How Building Information Modeling Saved One University $10 Million

In most architectural projects, budgets far exceed projections. The eastern span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge notoriously cost $5 billion more than projected and a new transit hub near the World Trade Center in New York is similarly billions over budget. Those are just two high-profile scenarios. While the sources of cost overruns vary from project to project, technology can help alleviate some of the causes. In the case of the recently completed Collaborative Life Sciences Building (CLSB) in Portland, Oregon, Building Information Modeling (BIM) software and digital collaboration tools saved an astounding $10 million in construction costs on the overall $295 million budget. The deft use of these programs helped the design nab an honorable mention in the AIA TAP (Technology in Architectural Practice) Innovation Awards.The 650,000-square-foot CLSB is a joint project of the Oregon Health & Science University, Oregon State University, and Portland State University. The three institutions banded together to house their life sciences programs under one roof to give students and researchers more opportunities for collaboration. Located on OHSU’s new Schnitzer Campus, in Portland’s South Waterfront District, the building consists of classrooms, lecture halls, research laboratories, retail, and parking. CO Architects served as the project’s design architect and SERA served as executive architects.THINK OF BIM AS COMPUTER-AIDED DESIGN ON STEROIDS.”There are many things that can cause a project to go over budget, from a misalignment of the brief and design aspirations with the available budget, to unforeseen site conditions,” Alene Davis, an associate principal at SERA Architects, says in an interview. “From a software standpoint, complex geometric designs can be budget-risky if there is not a simple way to communicate the required geometries to the subcontractors that will be building them. BIM helps out tremendously in this respect.”BIM In A NutshellBIM software helps architects not only design and build in three dimensions, but to also have a 3-D model with layers of information about the individual elements that compose a structure and how they work together in a system. Think of it as computer-aided design (CAD) on steroids. For example, if the architects, engineers, or builders need to change an element of the design, they can see the ripple effects instantly—how it would impact overall cost, if something else in the design needs to change as a result, and how this would affect overall building performance and construction time. Additionally, all of this information is saved so that at any time during the lifecycle of the building, someone can go in and identify what components were used. If something breaks, the manufacturer, model number, and other details are saved so there’s no guesswork done in replacing it.These programs have been around for decades, but now they’re more sophisticated and used more widely. Davis likens the rise in BIM to the shift from hand drawings to CAD. Most large-scale architectural projects involve some combination of BIM modeling and CAD, but both the design and construction teams and all subcontractors for the CLSB used an all-BIM process—a rarity. “While architects are early adopters of 3-D technology, to demand that all of our contributing consultants use it, and for the contractor to demand that all of their subcontractors use it is rare,” Davis says, noting that her firm has been using BIM since 2006. “CLSB is one of the few projects that has done that.”

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