AGS Real-World Example: BIM applied to Loblolly House

Loblolly House

In Maryland, amongst trees, stands a residence that was fabricated off-site and assembled on-site. Designed by KieranTimberlake Associates with the help of the Autodesk Revit array of building information modeling software, Loblolly House is iconic. In Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, Mark Swackhamer tells us how and why:

KTA’s systematic approach to Loblolly House allowed the architects to seamlessly combine standard on-site with unconventional off-site construction strategies. Use of Autodesk’s BIM software, Revit, enabled them to improve communication among themselves, engineers, fabricators, and contractors, to collapse all phases of the project into a virtual snapshot. Design decisions were made in tandem with detailing, building system, fabrication, and shipping decisions.

Designed by Stephen Kieran for his own family, Loblolly House attracts admiration from many quarters. The American Institute of Architects gave it an award last year, and the Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community gave it a BIM award the year before. It continues to command attention. Just two months ago, the house was profiled in the February 6, 2008, issue of Architecture Week. Kieran and Timberlake have even published a book about it.

In many ways, Loblolly House is like a child’s ultimate dream treehouse. It rests on a “foundation” of air, supported by a platform resting on wooden piles. The side that faces the water doesn’t even have a wall per se, but is equipped with accordion-fold glass and retractable hanger doors, for on-demand melding of the interior space with the entire universe. Strips of red cedar give the exterior a bark-like appearance. The whole thing can be disassembled like a Lego project, and most of the components recycled. Noting that building debris makes up 40% of landfill contents, Stephen Kieran says, “If you could take apart a building and sell elements from it on eBay, you could make a difference.”

One thing Keiran wants to overcome is the stereotype people have of prefab housing as chintzy. But over the past few years the economics of on-site construction versus prefabrication have shifted, so there’s hope. Part of the change is due to BIM, which, among other advantages, allows materials to be ordered directly and accurately.

The present state of digital parametrics, as Kieran told Architectural Record, granted

a new depth of control and a new depth of specificity, geometric certainty, and three-dimensionality…” Unlike the garbage heap of unsuccessful prefab experiments of recent decades, which, in Kieran’s words, failed to understand the need for predictable, standardized components and connections, the BIM model of Loblolly has proved effective in pulling a theoretical prototype together. “As soon as you get materials out in the field and they don’t fit, you’re into handwork, and then you might as well have done the whole thing by hand.”

Swackhamer’s article in Architectural Graphic Standards traces how BIM technology was applied to the areas of scaffolding, framing, cartridges (shop-fabricated elements containing mechanical and electrical components), boxes (elsewhere, Kieran calls them “blocks”: prefabricated units for kitchen, bathroom, closet areas) and exterior skin. All these elements are exhaustively described and illustrated in the AGS chapter on building information modeling, with many examples of how BIM expedited the project.

In a Wired Magazine article titled “Plug+Play Construction,” Andrew Blum put it this way, “The house is like a concept car at an auto show: The point is not to do it more cheaply right now but to show how it can be done better later.”

Is this vision coming true?

SOURCE: “Real-World Example: Loblolly Residence,” page 950, Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition 2007
Diagram copyright 2006 KieranTimberlake Associates, used with permission

2 Responses to “AGS Real-World Example: BIM applied to Loblolly House”

  1. April 15, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    The style of writing is quite familiar to me. Did you write guest posts for other bloggers?

  2. April 22, 2009 at 6:56 am

    I read your posts for quite a long time and should tell you that your articles are always valuable to readers.

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