An Interview with Jesse Dormody, Baird Sampson Neuert architects

August 26, 2017

Jesse Dormody of Baird Sampson Neuert architects shares with us some of the BIM initiatives being undertaken at the firm, their philosophy towards BIM as well as a case study on Schulich School of Business expansion. Read on!

Karan: Can you provide a brief introduction to Baird Sampson Neuert architects

(JD): Baird Sampson Neuert architects is based in Toronto, and has a history of 45 years of continual professional practice. The firm was founded by George Baird in 1972, and expanded to include partnerships of Barry Sampson and Jon Neuert in 1982 and 1996 respectively. The office has thirteen design staff including the three partners, and two project architects registered in Ontario. The firm operates in a collaborative studio environment. While each staff member certainly has specific project assignments, the office culture aims to encourage open communication and critical contribution from all staff towards the design and technical resolution of every project.

The firm undertakes a diverse range of project types, with much of our work being in post secondary institutional and public projects. We tirelessly pursue a commitment to innovation, sustainability and excellence, which has garnered the firm recognition for both design and technical achievement, including 3 Governor General Medals, numerous Canadian Architect and OAA Awards, 2 Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects, and the RAIC Firm Award, and Innovation Award.

BSN adopted the use of Building Information Modeling (Revit) initially in 2007, and we now complete all of our projects using the technology.

Karan: Give us a brief introduction to your background, role and expertise

(JD): I have been at BSN for 12 years, and have been an associate with the firm and licensed project architect for the past seven years. I have managed a range of projects, but have most specifically been focused on work for Universities, and research facilities. Recent major projects completed include the Elora Dairy Research Facility for the University of Guelph, as well as the new research greenhouse for the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. Both of these projects completed construction in 2015 and were designed using BIM. For the past year and a half my primary focus has been on completing work for the expansion to the Schulich School of Business at York University, which was developed through a set of highly integrated BIM models, including all major engineering disciplines, and is now under construction and utilizing BIM for ongoing coordination, and work scheduling by the Contractor and all major trades.

Karan: Tell us about some of the BIM initiatives being undertaken

(JD): As mentioned, the firm has been using Revit since 2007. We took an "all in" approach to the new technology which was challenging at first but we were running smoothly within about a year, and have been using BIM for design work and technical documentation for all of our projects since about 2010. Increasingly, our sub-consultants are working in BIM as well, and our recent projects have made huge advances in leveraging BIM for increased levels of project coordination, cost control and integrated design across the project team.

We've also begun to look at other software to aid with collaboration and coordination across the project team during the design stage, specifically cloud based collaboration tools such as Autodesk A360 which we have used recently on a joint venture project with a firm in south-western Ontario, and found it to be an indispensible part of our coordination effort, and shared project documentation. We are exploring ways to further advance the effectiveness of our coordination work and plan to begin testing automated clash detection tools such as NavisWorks earlier on during design work.

We have also begun to take advantage of cloud based mobile applications to allow for easy access to the model and to other project documents while on a construction site. Especially as this type of technology is adopted more and more by contractors and trades in the field, we see it as having the potential to greatly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of work on site. Not only do the individuals installing or building something on site have fingertip access to current drawings, but the possibility of easily generating any needed 3D view directly in the field can play a huge role in ensuring a common understanding of the design intent of any given detail or interface. This is particularly useful for projects with challenging geometries.

On a few recent intensive renovation projects we have employed a third party to prepare a digital point cloud scan of relevant existing spaces which has allowed our work to more accurately be coordinated with existing structure, services and other building components by having those elements represented with a high degree of precision within the design model. This technology has become much more cost effective and accessible in recent years.

On the Schulich School of Business, we have worked with the Owner (York University) to advance contract language pertaining to BIM use by the Contractor and the consultant team during construction. The project documents include a refined BIM execution plan, developed jointly between York U and BSN, which utilizes and builds upon the IBC 100 contract appendix and IBC 201 LOD and Authorized Uses document to set a framework for extension of the use of the model through the construction process. This has enabled greater levels of interoperability between the design models at LOD300 and the contractor fabrication and final as-built models at LOD 400-500.

Karan: What is the Organization's philosophy towards BIM

(JD): When we first approached BIM over a decade ago, we saw it as having the potential to be a highly powerful design tool, which would help us explore design concepts and solutions, communicate those with our clients, and do so simultaneous to, rather than in parallel with the development of the project's technical documentation. While we have of course come a long way in how we leverage BIM since then, using it to deepen coordination and integration of technical systems design, develop more accurate quantity surveying, and even advance energy modeling and fine tuned passive design strategies, we still see it as an indispensable design tool. An integrated BIM process is able to accept, retain and manage exponentially more information than is possible through two dimensional representative drawings and even three dimensional visualization under more static platforms. The development of a detailed model and the virtual construction of building elements provides the agility necessary to comprehensively investigate numerous alternatives to any problem or opportunity encountered through the design process. The full picture nature and fluidity of perspective offered is paramount in revealing problems as well as opportunities for integrated solutions that may otherwise not be found (prior to construction) without an impossible level of representative documentation (2D drawing). To us BIM is primarily a design enabler. The model is useful to our process right from project conceptualization, even before sub-consultant design work begins, through to the development of specific detailed conditions for construction.

