Carl Galioto and Paul Seletsky on Building Information Modeling

Freedom Tower

Recently, Bryant Rousseau conducted a joint interview with two Skidmore, Owings & Merrill architects, Paul Seletsky and Carl Galioto, about the still-emerging field of building information modeling (BIM), also sometimes referred to as “virtual design and construction.” Galioto, incidentally, was subject editor for the Special Construction and Demolition section (Chapter 6) of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition. Interviewer Rousseau introduces the piece by describing the shape of the discussion:

The pair discuss how BIM facilitated a major redesign of the Freedom Tower; assess the technology’s strategic impact on the profession; address common misperceptions; explain BIM’s potential benefits for smaller practices; point out how BIM can lead to increased compensation for architects; and lay out the potential ramifications of BIM-both positive and negative-on the architect’s overall role in the realization of buildings.

Both Galioto and Seletsky see the advent of BIM as a transforming event whose full impact has yet to be realized or appreciated. They describe the concept of performative design, and the new idea of a model rich with data, that is not really owned by anyone. The exchange, the borrowing, the circular process of swapping back and forth between all the contributors creates a huge database that is, in effect, a virtual building. Building information modeling, they say, is not just about cost-effectiveness or 3D geometry, but about a whole new level of collaboration, and joint ownership of intellectual property, and thus requires a whole new mindset.

Galioto compares BIM to email, as an entity whose beginnings give barely a hint of what it will develop into over the course of time. Seletsky knocks down the mistaken notion that BIM is just for large firms, saying that in his opinion it gives unprecedented opportunities and advantages to small firms and small-scale projects. He says:

As a very good example, take specifications-which is traditionally coming as a post-rational application to something that has already been designed. But what we’re going to see is where the specifications become embedded into the rules of a building information model. We’ll see more and more examples of taking knowledge and applying it at the very early stages of design rather than applying it later.

What is the effect of BIM on architects? Does it take away the autonomy and leadership they’ve become accustomed to? The consensus is that both the responsibility and stature of architects can only be increased, if they get behind the technology and use its full potential. Galioto in particular praises and welcomes the magnified role of collaboration. He gives the example of how the analysis of thermal performance on building envelopes is much richer when architects, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineers, can have a meeting of minds so much more fully enabled by the software.

In his view, the biggest problem area is interoperability, which has fallen behind the huge gains made by individual applications. He predicts that this difficulty will be overcome due to client demand, which is always the prime mover of the marketplace. This will inevitably happen, he suggests, because clients will realize how BIM is not just something that gets the building designed, and all its systems coordinated, but is an enduring and permanent facilities management tool, much to their advantage.

BIM also brings new legal liability and insurance implications that weren’t factors before. First, there needs to be a universally accepted definition of exactly what BIM is. The technology entails changes in the delivery system, new job descriptions, the redefinition of contractual relationships, changes in compensation to the various parties, and other issues. Galioto explains why he is very pleased with the way the difficulties are being negotiated and how well the shift to a new set of expectations is progressing.

The two architects also discuss BIM in relation to the Freedom Tower, part of the new World Trade Center complex, which is under construction and will be for many more years. It presented the unusual challenge of having to be redesigned after the decision was made to increase the setback from the street to reduce its vulnerability to car bombs and other security threats. A great deal of work had been done and the creators thought everything was pretty much in place, when they learned the building was to be relocated. Seletsky describes the unparalleled usefulness of Autodesk Revit in this regard, enabling them to understand the relationships of subway lines, water mains, conduits and other underground elements to the overall suitability of the site.

The plan includes many features that hark back to the 9/11 disaster, such as a dedicated staircase for the use of firefighters and other first responders. The Freedom Tower project is highly emotionally charged and has been since its inception, with every step being controversial. Only a couple of weeks ago it made news again when a homeless man found sets of schematics in the trash, prompting a public relations uproar.

SOURCE: ” SOM’s Carl Galioto and Paul Seletsky on BIM ” (no date given)
photo courtesy of alvy, used under this Creative Commons license

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