May 07, 2007
Using BIM for Sustainable Design
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Using BIM for Sustainable Design

by Susan Smith

Recently when hearing about sustainable design or green building we also hear about BIM technology. Green building preceded the idea of BIM technology by many years, spearheaded by those environmentally conscious few. Heightened issues and environmental urgency have pushed sustainable design to the mainstream, however, and customers are demanding it, which puts it in the limelight. To facilitate that move to the mainstream is BIM, which can make it possible to achieve sustainable design as part of design process in an efficient way that didn’t exist three or four years ago.

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Sustainable analysis is just one of the things you can do with the data set from a BIM. You can’t do this with a graphical 2D approach to design.

Jay Bhatt, vice president of Architectural, Engineering and Construction (AEC) Solutions at Autodesk, describes BIM as a “workflow, a change of process of architects and engineers who are executing it, based around three critical things: coordination, a consistent set of information utilized for design, and that the information is able to be computed.” A lot of emphasis in recent years has been put on coordination, because there are large macroeconomic pressures put on the industry and a consistent representation of the information being modeled is essential.

“We don’t think it works to have a high end enterprise approach to sustainable design,” said Bhatt. “We think anyone designing a building in any capacity should have the ability to perform energy analysis on buildings, or to test the building for sustainability. Instead of crunching those drawings and send them out to a high end analysis vendor who can take two weeks to do it with a lot of cost, you should be able to do it in product, create the design in Revit, click a button and run an energy analysis, with confidence that your design can actually be built in a socially conscious way.”

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“We want to create a digital prototype. All that means is we want to be able to keep a design digital as long as possible to run appropriate tests and analysis on the design to make sure it achieves what you want it to achieve. Sustainable design is one of a number of things that must be done to create a true digital prototype around a building. So if you want to create solar or energy analysis or to understand the right material to put into a building, to achieve sustainable goals, it’s much better to do that on a data set that you have created to form the basis of BIM, because then you can run the analysis. Sustainable design in our view is taking BIM and applying
appropriate analysis methodology to the BIM that are focused on green building so that you can come out with a digital prototype that when it is built, achieves your green building requirements.”

In the past three and a half years, events have occurred in the building industry that are forcing the industry to acknowledge that sustainable practice has to happen or else we won’t be able to achieve the objectives of the global AEC industry. Driving this push is the fact that there are going to be more buildings on the face of the earth in the next 20-25 years than ever before. There will be 30% more people than there are today. The pressure that will put on the environment creates an imperative for people to care about how buildings are built. “The buildings have to perform at a different level for future generations,” said Bhatt. “Secondly, the
globalization of the building industry over the last ten years or so, particularly over the last three or four years, is awesome. This is causing more growth and building consumption.”

In China, sustainable design is at every level, from the U.S. architectural firms with a large presence in the country, to Chinese design institutes which drive design in China. Each firm in China talks about scaling Chinese construction environment and the requirements that the Chinese government and Chinese customers are placing around sustainable practices. A lot of the residential housing complexes being built in China are required to be south facing. That’s a basic sustainable concept – access to the sun, more daylight and lower heating costs. The country is experiencing an industrial revolution, and many farmers are moving to cities and driving construction. It is
considered “sustainable” to employ farmers as bricklayers, so jobs are not being displaced, but people are just being given a different type of work.

It’s also impossible to think that greenhouse gas emissions are only the province of one country. Those countries that don’t deal with their problems will cause problems for other countries and ultimately, the world.

Phil Bernstein, Autodesk vice president of Building Industry Strategy and Relations, said that Autodesk has entered into a partnership with the
U.S. Green Building Council with whom they are doing some consulting projects, writing some educational programs, and training both students and professionals in using green building technology. There is also the possibility that the Council will help them move their technology forward so it can support the LEED-based work.

Autodesk has created a six part series called Design E2 on PBS on sustainable design and has signed up to sponsor another six episodes, which focuses on the economics of being green..

Other efforts include partnering with Carnegie Mellon University where the schools of computer science and architecture and engineering are co-located. Autodesk is working with the university on a research project to understand how sustainable standards are emerging, how technological tools currently align with those standards, and finally how technologies can be adjusted to support a “moving target.” Many things are changing, according to Bernstein, for example, the current LEED standard doesn’t address carbon footprint, but carbon footprint is going to be a big topic of discussion in the next three to ten years.

Bernstein said that there are three sets of issues around analysis. “If one can create a digital prototype of a building as a sort of simulation of a building, then it’s quite simple for a designer to rapidly iterate design options in order to understand what the best sustainable strategies are,” he said. “The best way to do that is not just with a digital prototype but with a prototype that has a dashboard connected to it so the designer can understand, for example, how much water the design will be using, how much electricity it’s going to consume, what the daylighting conditions are, what the resulting carbon footprint would be of the energy strategy
that’s being employed.”

In order to do that you want to be able to plug an analysis engine or dashboard into the model directly. Autodesk recently announced a partnership with a Scottish company called IES who makes a dashboard that measures sustainable building characteristics that is connected to the Revit model. The designer can actually access IES, assuming they own the software, and with a single click, begin recording the characteristics of the model.

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