Biting the BIM Bullet

(by Paul Durand    , AIA)
Holding onto myself (petercallesen)

If you haven’t done it by now, you better get to it!  Or fall so far behind you may never be able to catch up.  Bite the BIM bullet.  It’s the future of the building industry and the future is now or just around the corner.  Our firm swallowed the BIM pill way back in 2003, a year after Revit was first introduced to the market by AutoDesk.  What we saw then was what other industries have been doing for years: virtually prototyping and testing designs prior to fabrication.  Economics and compute power had that practice relegated to big business and complex industries, but now the industrial evolution has finally availed these tools to the AEC Industry that allow us to rise up and shed our Neanderthal trappings.  Those who will not adapt and wait, or dismiss it as a passing fad, will surrender to Natural Selection ending up in their own version of the La Brea Tar Pits.

What BIM allows us to do is create buildings in the same way that we think about them; as visualized complete projects.  We don’t think in plans, elevations, sections and details.  These deconstruct the idea into two dimensional components simply to communicate the complexities of the idea to someone else or to allow us to coordinate others’ work into our idea.

BIM lets us use our minds the way our minds work.  It also lets us spin, cut, peel and dissect the virtual buildings in real-time to make sure our understanding is complete and the systems are well coordinated.  The visual language is one everyone understands, so our ideas and the complexities of building construction are readily communicated to our staff, clients, end users, the general public, contractors, sub-contractors, suppliers, facilities administrators and anyone else who has the need to understand the nature of the building; and it’s simply done in real time.

Photorealistic BIM Rendering of the Salem State College, Weir-Stanley Building Music Rehearsal Space

Photorealistic BIM Rendering of the Salem State College, Weir-Stanley Building Music Rehearsal Space

No long computer regenerations or hour long renderings, you can see a perspective now, in a moment, at any beckon call.  Now there is little mystery in what we do and frankly, there has always been nervousness and a leap of faith from our clients when trying to envision our ideas.  That is no longer the case; now there is greater trust and understanding.

Most of all, BIM allows us to be better architects.  It brings back the “master builder” model to our work where the architect is in control, masterfully bringing art and technology together.   We lost control in our industry and are often considered a necessary evil while others have taken art and quality from buildings to build them simply, quickly, cheaply and for greater profit.  Today we are on the brink of a changing industry and there is more opportunity for architects to lead again and keep architecture and quality in the building equation.

Our transition was hard and expensive.  The difficulty was that hardened AutoCad users were thinking like “AutoCad users” and trying to make Revit perform the same tasks, but Revit “thinking” is different.  AutoCad is more like drafting with computers while Revit is about building virtual models, so you go about them differently.  Revit also makes you think about materials, building systems and constructability much earlier than we were used to…and this is a good thing.   We found great success in an internship program with a local college. The students are skilled Revit users and we teamed them up with experienced project managers who understand construction.  This pilot/copilot format eased the frustration of our “old dogs” and the interns with their “new tricks” thrived in an environment that had them involved in real work that was important to our firm’s success; it provided a valuable education and they learned a lot quickly.  We initiated our own in-house learning program.  In the beginning we had training consultants telling us the best way to learn Revit was to send our employees to their training classes.   This may have been true but we were on the leading edge of this stuff and skeptical and we wanted to figure out how we could best use the tool rather than from some other perspective.  So we just jumped in to the deep end and started to swim.  Needless to say it was a year of havoc and frustration. New hardware was needed to support the software and  challenged productivity and cash outlay was a constant irritant.


There is always pain in charting new courses and we certainly experienced our fair share, but our firm is always looking to do things better. Better buildings, more responsive designs, higher client satisfaction, whatever gives our firm a competitive edge in the challenging Boston market.

Our goal is to make our client’s business better through our work and Revit is one of the tools that helped us achieve our goal.

On the basic level, Revit communicates our ideas to our clients more effectively than any other method.  Our schematic design and design development phase approvals happen much quicker than ever before; usually in one meeting.  Any question about any aspect of the project can be addressed in real time.   Views of the project aren’t just the views we as architects select, they can be any views our client chooses.  One department head who wanted to see what their new office looked like from her chair was given that luxury in a few keystrokes and a click of the mouse.

