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Implementing BIM for Sustainable Building Design & Construction

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In 1987, Gro Harlem Brundtland, in her speech for the UN report ‘Our Common Future’ promoted the concept of sustainable development as ‘Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs’. We can be certain that UN, as much as various other agencies haven’t succeeded in implementing this simple concept. Like a decorated political veteran, Sustainability has been making increasingly frequent appearances across events, conferences, meetings of world leaders; more recently, at the Paris Summit for Climate Change, the context of Sustainable Living, Sustainable Energy, and Sustainable Development assumed greater importance than ever before. Everyone who is anyone seems to agree to the global press that carbon emissions need to be reduced, renewable sources of energy need to be made mainstream, and sustainability is the new cool that our melting polar caps need.

The Imperial College of London, in association with the Grantham Institute for Climate Change conducted a study about the impact of buildings on global warming. According to the report summary, “’the buildings sector contributes to approximately one third of global final fuel and power consumption’ whilst emitting almost 8.1 Gt of CO2 per year. The concomitant CO2 emissions grew at a globally averaged rate of about 2% per year from 1971 to 2004.”1 This is a fair measure of the building industry’s impact on climate change in general.

With the scale of its impact, it becomes imperative that the building design and construction industry considers the impact of its design and material choices respectively. This is one of the prime areas where the possibilities of BIM become apparent. It is both, a technique, as well as a tool to reduce construction’s impact on the environment. Considering its adoption rate within the industry, it is still quite a bold move for most design and construction firms to migrate from traditional, siloed CAD-based workflows to a collaborative environment that opens up and delimits the project potential.

Gensler’s 632-meters-tall Shanghai Tower is perhaps a shining example of BIM at work for sustainability, in all aspects of building design and construction. The second tallest building in the world is also an energy efficient structure. While Autodesk consulted on the project, they worked early on to develop a BIM implementation strategy for the 575,000 square meters of building space. A combination of Autodesk® Revit® Architecture, Autodesk® Revit® Structure, and Autodesk® Revit® MEP ensured that the architecture, structure, and MEP teams were working on a common platform. The building used 32% lesser materials than a conventional design of similar size, saving material costs as well as the energy used to manufacture as much more steel and concrete.

The ability to identify areas of wastage, as well as savings, early on, during the design development phase, never existed with traditional formats of building design; neither did the possibility to collaborate with other disciplines, and enhance the asset’s longevity by taking such factors into consideration as whether the design impacts the stability of the structure, whether the structure accommodates efficient MEP systems, and the ability to study the impact of design choices, based on the real data attached to the model components.


(Image courtesy of Shanghai Tower Construction and Development Co., Ltd. Rendering by Gensler.)

A drastic change in the way buildings are designed is that every design choice can now be measured with real data attached to it. The collaborative nature of the methodology makes it possible for different

While the Shanghai Tower was still in the design stage, several wind tunnel tests were carried out, to test the structure’s capacity for bearing wind loads in an area that has one too many typhoons. The 120° twist was found to be the most optimum for reducing wind loads on the structure. During the design development stage, about 7 clashes were found and during construction, there were none. One simply cannot imagine this kind of a workflow in a pre-BIM era.

Gensler’s Shanghai Tower is the best known, and therefore also the most relatable example, when it comes to BIM Implementation targeted at Sustainability. The building owner as well as the design team had a common goal of working towards Green Building & Sustainable design. Implementing model-based design enabled them to carry out energy efficiency analyses early on, and consult with collaborators about improvements and trade-offs.

If a project of the scale of the mega tall Shanghai Tower can put BIM to use to achieve higher energy efficiency than most average buildings, and save on building materials and cut down construction waste without compromising on the quality and strength of the structure, the pay-offs for average residential, commercial, and institutional buildings, even infrastructure are anybody’s guess.

Bhushan Avsatthi
About the Author: Bhushan Avsatthi is a BIM expert, a certified Sustainable Building advisor, and an associate director with more than 15 years of industry experience. He leads a team of architects, Structural & MEP engineers, LEED consultants and energy modelers. Bhushan strives to make his organization a cohesive resource for sustainable building design. He regularly participates in green initiatives like tree plantations, and promotes using bicycles for everyday commute.