It might not have been possible to realize the vision for the Bergeron Centre at York University without building information modelling, or BIM, Paul Stevens said in retrospect. The senior principal at ZAS Architects + Interiors cited the intricate geometry of the 170,000-square-foot facility as having been the biggest risk factor in the project.
“It’s an ovoid building with eight different arcs, so you end up with some fairly complicated structural forming,” he explained. “Added to that is the notion of a ‘cloud’ façade, which is made up of a series of repetitive triangles rotated at different angles.”
The use of fully integrated building information modelling facilitated precise prefabrication and fast-tracked construction of the project, which earned a Canada BIM Council award late last year. The project also paved the way for the process to be adopted as a campus-wide standard at the post-secondary institution.
Patrick Saavedra, director of planning and renovations, campus services and business operations at York University, was behind the push to adopt building information modelling. He imported the process to his native Toronto from Washington, D.C., where he had worked at an architecture, engineering and construction firm that a decade ago was already using BIM in half of its projects.
Saavedra said he saw building information modelling as a way to forge a previously missing link between design and planning and operations and maintenance. The Bergeron Centre was not the first York University project to integrate BIM; it was the natural progression of earlier work.
“Prior to that, we had done maybe 15 BIM projects already of different scales, sizes and complexity, but this was the ultimate test,” he said.
When ZAS entered the design competition for the project, specific requirements for the future home of York University’s new Lassonde School of Engineering were sparse. The fledgling program had few faculty at that point, recalled Stevens.
What was clear was the mandate to fully develop the project with building information modeling, he said. No one on the project team was exempt, not even the landscape architect or the quantity surveyor. All told, the BIM model was actually an amalgamation of 10 BIM designs.
ZAS created the conceptual design using software called Grasshopper and Rhino. From there, the design evolved in greater detail through the application of Revit and a comprehensive information platform that captures data to support operations and maintenance programs.
“That’s where they saw the value in terms of the specific modeling information because Revit has the ability to not only document it technically, but it also gives you the ability to tag or describe the pieces of equipment or the systems that are within the building,” said Stevens.
That gave operations and maintenance staff ready access to data needed for repairs, replacements and service, which might otherwise be captured in drawings or stored off-site, he explained.
The big question was: What information ought to be included in the BIM model? One of the lessons to come out of this project for Saavedra was to involve operations and maintenance staff sooner. The initial instinct, he said, was to include everything, but that would have made the model more cumbersome to manage, especially when staff didn’t need all of those details.
“Our operations and maintenance folks were more interested in the information for preventative maintenance — like how often should you maintain the HVAC system?” Saavedra offered by way of example. “We had to mediate between those needs from the physical to the ‘i’ (information) in BIM for their purposes.”
As for the physical, the modelling allowed for extensive prefabrication to occur off-site, including of the ductwork, HVAC and plumbing, as well as the steel that formed the triangle pattern on the façade of the Bergeron Centre. What’s more, the modelling helped the construction manager to coordinate the arrival and assembly of these materials on site. The resulting efficiencies trimmed two months off the already fast-tracked 24-month timeline.
The new building, opened in September, 2015, doesn’t require much in the way of maintenance at the moment, Saavedra noted. In the meantime, York University has been testing smart tablets and training staff how to work in this new digital environment.
The post-secondary institution also expects to create a new position for a facilitator who will provide continuity from design through construction to operations and maintenance as further BIM projects come online. In the next year alone, a $50-million student centre, a $40-million expansion at the Schulich School of Business and a $30-million renovation of a life sciences building are slated for completion.
The Bergeron Centre created a template for realizing York University’s goal of modernizing operations and maintenance in the digital context, said Saavedra. It’s a template others are interested in replicating, too. Due to the success of the project, members of the project team have received invitations to speak about their experience from organizations across the country, including the University of Calgary and the Government of Nova Scotia.
In Canada, most large constructors have adopted building information modelling, observed Stevens, but some contractors and engineers have been more reluctant to make the leap. ZAS now works exclusively in BIM, including for interior design, a discipline in which the process is just starting to see uptake, he said.
Drawing everything in 3D takes more time upfront, the architect acknowledged, but there are many benefits to be had for those who embrace the process. He isn’t sure whether to attribute it to BIM, but there was one outcome in the Bergeron Centre project that he thought may be the result of the quality control this brings.
“One of the things we heard after the project was finished was … the execution of it in real life looks even better than the models themselves,” said Stevens.
Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.
Pictured: The above image merges the design team’s consolidated architectural, structural, MEP and landscape BIM model with a photo of the constructed building by doublespace photography.