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BIM to the Rescue: Creating Sustainable Buildings

Jennifer Hicks | Thursday May 20th, 2010 | 3 Comments

Buildings are responsible for about 48% of the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.  Fortunately, there’s a growing move in architecture, engineering and construction—or the a/e/c world—to construct buildings that are greener, more energy efficient and more sustainable.  And to do that, many in the industry are turning to building information modeling.sustainable building image

BIM is an evolving concept that uses technology to create extraordinarily detailed 3D models of a building’s innards and overall structure.  One of its aims is to better marry design intent and actual construction.  But another is to have that model serve as a blueprint to facility managers, as an aid in maintaining and operating the building and evaluating and enhancing energy efficiency.

And it was BIM and its green-ness that was the focus of the McGraw-Hill Green BIM conference in Boston on May 19, where one speaker focused specifically on BIM’s importance to the sustainability factor.

Sustainability and BIM

Sustainability—from the Latin sustinere where tenere means to hold and sus means up.  That’s how John Cannistraro Jr., president of J.C. Cannistraro, a Massachusetts-based mechanical construction firm, opened his presentation at the conference.

Cannistraro spoke of the decimation of the a/e/c industry caused by the global recession.  He pointed out the declining revenues firms have reported as the world of construction ground to a halt.  And he explained that in order for those firms to be sustainable, they needed to best determine how to reduce construction costs to fit today’s meager building budgets.

And that’s where BIM comes in.

During the modeling, the architects and engineers can explore different design options to enhance energy efficiency, indoor air quality and natural lighting.  And if the designer, the engineer, the heating and ventilation people, and the building owner all work together during the process, each has input and knows exactly what to expect.  This can help reduce the total building cost by minimizing the need for costly change orders during the construction process, said Cannistraro.

This is good for the one who wants to build the building. It is also good for those who will work in the building.  And it is good for those involved in the planning process because they get their fees and live for another day.

So, that’s what sustainability is on its most basic level—good for people, planet and profits.

Some sustainable building projects

Design and building efforts to improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve water use in buildings are underway.

There’s the Shanghai Tower in China.  When completed in 2014, the twisting “vertical city” will soar more than 2,000 feet, boast green roofs, rainwater collection and a 40% reduction in water use, according to Ken Sanders, managing director at Gensler, the firm that designed the tower.

But sustainable building has started to move beyond the building itself and into entire neighborhoods.

There are eco-districts in Portland, Ore., where the the buildings, streets, landscape, and infrastructure “work together to cut greenhouse gases, reduce waste, and improve energy and water efficiency–much like HVAC, framing, insulation, windows, and appliances combine to achieve energy efficiency at the house level.”

At Dockside Green in Vancouver, 15 acres are under development and will include residential, retail, office and light residential structures along with cultural sites and public amenities.  The result will be a sustainable community, where buildings are about 50% more energy efficient than Canadian Model National Energy Code and rainwater will be collected, treated and reused in the water and sewage treatment plant.

When can I move in?


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  • j mills

    Shanghai Tower, was designed by Marshall Strabala, award-winning design architect who has now designed 3 of the 10 tallest buildings in the world. He was the Director of Design at Gensler last 4 years and with design documents delivered his expertise is less needed and so he has started his own design firm with numerous clients calling for his “knowledge, architecture skills and sustainable experience”
    Strabala has 23 years experience with sustainable design. He often says in his lectures around the globe, big projects MUST be sustainable or they don't get built. Check out his wikipedia site to view his prolific portfolio.

  • todd

    Great post, its good to see the corporate giants are taking a stand on award winning design also. MY client McGraw Hill offers great resources on gypsum board and other components I Think all designers would find useful.

  • todd

    Great post, its good to see the corporate giants are taking a stand on award winning design also. MY client McGraw Hill offers great resources on gypsum board and other components I Think all designers would find useful.

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