The New Face of Design: BIM and What It Means for the AV Industry

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What is BIM?
Building Information Modeling, (BIM), is a 3D design, modeling and simulation technology for the architectural, engineering and construction industries.  While not exactly new — elements of BIM have been around for several years, and it is an important initiative that is changing what is considered standard practice in architecture today.  In fact, Charles Eastman, the director of the College of Architecture Ph.D. program at the Georgia Institute of Technology has called BIM “the most massive upheaval of design practice in the history of the construction industry.”  Pretty heady stuff.  The building industry has embraced this evolution of 2-D drawings and analog text to digital electronic imagery and information.  However, BIM is more than just a 3D representation of physical (products) and functional characteristics of a structure.  More importantly, BIM is a shared knowledge resource between everybody involved in the design process — architects, engineers, interiors people, GCs and other contractors — for information about a facility and the building materials incorporated into it.  Other beneficiaries of BIM include facility owners, planners, appraisers, estimators, environmentalists, realtors, lawyers, code officials and ultimately, the building occupants who will utilize the completed space as it has been conceptualized.  Used throughout the various design phases, BIM is drastically changing the way in which structures are designed because it provides a much better interpretation of what the building is going to look like and how the building will perform over its life cycle.

BIM is Information.

While the definition of BIM begins with the three-dimensional modeling of an entire building, each design phase includes not only the architecture, but also every other aspect of the structure, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing and ultimately every component of the project that requires physical coordination.   But it’s the “I” in BIM that is the most beneficial – the building elements are represented in both graphical and data-rich text so that the information or data imbedded behind each object is available; features such as size, shape, colors, fire ratings, warranty, raw materials, manufacturers specifications and other documentation can be included for each product in the building model.  The 3-D renderings are generic, but the object remains dynamic – change the size of the object, for example, a bathroom stall, and the amount of stalls required to fill the space will automatically change as well.  Today’s projects are larger and more complex than ever and they’re being built on tighter schedules and budgets as well, requiring a greater degree of communication and coordination.  BIM fosters collaboration by allowing simultaneous coordination of multiple team members working on the project.

With all of this information included with the 3-D rendering at the fingertips of everyone involved in the design process, conflicts reveal themselves as they’re created and projects are delivered on time, on budget and often at a tremendous cost savings.

The Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco was completely designed with BIM.  During the various design phases and despite numerous changes, over 200 design and construction conflicts were identified, most before construction even began.  The project was delivered on time and below budget, resulting in an estimated savings of $10 million in change orders.

bim-CourtTower-0310More and more high profile projects are utilizing BIM.  The New York Yankee’s new stadium was designed with BIM.  Renowned architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designed The Freedom Tower at Manhattan’s Ground Zero using BIM.

Other major global design firms such as Gensler, HOK, HKS, Perkins & Will and Leo A. Daly have all adopted BIM as a standard practice. Organizations such as the National Institute of Building Sciences and the Construction Specification Institute have also embraced BIM.   And even a greater factor for the AV industry, the General Service Administration (GSA) has recently mandated that all new public service projects will be designed with BIM.  Large construction companies such as Turner Construction are using BIM to identify building design conflicts and collision points during the construction phase.


AV products are considered building components, and in the eyes of a construction professional, manufacturers of AV products are building product manufacturers, not AV companies.  The information in the building model can be very helpful to AV providers.  First of all, the ability to visualize the physical aspects of the AV products incorporated into the space such as video display size and location, loudspeaker configurations, projector mounting locations, equipment rack layouts and head-end equipment locales is very valuable. Then to be able to share all of that information in collaboration and coordination with architects, interior designers and other construction professionals is beneficial in several ways.  Space and system routing conflicts can be identified, and clear cable pathways, projector and camera sightlines can be ascertained. Visual simulation can also detect potential problems, such as natural daylight designs that compromise video display clarity.  Control system software can be coordinated within the model so that the control system can be effectively demonstrated for multi-media, volume, lighting, projection screen and HVAC applications.  Again, the data imbedded behind each AV product could also include environmental information such as recycled content or low volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  This could help determine implications of “green” initiatives for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification requirements. BIM tools offer analysis of the performance of energy efficiency elements and sustainable materials.

The benefits of BIM go beyond the construction phase.  Once the building is completed, facility management professionals can rely on BIM’s potential for lifecycle analysis, performance assessment and routine maintenance.  The model stays with the building for its entire life.  AV products in the model can be accessed for product information, warranty, operational and trouble-shooting procedures as well as establishing additional components needed for future upgrades should application requirements need change.

AV professionals will soon see that BIM will impact their world.  At the least, BIM projects will require that AV is involved earlier in the design process.  That can be a real advantage for AV product manufacturers, consultants and systems integrators alike; traditionally AV has been an afterthought and now with BIM, is an integral aspect of the structure.   With significant time and cost reductions, elimination of construction conflicts and more accurate estimates, BIM will help architects and AV professionals to work together more effectively by being on the same page throughout the entire building process.

BIM Helping Hands

Now is the time for AV manufacturers to be BIM-ready.  Other AV professionals need to be BIM-savvy.  And there are companies that are ready to help.  Several AV manufacturers are taking advantage of opportunities offered by firms that can provide assistance in getting found, selected,“BIM’d” and specified by the architectural community.  One such company is ARCAT, a Shelton, Connecticut based publisher of an online informational resource that offers building product manufacturers a profile page on their website, which allows architects, engineers and designers easy access to the products that they’re looking for when working on a project.  The vast majority are looking for a product type, not a specific manufacturer.  The architects find the product they’re interested in, and the manufacturer of that product will pop up in the search request onARCAT’s site.  ARCAT will list the products on the manufacturer’s profile page, as well as all the tools the architect will need to detail the products into the job, including manufacturers specifications, BIM object renderings and all the information embedded behind the BIM object.

So you can imagine the possibilities with BIM: imagine the ability to quantify construction materials required for the project during the preliminary design phases; imagine visualizing the sun emanating from a skylight during the course of a day in a project utilizing maximum natural light forLEED certification purposes; imagine a construction site with 30 percent less waste because the contractor can pre-fabricate materials before getting to the job site.  Imagine fewer change orders because owners can walk through a 3-D model of exactly what the building is going to look like, with all the design team members on the project on the same page.  And imagine the sights, sounds and performance of that building, including the AV systems incorporated in it, before the first shovel full of dirt is thrown.   Welcome to the new face of design: its name is BIM.

Jon Melchin, CSI, is a frequent contributor of editorial material for trade publications serving the construction and audiovisual industries.  He serves on InfoComm’s Green AV Task Force and is an advocate of green building initiatives and Building Information Modeling practices.  Reach him at