The Digital Campus at Carleton University

March 22, 2016


An Interview With Liam O'Brien:


Liam O’Brien is an Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carleton University. In addition to teaching courses on Green Building Design and Indoor Environmental Quality, he leads a research group of ten graduate students. His research is focused on building performance and developing innovative controls and visualization methods using Carleton University as a living lab. He is engaged in research with the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism through Carleton Immersive Media Studio (CIMS) and Professor Stephen Fai. Together with numerous graduate students across disciplines, they are constructing comprehensive building information models of Carleton’s 45 buildings.


CanBIM: What is Carleton’s ‘Digital Campus Innovation’ (DCI) project?


Liam O'Brien: About three years ago, a group of professors got together to pursue an internal Carleton research grant and we realized the massive research and teaching opportunity afforded by using campus buildings. We set out the goal to eventually construct detailed BIMs for all campus buildings (starting out with a goal of three buildings of various vintages and the tunnels that connect them in the first three years). One of the innovations that has arisen from the project is the workflow of obtaining and aggregating building information from numerous sources, including: drawings, maps, Lidar, GIS, photogrammetry, and laser scanning. We also work closely with Carleton’s Facilities Management and Planning to ensure that the BIMs are useful for facilities management. Meanwhile, we work closely with industry partners to demonstrate novel uses for their tools and products, while also developing innovations that can eventually be commercialized. Three years later, we have detailed BIMs for three buildings that include architecture, structural elements, and mechanical and electrical systems. The project has continued with funding from Autodesk and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).


CanBIM: What is the benefit for Carleton in the creation of a digital campus, or campus BIM?


Liam O'Brien: One of our mandates is to demonstrate the value of BIM as a life-cycle tool and not merely for design and construction. Specific applications we’re pursuing include: controls optimization, performance visualization, and retrofit analysis. But BIM could formally integrate into facilities management and include such domains as asset management, space scheduling, and maintenance planning. In fact, since starting the DCI project Facilities Management and Planning has come on board and required the next new building (the Health Sciences Building) to be delivered with a detailed as-built BIM. We are developing a course around this new building, such that students can gain a deep understanding and appreciation of the building life-cycle and the processes and professionals involved.


CanBIM: How did Carleton come to adopt 3D scanning?


Liam O'Brien: In 2009, CIMS worked on a project with Autodesk Research called “Digital 210 King”.  The project involved developing a BIM of their headquarters in Toronto.  We started the project using record drawings, but discovered the drawings were grossly inaccurate.  Autodesk approached FARO Technologies and they agreed to scan the site.  That project was a clear demonstration to us of the value of remote sensing technologies for BIM.


We acquired our first scanner in 2009 — a Leica Scanstation 2. While ground breaking at the time, it is now affectionately known as “the washing machine”.  On a good day, we were able do four or five 360 degree scans.  The funding was from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation.  We were working on a project in Batawa, Ontario that involved the development of a BIM for a 600 ha property.  Scanning was the only way to accurately and efficiently record a site of this scale.  This project laid the groundwork for all of our subsequent large BIM projects — including the Digital Campus.


CanBIM: What is the tunnel system at Carleton, and how is 3D scanning being used to document it?


Liam O'Brien: The tunnel system at Carleton is one of the character defining elements of the campus.  Ostensibly they are underground service corridors that have been adopted for pedestrian circulation during inclement weather.  The tunnels make it possible for students to come to class in their pajamas — in January. The Digital Campus is systematically documenting the tunnels using geo-referenced targets that will provide an accurate record for maintenance and construction.


CanBIM: What type of students are involved in these 3D scanning projects? What are their roles?


Liam O'Brien: Students from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism are involved in scanning for the DCI.  The project involves students at all academic levels  — PhD, masters, and undergraduate.  They are trained in surveying (for geo-referencing), laser scanning, photogrammetry, and point cloud registration. They also learn how to bring the registered point cloud data into Revit for BIM.


CanBIM: Is Carleton collaborating with industry partners for these projects?


Liam O'Brien: There is tremendous value in collaborating with industry on research projects. Industry has provided state-of-the-art software and hardware for testing and applying, as well as continuous feedback on research directions and challenges they are faced with. The interaction also provides students with unparalleled understanding of industry and real-world problems, and allows them to develop as professionals. Meanwhile, Canada’s funding agencies strongly encourage collaboration with industry and actively provide funding if industry provides co-funding.


We are working in close collaboration with Autodesk Research and Leica Geosystems for DCI and related BIM projects. Given that the project is partially focused on building performance, partnership with Delta Controls and Regulvar, has also played a critical role in obtaining real-time and historical building performance data. We are continually seeking new partnerships with industry to expand the scope and ambition of the project.


CanBIM: What might the future hold for 3D scanning at Carleton?


Liam O'Brien: CIMS has recently acquired a Leica P40 and a Faro Focus X330.  We intend to continue our leadership role in scan-to-BIM for architectural rehabilitation and conservation.


CanBIM: What other types of BIM applications have been adopted at Carleton?


Liam O'Brien:  Aside from what I listed already, some of our students are finding that BIM is an invaluable resource for detecting faults in mechanical and electrical systems. For instance, information from BIM can inform us of whether a particular room is obtaining too little or too much outdoor air, based on its floor area and occupancy. We are also planning to follow Autodesk’s vision to superimpose building performance data on BIM to help operators visualize operational issues from their desktop.




At Carleton, we’ve found the living lab approach to research and teaching to be incredibly valuable. BIM and other state-of-the-art tools and technologies are beginning to play an important role in Carleton’s planning and operations. We are actively planning expansion of the project to include other Carleton buildings, new applications, and partnering with industry and other institutions.


Thank you Liam for sharing with our community. Partnership between academia and industry is vital for progress in the Canadian BIM community. The next generation of BIM professionals will surely continue to push the progress and innovation.


If you have a project to share with CanBIM please reach out to be featured within our next newsletter!




Figure 1: Example comparison of reality and the model for the Canal Building at Carleton



Figure 2: Visualizing building constructions using BIM




Figure 3: Example of how photogrammetry and laser scanning was applied to acquire building geometry