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New software revs up building of San Diego projects

Building information modeling adds new dimension to architectural design

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The art of creating a building consists of taking a team of professionals, all mastering unique disciplines, and linking them to create an intricate puzzle of mechanical, electrical systems and structural design. The process takes thousands of hours of communication between these entities to create a beautiful and seamless machine.

Some San Diego design firms are among the first in the country to embrace a new technology that promises to streamline this entire building process, not only increasing the accuracy of design, but by cutting the design time in half.

How it works

This new software, Autodesk Revit Building, takes Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology, introduced by Autodesk in 2002, and combines it with three-dimensional modeling. The technology replaces traditional architectural drawings with a dynamic model that enables users to view a project from all angles. It then allows members of the team to communicate electronically using the same model, providing each with immediate access to conflicts. The result is increased quality and accuracy and, for developers, a more efficient design process.

"In architecture and engineering the majority of man hours are in the creation and revision of architectural drawings for construction," said Robb Walker, vice president of KMA Architecture & Engineering. "The Revit software fundamentally changes the process by generating working drawings from the design drawings and by automatically implementing any design changes on all affected drawings."

New technology in sync with San Diego development

Having everyone working from one common 3D digital model of the building not only makes the process more efficient for the architect, but also improves coordination between each project team member. An engineer can create an elaborate building mechanical system, however without the ability to coordinate with an architect's designs, inconsistencies can arise.

"The Revit software has significantly improved the way we communicate with the developer and the design team," said Jim DesRoches, vice president of U.S. operations for Glotman Simpson US Inc., a structural engineering firm. "A picture is worth 1,000 words, but a 3D shape that is viewable from every angle is more effective than an electronic version of a flat sheet of paper, especially when explaining the process to the client."

The ability to work from one common model has been significant in KMA's and Glotman Simpson's collaboration on the design of Mondrian, a 1.2 million-square-foot project owned by Gray Development and located in the downtown area of San Diego. The project, currently the city's largest mixed-use building under development, will include rental and for-sale units, office and retail space.

Glotman Simpson was chosen by Autodesk to beta test Revit software in San Diego, making them one of the very first structural engineering firms to offer it in the region. KMA is also utilizing the software on several projects from its mixed-use and government portfolios, so both firms were prepared to tackle the sizable downtown project.

"Mondrian is a great example of how a program like Revit enables us to design large and complex buildings more effectively and provide greater value to our private and public sector clients," said Walker. "When the structural engineer works independently from the architect on a project of this size, thousands of hours can be spent identifying, coordinating and correcting issues that arise. On large projects, it is important to work with firms that have also embraced the technology."

Mondrian's unique design challenges have tested the software's versatility as well.

"It is a rather complicated project due to a sloping site and varying conditions at grade level where the building meets the sidewalk," said DesRoches. "Viewing it from the 3D perspective has been very useful in designing the building for the sidewalk conditions, which would have been very difficult to determine using conventional two-dimensional methods."

KMA is also using the cutting-edge software to design projects in San Diego's fastest growing areas. Axiom, a 12-story mixed-use project in the East Village, and 6th & Palm in the Banker's Hill area are both being designed using Revit.

"We have the ability to build the buildings in the computer first," said Walker. "These advancements in design technology have been tremendous in helping us keep up with the rapid development happening in San Diego."

Being green just got easier

As "green" design moves to the forefront of new building in San Diego, more and more developers are finding the need to adopt sustainable design principals, but are still resistant due the arduous, complicated and sometimes costly analysis process. The Revit software simplifies this analysis process with tools and templates to provide immediate feedback on sustainable guidelines.

This aspect of the software was an important selling point to both KMA, a firm that has actively adopted green design principals and has even implemented a LEED training program for its architects, and to Glotman Simpson U.S. Inc., which also has several LEED certified structural engineers on staff and is committed to providing green designs.

"We have been implementing green design principles in our projects for the past five years and the advancements of this new software enable us to immediately calculate quantities of materials needed to determine environmental impact, an integral component of green design," said DesRoches.

The future of Revit

With architecture and engineering firms currently using the Revit software as a selling point when bidding for projects, and as developers become more acquainted with its benefits, the standard AutoCAD software appears to have a limited future.

"Southern California has been very progressive in adopting the new software," said Daniel Hebert, vice president of building solutions for S.D. CAD, an Autodesk reseller and Premier Solutions Provider. "It took a few years to take off, not because of resistance to a faster and more efficient technology, but because of the commitment to transitioning the company."

S.D. CAD is making the transition process as easy as possible by offering firms full training and support as well as mentoring them on the first projects they attempt using the technology. The process makes it even more attractive to design firms.

"The software is designed to be user-friendly to someone experienced in the two-dimensional AutoCAD design," said Hebert. "While it's considered cutting-edge right now, like every new development in the information age, firms don't want to be the last ones to offer this capability."

Once they become introduced to the benefits of working with a design team that uses Revit, it will become a prerequisite for building owners and developers when hiring their project teams. In the meantime, those firms already offering this expertise have added a powerful attribute to their list of qualifications.

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