June 24, 2010


The LEED Gold Bay Adelaide Centre used BIM to model daylight and solar access.


Building Information Modeling helps achieve LEED, architect says

Whether you’re looking to earn project credits in LEED, or a number of other emerging building standards, construction industry players will find it less of a challenge by embracing Building Information Modeling (BIM), says a Toronto architect.

“Rating systems such as LEED are just tools to help us achieve design objectives,” says Susan Spencer Lewin, Principal and Director of Sustainable Strategies with CS&P Architects of Toronto, and Vice Chair of the Toronto Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council. “But standards that once were designed to offer voluntary credits are now becoming mandatory in many Canadian jurisdictions, as they’re adopted into building codes and by-laws, particularly by municipalities who are upping the ante.”

BIM offers construction projects a system of integrated project delivery and a shared platform that provides information that any of the project team can use, says Lewin. That includes those who are trying to assess whether the project will meet the criteria of such credit-oriented programs as LEED.

“Because BIM helps us incorporate accurate modeling information, and pushes important decisions to the beginning of the design process, improving co-ordination and reducing errors,” she says. “Because of this, we can accurately assess the performance of various aspects of building projects and know whether they are being built within the design tolerances expected to earn program credits.”

Lewin says that BIM is particularly well suited to assess daylight modeling and solar access, for example, which not only have important ramifications for occupant comfort, but can also help a project earn LEED credits.

“Essentially, if you can use most of the rooms in the building during the day without turning on the lights, you can earn credits for that,” says Lewin. “By using BIM you’ll be able to model the lighting in the project long before it’s built.”

But BIM provides an additional advantage by moving those design decisions affecting LEED into the hands of designers.

“In a traditional model, engineers are required to do the modeling for aspects of design involving lighting, site analysis, energy use or water use analysis,” says Lewin. “With BIM, those calculations can be made at the design level without having to hire a green guru or pay out expensive consulting fees. You may still want to use an engineer to look at the analysis you’ve produced, but the costs are significantly lower at that stage.”

Lewin says that BIM systems can also be trained to provide the project team with ongoing analysis of the project.

That could include such calculations as how much recycled content is being used in the building on an ongoing basis, both for individual building components and for the building as a whole.

“You could also use BIM to help assess precisely how much construction material was sourced within a certain radius of the project,” she says.

“BIM information is endlessly adaptable and well suited to tracking progress in credit systems, such as those offered by LEED.”

Lewin notes that Canada is lagging behind the U.S. in adopting BIM which is also a concern.

She says uneven adoption across design teams may delay the type of efficiencies offered by the system.

She also notes that it’s important for construction contractors to embrace BIM more vigorously. “That’s not only because it will make their jobs easier, but because BIM is still in its formative stages,” she says. “The information offered by BIM in the future will be far more complex and layered in comparison to what we’re seeing today.”

Finally, it’s important for all stakeholders to get involved with BIM so they can bring their voices to the table and start to discuss what features they would like to see incorporated into standard BIM programs.

“Earlier adopters will see their needs and the information they want reflected in future incarnations of BIM, based on their early feedback,” she says.

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