The more people you ask about Building Information Modeling (BIM), the more opinions you get. Those at the forefront of the cause say BIM is an essential next step for the contract furniture segment. If you ask manufacturers, they want a calculation of the return on their investment for creating yet another set of digital content. If you ask office furniture dealers, they want to know how many more hoops they have to jump through on a daily basis.
Ask building owners and they will say, “Why are we still waiting for everyone to get onboard?” Owners who are pushing for broader implementation of BIM include those in the government, those in higher education and those with extensive commercial real estate holdings. An example of the latter is Crate & Barrel.
With over 160 stores and annual sales of $1.4 billion, Crate & Barrel emphasizes a unique shopping experience that begins with unique stores. As described by Crate & Barrel’s Director of Construction, John Moebes, AIA NCARB, every store is one-of-a-kind. The housewares and furniture retailer establishes each store as a individual symbol of brand identity and differentiation. Those familiar with Crate & Barrel, especially those who have visited more than one store, recognize the retailer’s signature style. Stunning exteriors, exciting materials and attention to detail in every aspect of design represent Crate & Barrel’s commitment to the store as a branding element.
What this means to Mr. Moebes and his team is “no efficiency” in design or construction that might stem from building the same prototype store in each new location. So the efficiency has to be found in the process of designing, building and maintaining Crate & Barrel’s locations. Remarkable as it may seem, the process that Mr. Moebes and team installed allows a new, one-of-a-kind store to go from conceptual design in late January to an opening day before Thanksgiving of the same year. Most of the credit for this feat of collaboration, integration and productivity goes to a different way of thinking about how facilities are designed, built and maintained.
Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is what allows Crate & Barrel to meet its facilities goals. IPD emphasizes collaboration through technology and improved communications. IPD drives efficiency in other areas as well. One example is budgeting. The typical expense for a new Crate & Barrel store is $13 million (not including land & merchandise), so there is a long-term interest in keeping track of initial and ongoing expenses.
Everyone involved in design, construction and outfitting wants an efficient process, with the owners holding a unique interest in what happens after the facility opens. From then on, owners like Crate & Barrel want to maintain and operate their facilities at peak efficiency.
The “what” to do was easy to define. More difficult was the “how” and the “who”. Studies identified how the designers, the construction managers and other members of the team operated in silos. As a result, the key players on the team were sometimes not communicating, communicating poorly or communicating too late. All this led to mistakes, delays and cost overruns.
The owners were not alone in their observations. Some of the other parties involved took up the cause. Among the first was the American Institute of Architects (AIA). In 2007, the AIA published their guide to Integrated Project Delivery as an introduction to this collaborative method of creating, working and building. The AIA identified BIM as one of the technologies through which the efficiencies of IPD could be achieved.
BIM is a meaningful, robust tool for communication and management throughout the lifetime of a facility. Among the contributions that BIM makes for interiors is a floor-by-floor representation of the facility, providing a 3D environment to interior designers and office furniture manufacturers/dealers for modeling their proposals or solutions.
The 3D environment can show traffic flow, show how much space a given piece of furniture or equipment may need around it and be used in presentations of the furniture proposals with walls, floors and ceilings in place. The intelligence baked into “good BIM content” can be used to predict outcomes such as energy usage, sustainability ratings and daylight levels inside the space.
On a larger scale, BIM helps to replace the mountain of documents that an owner currently receives when the building is turned over for operation. Using a tablet, smartphone, laptop or desktop computer, the owner’s maintenance and management teams can find out anything about the facility, from general HVAC information to specific details about the models, materials and warranties of the furnishings.
What stake does an office furniture dealer have in BIM, or in IPD? Who is there to support dealers? How many dealers have BIM experience to share? Check back with Please Remain Seated for answers to these and other questions.
The comments from Mr. Moebes and the information about Crate & Barrel were excerpted from a presentation for the Center for Integrated Practice, posted on the AIA website, 23 August 2011.