efficiencies working that way.” Using BIM collaboratively drove the team naturally toward integrated project delivery (IPD).

“IPD really evolved out of the way we were working,” she says. “In design development, we started collaborating and doing clash detection and sharing all the models. BIM changed the way we were working.”

Better design

Moore concedes that IPD is somewhat labor-intensive—clash detection, constant communication, and meetings all take time—but “the payoff comes during construction,” she argues. For example, all piping and ductwork were prefabricated and delivered ready to install. And BIM just makes the building “a better product,” states Moore. “The design is better, and the quality of the work is better.”

In fact, she says, without BIM the Palomar hospital project would never have fully achieved its overarching design concept of connections to nature rising all the way from the ground up through the seven-story building. This concept includes an undulating 1.5-acre green roof that is situated over daylit surgery rooms. “These were some very big plans that needed to be coordinated. There are some really special spots that are successful because of BIM and IPD.”

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