Schulich School of Business Expansion at York University - south elevation view

Karan: tell us about an interesting project/case study/product where BIM is being implemented or has been implemented

(JD): We are currently working through the construction stage of a major expansion to the Schulich School of Business at York University. The new building, which will be connected to the existing school by a one storey pedestrian link, will contain nearly 70,000sf of new space including academic teaching and research spaces, collaborative seminar and breakout spaces, staff and faculty offices and student amenities such as a fitness lounge, and a central gathering space in the building's atrium. The project features many innovative environmentally sustainable initiatives, including a 14m tall solar chimney which is the central driver for a building wide passive ventilation strategy

Schulich School of Business Expansion at York University - BIM model sectional views showing central atrium space, mechanical penthouse and solar chimney.

The project team has used BIM to advance the design towards achieving dual objectives of environmental sustainability and architectural design innovation and excellence. From the early stages of design, the BIM model was used to develop project massing and space planning in response to physical and climatic site conditions. Throughout the design process, the model enabled ongoing optimization of passive design strategies such as the design of integrated solar shading elements which were developed using the BIM model to aid iterative solar studies. Coordination of mechanical systems routing by leveraging the BIM models has also been critical in realizing the architectural ambitions of the project which has limited ceiling space, a highly exposed structure, and complex geometrical form.

Schulich School of Business Expansion at York University - BIM coordination model

BIM was proposed by BSN at the initial outset of the project in 2011 as a tool to aid design coordination, accurate quantity surveying, and building performance analysis. The Owner's subsequent implementation of BIM into construction through the tender process further facilitated the ability of the collective project team (including the design team led by BSN and the contractor team under Ellis Don) to advance detailed coordination of system installation, pre-fabrication of elements, and develop a shared understanding of complex construction interface conditions through pre-build 3D reviews and coordination sessions. A fully integrated LOD 450/500 model will be developed for use by the Owner for ongoing building operation, including measurement and verification of environmental performance.

Schulich School of Business Expansion at York University - Exposed sculptural structural elements (stair and feature bridge lounge) developed fully in BIM.

The project construction time-line of 16 months from award to substantial performance is incredibly rapid for a highly complex concrete structure with many unique and innovative features (solar chimney and building automated natural ventilation, triple glazing throughout, post tensioned structural elements, in-slab radiant heating and overhead in-slab cooling to name several). The intensive ongoing use of BIM during the construction work has been critical to keeping the project on track. The various interoperable BIM models (design models and the more detailed trade construction models) are used on an ongoing and evolving basis to resolve and advance coordination and to better streamline installation and sequencing of work on site. BIM models are the basis for all major shop drawing submissions and interface directly with fabrication in many cases. The BIM resources available to the project are used daily by the design team, the contractor, and major sub-contractors to communicate and resolve issues in advance of when they would appear in the field. The detailed model has also enabled the fast tracking of key elements of the construction in order to meet the demanding project schedule. For example, much of the geometrically complex concrete form work was fabricated off-site, and the contractor is working on pre-ordering curtain wall glazing before on site measurements are available in order to advance the installation schedule.

Schulich School of Business Expansion at York University - Construction progress on concrete 'fin' columns.

Karan: What are some of the major challenges in the industry the project/product/process will help to overcome?

(JD): While it seems simple, the power of BIM to easily facilitate a shared understanding of project conditions by all individuals involved (designers, owners, end users, contractors, trades and suppliers etc) is central to its impact on the industry. By working from the very outset of a project in 3D, and incorporating greater levels of detail as the project develops, the process of design and documentation of a building has already gone far beyond being a strictly representative exercise, which it still was only about a decade ago. The growth of BIM into the construction side of the industry has brought about the term Virtual Design and Construction, which very aptly describes a realization of the full potential of the technology that the industry seems to be moving towards. We are approaching a point where we will no longer see the reliance on 2D drawing representations to inform and direct construction, but rather a building will be conceptualized, designed, coordinated and even fully constructed in digital space before a shovel ever breaks ground.

Karan: Finally, please share information about your BIM strategy that is not available on your company website, in other words tell our readers something about your BIM strategy they should know they may not already know

(JD): This goes back to our fundamental approach and philosophy towards BIM as being a key tool in the process of design. BIM is an integrated and essential part of our process and approach towards any building project, lending itself to the development and realization of more ambitious and innovative designs, and more highly integrated solutions.

Karan: It was a pleasure talking to you Jesse!