Thursday, February 21, 2013

28 in 28 #21: BIM in Small-Scale Sustainable Design

February is Book Month on A Daily Dose of Architecture. The "28 in 28" series features a different book every day of the month.

BIM in Small-Scale Sustainable Design by François Lévy
Wiley, 2011
Hardcover, 312 pages

At its core BIM (Building Information Modeling) is a pretty simple idea: A 3-dimensional virtual model is embodied with data that can be used to generate drawings, spreadsheets, and other relevant output. But the complexities are many, partially due to the fact that the shift from CAD to BIM is a much greater one than the shift from hand drafting to CAD. The earlier transition from paper to digital still involved the drawing of plans, sections, elevations, and so forth via lines, but BIM dispenses with drawing (for the most part, at least) in favor of the modeling of systems (walls, windows, doors, roofs, etc.). On top of that fact is learning BIM software, determining how to integrate BIM into an office's and project's workflow, and coordinating with consultants, among many other considerations.

When it comes to integrating BIM within a project's workflow, it is often used purely for construction documents, coming after schematic design and entering the picture sometime within design development, depending on the firm. François Lévy, an architect in Austin, Texas, believes that for small, skin-load dominated buildings (versus large, systems-heavy buildings) BIM is best introduced in the early phases of a project, where it can be used to aid with site analysis, massing, solar studies, passive heating/cooling, and hydrology, to name a few areas where the intelligent modeling can be queried for information. This is not to say that a highly detailed and "figured out" model needs to be generated in the conceptual or schematic design phase; BIM software enables models with respectively "lo-fi" information to be created and still carry intelligent data.

Lévy's argument unfolds over eleven chapters that address the uses of BIM mentioned above, as well the relationship between BIM and sustainable design, BIM software, and collaboration. Each chapter is accompanied by a brief case study that is helpful in grounding Lévy's ideas in specific practices, most of them external to his own. Falling somewhere between a technical textbook and a theoretical exposition, the book is helpful as a guide for architects interested in integrating BIM into their workflow. With an emphasis on small buildings (single-family houses, mainly), that pool is large, and the book makes a convincing argument for working BIM into the early stages of a design. That argument would be even stronger if the book were illustrated in color; as is, many of the renderings and model views lack contrast and differentiation between surfaces to make them fully legible. This is unfortunate but not a fatal flaw for a book that intelligently embraces a technology's impact on making buildings better and more responsible.