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Will BIM Help Owners Manage Buildings more Efficiently?

Designers are using Building Information Modeling to predict how a building will perform with various design alternatives. Will BIM accelerate the LEED certification process and make buildings greener -- and more marketable? Denis Du Bois interviews Erin Rae Hoffer, AIA, LEED AP, Autodesk, about the relationship between BIM and LEED certification.

This is a highlight from the Building Priorities Briefing.


Denis Du Bois: Autodesk makes software that almost every architecture firm uses in the design of buildings. That puts Autodesk in the middle of the building information modeling trend that stands to revolutionize the design process of your next building project.

The company's own BIM product was used in the retrofit of its own LEED-CI Platinum building in Massachusetts.

I think we'll be seeing much more about the relationship between BIM and LEED. Erin Rae Hoffer is the Industry Programs Manager for Autodesk's architecture division. I asked her if she sees the same trend.

Erin Rae Hoffer, AIA, LEED AP, Autodesk: Well, it's a great question. I think both of the titles or terms, BIM and LEED, each signify two of the three big trends that seem to be converging. It seems to be important, particularly for sustainable projects, because you have all the intelligence in the room from day one to make the most sustainable decisions. So the connection between BIM and LEED is part of this bigger picture, but it's maybe a little bit more prevalent.

You do have more and more professionals moving towards a BIM process, which is building information modeling, thinking about design technology as information-rich, thinking about what I'm doing in front of my computer as not just doing a drawing, but I'm essentially building the project. So when I make those decisions, I'm thinking about architectural elements. I'm thinking about construction processes. So that's what's really connected to LEED.

We have all these existing buildings, we're going to do some renovation. We need to understand the current situation of the building, so having a building information modeling of an existing building can really be helpful to say where are the gaps? How can we close those gaps? How can we do better?

The map between BIM and LEED is something that we've actually studied in a very specific way with a research group at Carnegie Mellon to look very closely at elements in a building information model and elements in the LEED rating system to understand which of those questions about LEED could be answered by a model, so that we can move forward to an accelerated process of making the buildings more sustainable.

Denis: One of the promises of BIM is, potentially, to be able to do continuous commissioning on a building. LEED is leaning this way toward looking more at the performance of a building after it's occupied rather than solely at the attributes of the building at the point where the plaque is hung in the lobby.

Erin: That's a critical point. What's not clear yet and what's still being developed, but is an exciting area I think as the trend in the future, is the role of the owner in being the person that has that model at their disposal to make the right decisions once they move in and own the project.

The AEC team is the one that runs the project until they hand the keys over to the owner, and at that point, this question of commissioning and performance is really the owner's issue to manage.

So one of the pieces that I am really focusing on, as well, is how can we provide better information to owners? How can owners be better educated as to how to utilize what they have access to now, if their projects are being completed in a building information modeling process?

Many owners who are sophisticated are using facilities management products, so what I think we need to see is the closer connection between the BIM process that has generated data about the building and then moving into this facilities management and particularly the management of energy. That's where we're going to get the benefits we absolutely must get. The energy reduction construction is really important, but ultimately it's the 20-year lifecycle of the building.

Denis: One thing I'm curious about is, ultimately, who benefits the most from the application of BIM? Is it the designer? Is it the contractor? Is it the owner?

Erin: I guess there's a gut feeling that people have in the industry that the ultimate beneficiary really will be the owner who can manage the building more effectively, or it's an energy services company perhaps that is responsible for the energy piece.

Denis: You're an architect. In your perception, is it hard for a firm to learn BIM, to get their arms around it, to change their workflow?

Erin: I think it is a challenge. I think it's a firm-level change. In a way, we call it "practice transformation." That's a term that we've been using because it's not just get the latest rev of something or upgrade. It's a really different thought process to be effective.

Any firm can adopt something and just use it the same way. I think that firms that make the decision that we're going to look at our overall business model. We're going to look at our design process. We're going to think about how we're organized as a company and make a commitment to this new way of working because we see the benefits. We know our clients will benefit.

Denis: Do you see BIM, and things like BIM, ultimately having more radical impacts on the LEED rating system? Do you see something like USGBC creating requirements for an individual building based on the attributes of the model?

Erin: That's a very intriguing question. I guess I've never thought about it going in that direction particularly, although it could. Let me think about that. I guess the image that I've had is more along the lines of wanting to see BIM help people to accelerate their achievements which they're getting through LEED. We know that there's a bit of a lag right now, that if you go through the LEED process and complete your project, you have to wait a while to get your answer.

So what I'm hoping is that as more practices and contractors and the whole AEC industry moves towards a BIM process. You saw Ecotect. You've seen that you can get some insights through software, let's just say. If we can use those insights to somehow accelerate that process, then that would mean a couple of really good things.

If it were a faster process, that might mean it could create more benefit for the owner because I would think there would be market value in that. There might be a more rapid understanding of being able to leverage that you have a LEED building because maybe you can market to tenants, or a whole number of things that would be really important for the owners.

Denis: Erin Rae Hoffer, this has been a fascinating conversation. Thank you very much.