Raising Canada’s Sustainability Game Through BIM

September 2, 2017

It’s a truism in the field of architecture that no matter how long one stares at a dirt plot, a completed building will never emerge unprompted. The meaning I take from this story is that initiative is key to doing anything in the AEC industry. Frustrated by the lack of information on the economics of building information modelling, but recognizing the technology was going to have a massive impact on how we build in Canada, I set out three years ago to start researching the sources of value and cost drivers in a BIM workflow myself. I had no right to do it. No one told me to do it. In fact many told me not to do it. But with a passion for architecture motivating me, and a background in writing and math guiding me, as suspected, once collected in one place, it actually adds up to quite a valuable collection of BIM workflows and best practices. Confirmation of its value came recently with an invitation to present my materials on The Value and Cost Drivers of BIM at Autodesk University 2017 in

The presentation will be of interest to two main audiences: Those responsible for the financial performance of BIM projects, and secondly, BIM consultants and specialists trying to understand the larger economic framework in which they work. Special care has been taken to make sure the presentation is applicable to every phase of the design and construction process that might conceivably use BIM. This perspective plays to the known strengths of digital technology; its integrative and collaborative qualities can be utilized to connect stakeholders throughout the process and streamline the connections between all the different technologies clients and building professionals are currently excited about: Point clouds, data-driven design, VR+AR, facility operation models, etc. Trying to capture this fast moving field might at first seem overwhelming, but having taken the time to force some organization on the subject, it becomes clear areas of low hanging fruit exist which have yet to be exploited by Canadian firms. Our ultimate goal is to make clear and predictable the economic mechanisms which help guide the building and design process to success. It is argued that with a better understanding of the sources of value and cost drivers in a BIM project, building design as a process, and also the building as a deliverable, can be made better, faster, and cheaper.

My greatest hope for Canada is that we take this body of knowledge and apply it to the topic of sustainable design. This seems by far the most effective way to secure Canada’s position as a global leader in the industry. To that end, a project’s cost-effectiveness often plays a primary role in achieving a building’s sustainability goals. Two topics which show great potential for increasing cost-effectiveness – featured amongst numerous examples in the presentation – are building performance analysis, and the increased use of prefabrication and modularity. There are many possible intersections to consider between building performance analysis and the design process, but the areas of most overlap with sustainable design are focused around material optimization and energy modelling. While true the use of prefabrication and modular techniques on the construction site has increased in recent years, in many ways the most significant ways these technologies can be more cost-effective in a BIM workflow still lie ahead of us in the future. Ask yourself this: Is your firm ready for additive construction techniques? 3D printing? Construction drones?

My presentation intends to help carry the burden of responding to these pressures. If any knowledge gap exists for BIM managers, it might be their business acumen. There was a joke floating around Linkedin last year that the only qualification to be a BIM manager was to simply change one’s title on the site. This is an alarming idea in the context of multi-million dollar projects. Imagine how much more effective team members could be if they had a more robust and insightful understanding of the economic mechanisms of BIM. Firms driven to improve on every project, and want to do better today than yesterday, will be well-heeded to pay attention to this field in the years to come.

Blair Birdsell has a background in architectural history and building science and lives in Calgary, AB. More information on the presentation this November at Autodesk University 2017 can be found on Autodesk University’s website.