More importantly Revit allows us a better understanding of the design interface with building systems and coordination of our consultants work.  That alone reduces change orders during construction.  Our better understanding carries on to better communication with  contractors and suppliers.  We can walk anyone through the building and peel away or cut views to follow pipes and ducts and resolve conflicts with structure. This allows better planning in the vertical dimension so we can plan floor to floor heights to reduce volume or gain more efficiency by precisely coordinating piping, electrical distribution and ductwork with structural components rather than have field mechanics working it out when the cost of changes is high and the effort for the design team is increased.

The dental simulators used for the Maloney lab expansion required a lot of systems organization for precise implementation

The dental simulators used for the Maloney lab expansion required a lot of systems organization for precise implementation

Ultimately, our investment has resulted in time and cost savings to our clients.   We have numerous jobs completing ahead of schedule with few or no changes in the field.  That gets noticed!   A few case studies under your belt and selling architectural services against your competition gets a lot easier.   Our firm has grown during the worst economic times in our history.  We went from working local to working worldwide.  We introduced our own Integrated Project Delivery method years before AutoDesk crafted their version.  So we bit the bullet.  The pain was short and the reward has been great.   We’re tracking to have our best year ever while our industry is in economic shambles.  Our success isn’t a tool we use, it’s who we are and the way we do things, but Revit is a big component of helping us make our client’s business better and that has been an important key to our success.

17 Responses to “Biting the BIM Bullet”
  1. Harold-Sprague Solie says:

    Congrats on all your BIM success! Interesting article, it is good to hear the real life results of firms making the switch to new project delivery systems. As someone who uses countless physical models of various scales and detail to develop design ideas, I have always felt that something was lost when these ideas were translated to the computer. Because of its unique building environment, I think Revit has finally solved this problem. The gap between traditional methods of hand-crafted models and drawings and technological integration has finally been bridged. Not only does this make for a better understanding between the architect and the client, but between the architect and his own ideas.

  2. Craig VanDevere says:

    Nice article. My experiences have been similar and I have been using Revit for about five years now. Hope you don’t mind I shared a link to your blog on twitter.

  3. This is a really great post which I agree with completely. Tweeting to spread the word.
    I had a look at this subject at my blog at

  4. Jim Foster says:

    Thank you for sharing your success as the more cases people can point to the better they are convinced. My company has provided as-builts in 3D since 2003, and almost every firm still wanted us to flatten the results. Not so much anymore. GSA and State mandates helping to pave the way. Posted link and partial article to my blog. best to you.

  5. Vicki Speed says:

    Nice story and good to hear you’re realizing value from the transition to BIM. How are you creating BIM objects for use in your models … developing them internally, from manufacturers or some other source?

    • pauldurand says:

      Thanks Vicki. We do both. Manufacturers are far behind so we have to build a lot. Getting better tho. BTW… name!

  6. Vicki Speed says:

    Thanks! I’m putting together a story about BIM objects and what’s available now that’s useful to architects, what architects need from manufacturers, which manufacturers provide the best resources, and what you need from manufacturers to make their BIM objects more worthwhile. Can you or any of your fellow bloggers on this site offer some thoughts?

  7. Craig VanDevere says:

    Vicki, Basically the rule of thumb is that you just want to model enough of your component so that they visually display properly. Adding too much detail increases file size and slows down the system performance, particularly for components that have many occurrences in the project. Not everything has to be 3D sometimes 2D family components for plans and elevations will work just fine. It really is the same principal that we as architects have used forever, even when we drew everything by hand you only drew what makes sense to display your information. Keep in mind regardless of how much a component is detailed you still have the ability to make it fully parametric and assign as much data as desired ie., name, manufacturer, cost, item number, dimensions, etc.

  8. jon melchin says:

    Please visit for the largest library of data-rich BIM objects available! Find over 12,000 building product manufacturers in one place – FREE!!

  9. I am very impressed with the article by
    Winter Street Architects. I am about to
    take my first steps back into the world of
    Architecture and Design Building and I was
    amazed at how much has changed in the 10
    years I have been away from it. I will be a fast
    student of Revit and BIM!!! Thanks for the
    information. Regards, Carl L. Jackson

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