An Interview with Kate Kirwan, Turner Construction Company

Kate Kirwan, VDC Manager for Turner Construction Company in Canada shares her experience with BIM in the construction industry, the benefits of BIM while at Turner Construction, her career progression and an interesting case study. Read on!


Karan: Tell us about your current role



Kate: I am the VDC Manager for Turner Construction in Canada, including management of the VDC Services Group - Canada. I’m based in Vancouver, but travel to our various offices and project locations throughout North America. In addition to working with the various project teams, the VDC Services Group works with all the different departments in the company – estimating, logistics, business development, safety, preconstruction, marketing, operations and finance.


Karan: Give us an introduction into your background (Expertise, Experience, BIM career)


Kate: I graduated with honours from the architectural technology course at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Dublin, Ireland in 2010. While studying, I completed two co-op terms as a conservation architect for the Irish government, but when the recession hit there was an embargo on hiring new employees for government positions. By early 2010, the AEC industry was in freefall and funding for projects ground to a halt. I decided to immigrate to Canada in October 2010. I began working in architecture as a 3D modeler and moved into BIM for construction in 2011. I hadn’t considered construction as a possibility – I had always thought I would work in architecture.


Construction suits me better- I enjoy working side by side with the project team and seeing the daily changes on site. It’s very gratifying to see a project come together in the space of a few months or years. I’ve worked at Turner Construction since October 2015, and was their first BIM hire in Canada. Turner Construction has a solid VDC presence in the U.S., and have been number one on the “Top BIM Construction Firms” list for years – but they hadn’t expanded VDC to Canada yet. I feel very fortunate to   be able to develop and implement VDC processes across Canada and to build the national VDC team. It’s an exciting environment to work in as Turner Construction has only been in Canada since 2011. We are growing quickly and are number 15 on On Site Magazine’s Top Canadian Contractors list for 2016.


Over the years, I have worked on various construction types including complex new builds, renovations and highly technical M&E builds. I am enjoying working on the research and development side of things too; identifying the technologies that make the most sense to our current and future projects. We’re using 3D laser scanning, 360 cameras and virtual reality on top of the usual clash detection, 4D animation, model fly throughs and logistics planning.


Karan: What does BIM mean to you and what is your philosophy towards BIM


Kate: BIM is a tool that enables collaboration and optimizes construction efficiency. At Turner, we are committed to implementing Lean processes on all our projects, and BIM by its very nature is Lean. Preventing rework, optimizing collaboration and streamlining the construction process helps our company, our consultants, our sub-contractors and our clients.


My favourite aspect of VDC is aiding client visualization. I love to help our clients to better understand their space. We are so used to reading 2D drawings, and we forget that most of our clients don’t look at them every day. Creating a model for phasing, logistics or design and seeing a client have an “aha!” moment of understanding is gratifying.


Karan: How is BIM changing the construction industry and  what are the major challenges involved in BIM adoption. How can we overcome them


Kate: BIM has caused serious disruption in the construction industry – we can resolve issues before they ever come up on site with clash detection, we can plan our phasing and logistics using real-world metrics and 4D animations, we can quantify materials with the click of a button and we can assist clients with their decisions using virtual mock ups. We still have a way to go in Canada – MEP consultants in particular still tend to work in 2D AutoCAD.

The cultural shift to VDC can be a challenge - BIM is an easy sell to Millennial’s because it’s interactive and technologically forward. Our teams love to take their drawings out on site on their iPads, or walk through a 3D model. It can be more difficult to sell to people more used to traditional methods. The Turner crew are very innovative, which makes selling BIM easier. I find that holding formal (lunch and learns) and informal (site visits and desk sessions) information sessions with baked goods as bribery works well!


Another challenge is helping clients to understand the value of VDC, the possibilities (and limitations!), and how when implemented correctly, the benefits and time saved outweigh any upfront costs.

I have built up a library of examples from our projects over the last couple of years and this greatly benefits client understanding of the process.

Karan: Talk about an interesting project you worked on and how was BIM useful


Kate: We recently completed a 40,600 sq. ft. high-end fit out for Miller Thomson LLP in downtown Vancouver. The scope contained many high-end finishes including a mezzanine loft and forum as well as an open concept office space with flexible enclosure offices. Uniquely, the offices are off-set from the windows and are pre-fabricated pavilions, interspersed in a collaborative framework with workstations. The perimeter of the floor is reserved for informal meeting areas and workspaces. Additional features include a raised wood deck in the client area, raised access floors throughout, and a Unifor demountable system.


The entire building, constructed in 1973 and previously a Sears department store, was stripped down to the original structure and repurposed as a mixed use space. As-builts of the base building provided by the landlord proved to be inaccurate when site measurements were taken, and the design consultant had relied on these base building drawings to create their Revit model. We noticed these discrepancies before construction began and self-performed 3D laser scans across the entire project. We created a detailed Revit model of the existing architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection components.

Once the model was completed, it was evident that the information it contained would be invaluable for the project team. The column sizes were not uniform or aligned, the custom perimeter vent boxes varied in height and caused some issues with the raised access floor planned for the space, and the perimeter rooms were defined by the mullion locations, so some of the walls had to move around to suit the as-built conditions. The majority of the consultant team used Revit to generate their designs, and so they were able to benefit directly from Turner’s model, and to factor existing equipment into their systems.

Once the consultant models were complete, Turner clash detected the models in Navisworks, issued a detailed report and facilitated a workshop to resolve the conflicts in person. The workshop resulted in a fully integrated, clash free model and coordinated drawings for sub-contractor use. We were able to coordinate tight clearances and remove obstructions before they had a chance to impact the budget or schedule through a late design change.

The 3D laser scan data was also used to conduct a floor flatness study to aid with levelling required on site and the existing fire protection model was submitted as part of the building permit set to the city. We installed a gantry crane through a window of the existing building to facilitate deliveries that would otherwise require modification to the finishes as the base building elevators were too small. Given the busy downtown location of the project, installation of the crane and traffic management throughout the project was an issue. We created a 3D model of the surrounding area combined with our traffic management plan as part of our permit submission and it helped officials to understand the limited impact the crane would have on regular traffic operations.

The open concept and collaborative nature of Miller Thomson’s new office is a radical change of pace and culture for a law firm, and virtual reality models of the space were shared with the staff to introduce them to the new office long before construction completion.

The project is currently nominated for numerous awards and won the silver award in the VRCA Awards of Excellence, General Contractor Tenant Improvements.


Karan: How do you see being a member of CanBIM useful


Kate: CanBIM is a great way to stay in touch with the Canadian BIM community, and to learn from the national industry. I have attended the CanBIM regional sessions in Vancouver over the last few years and it is refreshing to see examples of Canadian work