Today, building information modeling (BIM) software programs increasingly help architects and construction managers “see” a facility before it is built, and Texas A&M University helped pioneer the new technology.
“Professor Vallie Miranda was using and teaching BIM techniques here in the College of Architecture in the early 1990s, using pioneering software such as Sonata and Reflex,” says Mark Clayton, architecture professor and interim department head, “but he discontinued his efforts when those products were themselves discontinued. Now, there are a number of BIM programs out there, including ArchiCAD, Bentley Architecture, Nemetschek VectorWorks, Autodesk Architectural Desktop and, most recently, Autodesk Revit, so we’re teaching our students how to use them when they get on the job.”
Clayton explains that the software enables designers and builders to simulate creation and construction processes. “It’s a lot like the Sim City games, less like AutoCAD,” he says. “Users manipulate life-like architectural and construction elements like walls, doors, roofs and even furniture, in contrast to computer assisted drafting programs which feature lines and other ‘primitive objects.’ Each element in a BIM program has imbedded in it the real-world logic of its attributes, for example, the materials of which it is constructed and their features, such as thickness, thermal insulation properties, and the like.”
For architects, the power of BIM lies in allowing them to simulate designs from the beginning.
“We are already using BIM programs extensively for the College’s buildings themselves,” Clayton notes. “It allows our facility management systems to model all the three Langford Complex buildings and our part of the Jack Williams building in 3-D. We can figure area take-offs on the computer, helping us to complete renovations and to assign office and classroom space. For example, we can simulate a wall, put a window in the wall, then move both of them together to another location.
“BIM offers us a higher level, more intuitive interface for design than a drafting approach. And for beginning designers, who may not know how to draw well by hand, BIM facilitates learning the design process.”
BIM program objects appear as graphic images, but their imbedded logic includes non-graphic attributes as well, computing, for example, the length in linear feet of a simulated wall or figuring out the amount of area, in square feet, to paint on the virtual object, Clayton says. “BIM programs can even help estimate costs, energy performance and structural characteristics of the simulated design or construction objects.”
Plans drawn in AutoCAD programs can be imported into BIM software, and the programs can draw up project completion schedules.
“As with most new technologies, BIM has met with mixed reaction in the architecture profession,” Clayton says. “Most large companies are adopting it, probably because they have deeper, broader information technology resources and more provisions for training employees who are not familiar with the programs. Integrative firms – those which see projects through from planning to design to construction to operation – are the most enthusiastic about this technology. They see products made with BIM programs as giving them a competitive advantage, in contrast with some design-only firms which, concerned with intellectual property issues, don’t want to give up their models to the public domain.
“We are urging our students to be strategic thinkers, so that they see the importance of learning BIM technology, since we believe it will be a key design tool five to ten years down the road.”
Clayton notes that academic research exerted a great influence on the development of BIM software, as did research by such large corporations as Boeing, which began working on such information and technology modeling programs up to 20 years ago. “It’s important to note that all government agencies, through the General Services Administration, have endorsed BIM for use on all federal projects.”
The College of Architecture revived its teaching of BIM in earnest two years ago, with the support of software maker Autodesk, which included Texas A&M, along with 20 other universities worldwide (such as Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, Yale) in its 2005 student Web community introduction.
“At first, the software was made available on the Web to registered student-users at these universities, but now it is provided free of charge to the entire Texas A&M community,” Clayton says. “And Autodesk is providing continued support by twice bringing BIM trainers to campus.
Several noteworthy College of Architecture former students, who are BIM enthusiasts, have visited with current students to discuss their firms’ use of this emerging technology. Among them are Ron Skaggs, HKS; Brad Simmons, Jacobs Engineering; Sandra Parret, HOK; Harold Adams, RTKL; and Daniel Brentz, Gensler.
Instructors at the College of Architecture who are using BIM software in their courses include Clayton and fellow architecture professors Antonieta Angulo, Pliny Fisk, Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, Charles Culp and Robert Johnson and construction science professor Julian Kang.
“Professor Fisk is using the software to track non-graphic data for the Aggie entry in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition,” Clayton notes. “We feel that BIM software can be used as a teaching vehicle across the curriculum, in keeping with the college’s interdisciplinary thrust. And we believe that learning BIM technology can give all our students a competitive advantage.”