GSA mandates building information modeling

Technology has potential for facilities management

The General Services Administration has mandated that new buildings designed through its Public Buildings Service use building information modeling in the design stage.

BIM is an emerging technology that involves creating a structure as a 3-D virtual model and linking it with data. GSA’s mandate covers the design phase, but advocates of the technology say it has far-ranging potential for use in ongoing facility management.

“We are making this fiscal ’07 requirement as a minimum requirement,” said Calvin Kam, GSA’s BIM project manager. “We are encouraging [people], project by project, to go over and above the minimum.”

The 3-D design is the most visible and striking aspect of BIM, but it is only one manifestation, Kam said. By connecting the spatial representation to data, agency officials can quickly calculate a building’s heating costs or see where design elements don’t correctly fit together.

“Where we add the most value is working with customers to leverage the data they already have,” said Juliana Slye, director of government solutions in the infrastructure solutions division at Autodesk, a BIM vendor.

GSA is just dipping its toe into the water, said Deke Smith, chairman of the National BIM Standard Project Committee.

“Where they’re now requiring BIM is on space planning,” Smith said. “It’s only a piece of what BIM could be, even for a new building. It’s a very small first step. The long-range benefits are just huge.”

GSA’s Office of the Chief Architect began working with BIM in 2003 and has completed 10 pilot projects, with 25 more under way, said Charles Matta, director of the Center for Federal Buildings and Modernizations.

Technology has become increasingly important as GSA’s workforce has shrunk from more than 40,000 to about 12,500, Matta said. “When an [architect or engineering firm] brings in a design and says ‘Yes, it does have the efficiencies we require,’ we don’t have the means to go into their documents and confirm,” he said. “We don’t have the resources and staffing to do so. When they present a model to us, it’s easy.”

Several software vendors offer BIM products, and GSA usually encounters them via the architectural firms involved in designing federal buildings, Matta said. During the past three years, GSA asked the companies to show that their technologies could work together.

“We wanted to make sure they all work toward an interoperable way of delivering” the data, he said. If, for example, a new architecture and engineering team joined an existing project, and the new team had a different BIM vendor than the original team did, they should be able to use the work product and not need to redo it.

GSA has an inventory of more than 342 million square feet of office space that houses 1.1 million federal employees, according to the agency. The agency owns about half of that space, in 1,500 buildings, and leases the rest.

“That’s a huge asset,” Slye said. “Managing these facilities represents a significant cost.”

Autodesk is involved in a number of GSA projects and has also converted the design documents of about 30 existing GSA properties from blueprints to 3-D BIM models, she said.

The technology has a place in designing facility security measures, she added. Although GSA is concerned with the design of new facilities, some agencies are looking backward.

“One of the biggest design options we’re seeing is buildings being retrofitted for security,” she said.
BIM offers dimensions of dataAlthough some people in the construction and facilities management fields are unfamiliar with building information modeling (BIM), experts predict they will be learning about it soon. In the meantime, important concepts to remember include:

  • 3-D models are simply the virtual building of a structure in a computer before people break ground at a construction site. BIM goes far beyond that to include information about time, such as scheduling construction or planning for tenants to move in. A 3-D model plus the time data is a 4-D model.
  • Underlying the models in a BIM system is information on building systems, such as climate control or plumbing, and other data that could come in handy during the design, construction or management of the building.
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