This year's AIA Technology in Architectural Practice (TAP) Building Information Modeling (BIM) awards celebrate projects that demonstrate BIM's evolution from a drawing and modeling tool to a holistic method for managing the design of buildings across multiple disciplines and stakeholders, offering each unheralded control over complex data. As part of the AIA National Convention in New Orleans, the 2011 award recipients were honored on Wednesday, May 11, at the AIA TAP BIM Awards Reception. Several other convention sessions (Award Winning BIM: Seven Years of AIA TAP BIM Awards and TAP Revolution: Better Design and Higher Value Driven by Process Innovation and Technology) further explore the legacy that this awards program has established.


The TAP Knowledge Community hosted its first annual BIM Awards competition in the spring of 2005. "The initial goal of the BIM Awards program was to increase awareness of what had been done and could be done with BIM," says Stephen Hagan, FAIA, who was chair of the AIA TAP Knowledge Community in 2006 and currently leads the BIM Awards program. "We wanted to promote dialogue and raise the bar," he says.

The competition recognizes the best examples of an integrated modeling process, advanced data exchange techniques, and a high level of interdisciplinary collaboration, but the emphasis has changed throughout the years. "At the very beginning, groundbreaking work involved drawing automation," says Tony Rinella, Assoc. AIA, joint-chair of the AIA TAP Knowledge Community. He says award-winning projects then used BIM to create drawings that combined coordination, speed, accuracy, and sophistication in ways previously unknown.

As time went on, Rinella says, BIM became a tool for decision-making, not just drawing. HOK, for example, used BIM to test design elements against national healthcare standards in its design of the Royal London Hospital, an award recipient in 2007. He says BIM also started being used to coordinate assembly processes, like in the case of Daniel Libeskind's, AIA, building for the Denver Art Museum, a 2006 honoree whose design, fabrication, and assembly were all coordinated using BIM.

And now, with builders and owners also adopting BIM, its use is moving beyond building assembly to management and operations. "Today, unless someone is using BIM in a broad, interdisciplinary team to control all aspects, from design to assembly, they are unlikely to win a BIM award," says Rinella. "A likely winner would be more than just a single company making a heroic effort. It's more like a giant group process."


Calvin Kam, AIA, chair of the AIA TAP Knowledge Community and director of Industry Programs at the Stanford University Center for Integrated Facility Engineering, says the TAP committee rewards projects that continue to elevate BIM from a tool used for coordination, clash-detection, and visualization, to a method that supports sustainable design solutions and proactive project management. In his words, the goal is to push the field "from representation to integration, simulation, automation, to optimization."

This year, a project that not only used BIM to create models, but leveraged it to manage a great deal of complexity is the D.C. Consolidated Forensic Lab, by HOK. "This is one of those projects that had a lot of different dimensions," says project manager Timothy O'Connell, AIA. "We were trying to collocate three independent groups so they could work more efficiently. There was a lot to coordinate and we had to figure out how to make all the pieces come together."

The project involved a challenging site located in a dense urban area and a complex program including several different types of laboratories, forensic suites, and an indoor firing range. The design team consisted of the architect and more than 30 sub-consultants. The team worked with three models (architectural, lab planning, and interior design) that were synchronized automatically every night, or could be updated manually as needed. O'Connell says BIM allowed the owner, contractor, and the design team to work together to craft the design, coordinate delivery, and control costs throughout the process. BIM was key in fitting the program into the space, and later in developing the building's skin and exterior fenestration. O'Connell also says BIM allowed the design team to quickly perform several different studies of the integrated façade design, and to organize about a dozen schemes for building design and organization.

While recognizing that the value of BIM lies in its power to coordinate huge complexity, AIA TAP doesn't want to discourage small firms from exploring BIM. For that reason, the group this year instituted a new award category to recognize the ways in which BIM is extending the capabilities of smaller firms. BlakeDrucker Architects, a four-person firm based in Oakland received an honorable mention this year for its Craniofacial and Mesenchymal Lab Renovation for the University of California-San Francisco. The project involved an 11,000-square-foot laboratory, and it had design engineers, the general contractor, and six subcontractors working off a coordinated model.


An example of projects the TAP committee would like to see more of is Camelview Village, by Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based Optima, which received a citation for sustainable design this year. "Sustainable design is so important, and yet we wonder why we're not seeing BIM really leveraged to achieve it," says Rinella. Part of the problem, he says, is the still uncertain connection between building simulation and actual performance. "Maybe it's the evolution of the tools," he says. "Maybe they're just not doing what they should be doing yet."

Still, Camelview Village, a 700-unit mixed-use condominium development in downtown Scottsdale, is plenty green. It manages to get 23 acres of landscaping on a 13-acre site. The project consists of nine seven-story and two six-story buildings, each featuring landscaped terraces. David Hovey Jr., AIA, Optima vice president, says that by working with Stanford University and Arizona State University, the Optima team was able to test plants under different light and soil conditions to find the appropriate mix for the decks. BIM also allowed the team to predict annual solar exposure levels for each terrace. "By doing solar analyses, we found that we were able to design our landscape around what we had in a virtual model, rather than having five to 10 people constantly taking light readings and mapping these different plants out in the field," Hovey says.

Kam, who is also vice president for strategic innovation at optima, says BIM was used for purposes beyond landscape design. Because Optima is an integrated firm that acts as developer, architect, and contractor, the company was able to rely on the same set of models for energy modeling, cost estimating, and scheduling.


In future BIM awards, Rinella would like to see more programmatic simulation and code analysis. While not critical, he says he would also enjoy seeing a public information display being used to monitor building performance in real time.

Speaking of actual building performance, Hagan says that's one area in which submissions to the BIM Awards program still have progress to make. He's looking for future award recipients to use BIM in a way that accurately represents how each building's systems perform their duties and consume energy in real time. He's not alone in referring to this type of BIM project as "the holy grail."

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