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Engineers Look at Building Information Modeling as a Science The University of California, Merced (UC Merced) is the newest institution in the prestigious UC system, having begun giving classes in 2005. The school intends to quickly make its presence known, both academically and environmentally. For starters, all permanent buildings at UC Merced are designed to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold or higher certification. The UC Merced Science and Engineering Building 2 is a good example of this commitment. When it opens in 2014, the 101,900-square-foot building will house labs dedicated to furthering the latest engineering research—and is also targeting LEED Platinum certification.

The structural and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineers designing the building turned to Autodesk® Building Information Modeling (BIM) software to collaborate both with each other and the project architect, helping to ensure the building met the school’s goals. Based on intelligent models, BIM is a process that puts powerful design, visualization, and collaboration capabilities in the hands of building design teams. “BIM helped us work more closely with the architect and other engineers on the project,” says Alan Kren, a principal with Rutherford & Chekene, the structural engineering firm on the project. “Using our models, we focused on issues and made decisions as a team that enhanced the overall project.” See figure 1 for an example of how Rutherford & Chekene used Revit Structure to support their design process.

Figure 1: Rutherford & Chekene turned to Autodesk Revit Structure to model the structure.

The Right Team
Rutherford & Chekene, a San Francisco–based structural and geotechnical engineering firm, provided structural engineering services on the project. Gayner Engineers, specializing in complex projects such as laboratories and hospitals, and also based in San Francisco, led the project team’s MEP efforts. The San Francisco office of SmithGroup, a national design firm dedicated to fostering collaborative relationships with engineers and clients, served as the project architect. The BIM process connected the firms throughout the project, with the team using Autodesk Revit® Architecture, Autodesk Revit Structure, and Autodesk Revit MEP software for building design and Autodesk Navisworks® Manage software for coordination.

Seeking the Best Solutions to Design Challenges
As the program for the building took shape, the engineers on the project realized that meeting key client requirements could prove to be a significant challenge. The existing buildings on the campus contained concrete as an integral stylistic and structural element. For the Science and Engineering Building 2, however, UC Merced opted to use steel as the dominant structural element, while still using enough concrete to visually harmonize with other campus buildings (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Rendering from Autodesk Revit Architecture of UC Merced Science and Engineering Building 2.

Other requirements created challenges for both structural and MEP engineers on the project. For one, nearby buildings have a floor-to-floor distance of 15 feet. UC Merced wanted the new building’s floors to match. This requirement gave the engineering teams 12 inches less space for structural and building systems than is typically recommended in laboratory buildings. More than that, the architect wanted the structure and building systems that supported an essential photovoltaic array to be as visually minimal as possible (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 Rendering from Autodesk Revit Architecture for a detailed look at the photovoltaic array and exposed structural elements on the UC Merced Science and Engineering Building 2.

“As challenges go, these were not showstoppers,” says Nick Mironov, a principal with Gayner Engineers. “But we wanted to find the best possible solutions. That required a multidisciplinary approach to deliver a design that looked great while minimizing the risk of interferences.”

A Fast Start
The engineers at Rutherford & Chekene tackled the need to integrate concrete and steel into the building early in their design process. They first communicated with the project architects and the clients to gain their perspectives on the desired look and feel of the concrete elements. Then, using Autodesk Revit Structure software for BIM, the engineers began exploring their options (see figure 4). They shared the results with the architects at SmithGroup and coordinated the structural model with the architectural model, which SmithGroup developed using Revit Architecture.

Figure 4: BIM helped the project team visualize the concrete and steel elements.

“We used steel to frame the interior areas,” says Kren. “Then we designed precast concrete structural columns for the exterior. Because they are precast, they offer many of the constructability advantages of structural steel. By developing this hybrid solution using Revit Structure, we were able to visualize the project and more closely align our design with the architect’s thinking. At the same time, the intelligent Revit Structure model helped us meet our structural requirements for consideration like wind and seismic loads.”

“BIM enabled a very fluid design process,” adds Roxanne Malek, an architect and principal with SmithGroup. “Rutherford & Chekene’s structural model communicated much more than a picture or rendering. That’s incredibly valuable when you’re trying to work with both concrete and steel, two materials that do not naturally mix.”

A Solar Arcade
Perhaps the most notable feature of the new building is a photovoltaic array that forms an arcade where the two main wings of the building meet. The array will not only provide renewable energy for the buildings’ systems, it will also provide shade during the hottest months. Exposed structural elements left little room to accommodate the wiring needed to support the array, creating additional design challenges.

Kren explains how BIM helped: “The array is a great example of how BIM facilitates communication across disciplines. We visualized it in Revit Structure and Revit Architecture and kept refining the design to achieve an elegant and structurally sound solution.”

Overcoming a Tight Fit
The reduced space between the floors proved to be the project’s biggest challenge. Engineering research laboratories require significant ventilation and power support for equipment. In this building, the energy-efficient HVAC system that needed to achieve LEED goals also demanded significant space between floors. What’s more, since labs cannot be subject to floor vibration, structural elements demanded more space than would be typical for most buildings of a similar size.

“With so much happening in such a compressed space, we had to work closely with both the structural engineer and the architect to make everything fit without significant interferences,” says Mironov. “We made constant reference to the intelligent Revit-based architectural and structural models as we laid out the MEP system in Revit MEP software. BIM helped prevent major clashes right from the start.”

During the detailed design phase of the project, the team met weekly to aggregate their Revit-based models in Autodesk Navisworks Manage. The software’s clash detection capabilities helped the team identify and address interferences collaboratively prior to construction.

“Mechanically, this is a very intense building,” says Eric Okstad, a design engineer with Rutherford & Chekene. “Even minor clashes can be a major headache during construction. Spotting issues early in Navisworks made it easier for every discipline to accommodate each other’s work. The real value should come out in construction, when we would hope to see fewer RFIs.”

Racing to the Finish Line
Despite the engineering challenges on the project, the team completed the construction documentation in just 20 weeks. “The client needed us to prepare the construction documents very quickly. I don’t know how we could have done that without BIM,” reports Malek. “Using Revit-based solutions made it easier for us to work with the engineers from Rutherford & Chekene and Gayner. BIM isn’t just software—it’s a way of working that takes the whole project into account. BIM leads to better designs because it’s simply a better process.”

Sarah Hodges is senior industry marketing manager, AEC Solutions, Autodesk, Inc.

Autodesk, Navisworks and Revit are registered trademarks or trademarks of Autodesk, Inc., and/or its subsidiaries and/or affiliates in the USA and/or other countries. All other brand names, product names, or trademarks belong to their respective holders. Autodesk reserves the right to alter product and services offerings, and specifications and pricing at any time without notice, and is not responsible for typographical or graphical errors that may appear in this document.

© 2011 Autodesk, Inc. All rights reserved.

Published 09/30/2011 30: 0:0: ConnectPress, Ltd © 2019