What is BIM? The textbook answer would be Building Information Modeling, a computer model used to quantify and represent a building design. At Graphisoft's BIM 2015 Conference, the question became a broader discussion, looking into the various technologies, workflows and history that have gone into the pursuit of building better and smarter. From March 13-15, 2015, I joined an passionate group of architects, engineers, contractors, BIM professionals, educators and Graphisoft representatives for a packed schedule of workshops, networking and presentations at the Green Valley Ranch, in Henderson, just outside Las Vegas. Although it is not possible to cover everything at the conference, I would like to touch on some highlights that were especially valuable.
Keynote: Pushing BIM Forward
On Thursday morning, the conference agenda began with a in-depth presentation by Graphisoft on the future of BIM and how ArchiCAD will be advancing as a tool. Steven Benford explained that the demand for residential projects and commercial development is strong, and it will be critical for design firms to differentiate themselves to remain competitive. Collaboration and connectivity are key factors for a successful BIM implementation. Laszlo Drajko brought up the question, we have had interesting projects over the past few years, such as the HOK awards, but has BIM become too static? Is it time (to quote Samsung) to look for the next big thing?
For Graphisoft, their efforts are focused on bringing more support to their clients in the Americas. For the BIM "value circle," the BIM authoring, BIM data management, and BIM connectivity all need to work together. It can be challenging to explain the details of this process to higher level firm leaders that may not have as much hands on experience with the technical aspects.
Vicor Varkonyl concluded the keynote with an intriguing discussion of Graphisoft's history and where it is heading for the future. ArchiCAD was used for the Eureka tower in Australia in the early 2000's, one of the first and largest projects to implement BIM. The key design theme for ArchiCAD is an intuitive interface and workflow, and that has been integral to the software from the beginning. I was truly surprised to hear that ArchiCAD's smart cursors were the first use of the concept the 1980's, and are now part of almost all software tools.
For the upcoming version —ArchiCAD 19— the Graphisoft presented some of the key new features, drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowd. I was especially impressed by the Ultron AI Add-On (I'm kidding, they left the artificial intelligence out of this release!) Keep an eye out for new information on the release at the Graphisoft Bim Engine blog.
Sustainable Design + Innovation
Later that morning, Susan Szenasy, Editor in Chief of Metropolis, gave a presentation on design research, showing how collaboration with other technical fields can lead to advances in building design. We watched a short film interviewing design researchers pursuing new applications for building design: repurposed steel structures from highway construction used for affordable housing, innovative water catchment used as building insulation/enclosure, and street lights that dim with moonlight phases were some of the memorable projects. After the film, Susan engaged the group in a lively discussion about sustainability and design trends, criticizing some of the responses as "20th Century thinking" about design approaches. She even asked Graphisoft's CEO how he felt about design research, and how it can contribute to the future of architecture. Victor's response was that Graphisoft was there to provide the tools, and the architects will create the design solutions for construction in the 21st Century.
BIM + Beauty
Jared Banks, aka Shoegnome, is a ArchiCAD specialist with an in-depth, entertaining blog about BIM, ArchiCAD and the ups and downs of architecture in general. Jared gave an insightful presentation on Beauty and BIM, drawing parallels between the BIM process and similar themes in art history. The art comparisons made the points much easier to understand and memorable, and gave support to using ArchiCAD and other BIM tools at a higher level than the 30,000 year old 2D communication methods traditionally used. The full use of ArchiCAD's options for 3D, material colors, renovation filters can be incorporated to better communicate what is shown in the construction plans. We came away from the session with a deeper respect for Rubens rather than Rembrandt (it's all about teamwork and process!)
Springs Preserve - Desert Sol
We ended the day with a evening tour of the Springs Preserve, located a few miles west of the Las Vegas Strip. The Preserve is a historical and ecological preserve, the site of one the first well sources in Las Vegas. It has been developed with a series of low impact, sustainable structures; educating visitors how the landscape and buildings can work with the environment and site conditions. We started the tour with a presentation on the design and development of the Preserve's LEED-certified projects, followed by the University of Nevada's 2013 Solar Decathlon entry, Desert Sol. Team project manager Alexia Chen gave an overview of their project, describing how it was designed to be a model for a sustainable vacation home that responds to the conditions of the desert. The project was awarded second place in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, and received LEED for Homes Platinum Certification from the USGBC.
We concluded the evening with a dinner overlooking the Las Vegas strip. I shared a table with some Graphisoft team members that had great stories about how the program was initially developed in the 1980's.
Managing Large Projects in Small Teams
On Friday, I started the day with a presentation by Bradley Madison of Hennon Group Architects, outlining the best practices and workflows for large projects. With the technical capabilities in ArchiCAD, it is possible for teams of 5-10 to handle projects up to 1,000,000 square feet. The key strategies to be successful were in the project planning: defining your Level of Design, project workflow, and team member roles. I was impressed by the production level they were able to achieve with the right systems in place, and was inspired to push our own firm's systems to a higher level.
3D Documents Best Practices
Graphisoft consultant Kyla Kuhnlein led a breakout session about how to best implement the 3D document features into construction documents. It was helpful to see real examples for using the 3D documents in floor plan projections, sections and detail views. Kyla gave step-by-step instructions for setting up 3D documents with the proper view settings and selections, to provide more information in the construction plans than a simple section view.
Secrets of a Groundbreaking Template Revealed
Chris Clark and Link Ellis of BIM6x (BIM success!) gave a vaudeville breakout session presenting the thinking behind their new template system. The presenters played off each other well, keeping the discussion engaging and memorable. (You can say almost anything, as long as you have an Australian accent) The key point they made is that with ArchiCAD, it is essential to setup a solid template file that has your firm's settings, workflows and views defined. Without the systems in place, it is easy to get buried in the number of options and features available, and you start to lose all of the efficiencies contained within the BIM software.
Lessons Integrating BIM
The final main session featured several firms that have worked with ArchiCAD extensively to improve the process of project delivery. Levi + Wong Design Associates incorporated the virtual building model into their client presentations back in the 1990's before the 3D building concept was even a possibility for most firms, and they have worked to keep pushing the envelope with their design tools. Riverstone Structural Concepts is a structural engineering firm that specializes in ArchiCAD, allowing their team to collaborate more closely with the architect and other consultants in the same model file. Riverstone talked about a recent small commercial project where they were able to bring in the MEP engineer to the ArchiCAD model to improve the systems coordination. The next challenge: to bring in civil, landscape and other disciplines into the Graphisoft fold!
Working with Autodesk Consultants
Ransom Ratcliff and Josh Bone talked about some of the inherent challenges and best practices for working with Autodesk users. Ransom has a lot of experience with Revit and Autodesk system, and he shared some of the limitations of working with that software. The concept of sharing only the information needed helps to minimize conflicts when translating information to and from ArchiCAD. Model viewing software such as Solibri Model Viewer can support the process, so the user can see what is contained within the translated model.
The educational conference concluded with a good natured, head to head modeling competition between Revit on a high-powered laptop and ArchiCAD running on a basic Macbook Air. After creating 80,000 copied wall elements, ArchiCAD was running like a champ rendering shadows while Revit was not able to complete the copies, and had to be shut down.
For some last minute networking, the BIM Conference 2015 closed with a slideshow of the event photos and a Farewell Reception for the conference attendees. We all really appreciated Graphisoft's efforts in putting the event together, and look forward to attending the next BIM Conference.