Virtual modeling for design has been used by automobile, aircraft, and spacecraft designers for decades. But when introduced to U.S. architects in the early 1990s, it was new, exciting—and a little intimidating. Architects were aware that Building Information Modeling (BIM) was a great idea that could transform the way they did business and revolutionize the architectural/engineering/construction (AEC) industry, but was it better to take the initial risk and purchase the program right away or wait instead?

HKS decided to test the concept out. In 1992, the firm, using Sonata BIM software, designed the Class I horse racing facility called Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas. After Sonata was discontinued a few years later, Reflex, a comparable software, was purchased. Early on, the BIM software proved promising, but its main challenge was sharing a single model with an entire team. “The software lacked the high-tech platform needed to collaborate on large platform files,” says Davis Chauviere, AIA, chief information officer with HKS. “This created a recognizable concern when contemplating developing a large, complex healthcare project.

“At that time, software companies were refining BIM,” Chauviere continues. “However, many firms didn’t have the financial footing to invest in the software’s long-term development. So, we waited a few more years for the technology to further develop.”

When Autodesk—the developers of AutoCAD—announced the acquisition of the Revit Technology Corporation in 2002, the AEC industry listened. They also purchased, allowing Revit to become the field’s top-selling new software. Just five years later, HKS has more than $4 billion in construction (or about 20% of its current workload) underway using BIM. More than 80% of HKS’s $10 billion in healthcare work is completed using BIM technology. The target this year is 100%.

BIM allows architects to explore complex architectural geometry with a realistic and intelligent model that is seamlessly integrated with automatically coordinated construction documents. Simply put, instead of one-dimensional drawings or 2-D AutoCAD files, BIM’s 3-D approach allows the owner and building team to see how the pieces of their project—from its three-story atrium to its door frames—fit together in real time. This new wave of design and building technology is currently being applied to thousands of projects, including healthcare, across the country.

Chauviere notes that, similar to its earlier challenges, the technology does not allow designers to scale down to one model representing all project information in one single work session. “But, unlike early versions, the problem can be resolved by creating multiple models that are referenced into each other or work sets,” he says.

HKS’s first major healthcare project to incorporate BIM technology was the 860,000-square-foot, $335 million Capital Health System project in January 2006. BIM allowed designers from HKS, as well as collaborating designer Array, to better understand the integration of this large, complex replacement hospital and medical office building, located in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, through a 3-D modeling approach.

“At that time, there were no industry standards in terms of model management, such as how to break up the project by pieces of building,” says Carrie Stahl, job captain with HKS. “So we divided the project by the expansion joints. In retrospect, we should have divided the model by exterior and interior. This resembles how the team is structured with respect to areas of responsibility. The project divided this way allows drawing plots to be printed from exterior files, instead of loading both interior and exterior files, thus saving time and money. This was one of many lessons learned that are now being applied to our larger projects firm-wide. Today, we meet with team members prior to the start-up of projects that exceed 600,000 square feet.”

“To begin the process of implementing BIM throughout the firm, the more technology-savvy employees began investigating the technology on their own time by downloading trial versions,” says Ron Meyer, AIA, vice-president and project architect with HKS. “Once projects were designated to move into the BIM software, this group of employees formed a team to begin the process. We had to balance moving the project ahead through a fast-track schedule while developing templates (or family content) to be used by the healthcare group. As other projects were designated BIM, the more experienced users became developers of the templates, as well as mentors to the new teams who were starting BIM projects.”

To keep the momentum going, an HKS BIM committee was formed to standardize the development of families or customized content. Over the course of a year, this committee further refined the process by identifying and addressing other areas of need, such as detail components and keynoting, which automates the process architects use to draw large-scale construction document details. For example, brick masonry flashing and roofing details are incorporated as standards in BIM.

Training for BIM utilization has proved to be challenging. “We experienced a number of challenges in initiating the software program because it is substantially different than two-dimensional software programs,” says Meyer. “The three- dimensional aspects and database features redefine the way architects work. It was a paradigm shift for us.” In most cases, at the outset, architects were learning the program on the job, instead of in the classroom. Initial software training was conducted through printed tutorials and IT instruction, as well as internal and external continuing education courses. Today, the firm also offers full-time BIM help desk staff.

For the 360,000-square-foot CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Westover Hills Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, the BIM process allowed the project design team to spend more time focusing on the client’s vision rather than the task of document coordination.

“When designing and constructing its signature calling tower,” (figure 1) says Meyer, “the team worked with the owner to design in real time, instead of designing the tower and handing the completed drawing to the contractor. This integrated process allowed the owner and designer to be more involved in the tower’s aesthetics, while the contractor provided valuable constructability input and pricing. In the end, the process saved time and limited change orders and information requests.”

A design sketch produced from a BIM model was used to show the intracacies of the design during the schematic phase at Phoenix Children’s Hospital

A 3-D BIM construction document view identifies building details and illustrates the relief and arches designed into the tower element at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Westover Hills Hospital in San Antonio, Texas

BIM has also proven beneficial in streamlining communication between team members. “At our project team meetings, we projected the BIM model onto the screen, cut building sections, identified conflicts, and solved coordination issues immediately,” says Meyer. “Instead of identifying a challenge, going back to our offices to determine a resolution, and then meeting again to discuss it, the team used the model to identify and solve the issue in one session.”

In HKS’s Salt Lake City office, BIM software was used to design and construct the 100,000-square-foot freestanding women’s center on the Logan Regional Hospital campus.

According to HKS architect Matt Snow, AIA, LEED AP, the new software is proving beneficial because drawing and scheduling changes are updated throughout the project files when revisions are made; all project information is located in one file, instead of many individual files. “If a door is moved on the floor plan, it automatically updates itself on the exterior elevation, wall section, details, and door schedule. This decreases production time significantly. Also, the model can be exported into a 3-D .dwf file, allowing us to show clients what the building will look like with a 3-D walkthrough.”

At Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, BIM aided the client in determining its new facility’s exterior skin. When deciding the ratio of brick to glass, the software provided easy-to-compare pricing information based on square footages. Scheduling construction of the exterior skin was also a variable that fit into the decision-making equation.

Instead of showing static images of project concepts to Indiana’s Parkview Health administrators, the team used BIM when designing its 350-bed, 700,000-square-foot replacement hospital. The BIM technology allowed the architects to instantaneously update all three key components of the project—massing (figure 2), block planning (figure 3), and square footage. This allowed the owner to become an integral part of the design process, making quicker and more informed decisions.

A BIM massing model was used to produce preliminary 3D design views to illustrate design concepts at Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana

A BIM massing model allowed designers to produce preliminary block planning design views. This model was used to calculate actual square footage and compare to programmed square footage at Parkview Regional Medical Center

Owners, architects, engineers, and contractors are seeing the benefits of BIM. If implemented properly, the program has been known to reduce the time for coordination and drawing, minimize reference number mistakes, and leave more room in the budget for design. Communications of the interior and exterior design intent with clients is also greatly improved, creating a win/win situation for all involved.

“HKS will continue to provide innovative project delivery by teaming with industry professionals throughout the design and construction process,” says Chauviere. “As more projects enter the BIM world, the opportunities to improve design, schedule, and quality will increase as a result of our commitment to its implementation.” HD

Brian McFarlane is Associate Principal/Project Director of Health Facilities at HKS, Inc., an international design firm. He can be reached at 214.969.5599 or

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