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Architects adapt for BIM boom

Paul Snyder

Architects realize the potential and potential headaches of a switch to building-information modeling for large state construction projects.

“I just wrestled with it for two hours on the simplest thing,” said Josh Johnson, president of the American Institute of Architects Wisconsin and an architect with Madison-based Aro Eberle Architects Inc. “There will be growing pains for everyone, but a lot of firms are using it here.”

Firms seeking work on state projects valued at $5 million or more will have no choice but to use BIM — computerized 3-D modeling that makes it easy to update any aspect of a given project. The Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Division of State Facilities on Wednesday made the rule official.

Bill Napier, architecture/engineering supervisor for the state’s Bureau of Architecture and Engineering, said the price threshold means about 40 state projects will use BIM during a two-year period. He also said the state has made it as inclusive as possible by requiring only basic 3-D computer programs.

“This is really only going to apply on large, substantial and complex projects,” Napier said.

Several engineering firms in Wisconsin have used BIM for years, said Fred Groth, a principal in the Milwaukee office of Graef. Although the state has encouraged using BIM, requiring it marks a significant step, he said.

“If the state wants to be high-tech and keep ahead of all other states, this is the direction you have to go,” Groth said. “It gives us a tremendous advantage and cuts a lot of time out of the design process by immediately finding errors.”

Napier said Massachusetts and California also encourage BIM on certain projects, but Wisconsin is unique in that its building program covers all state-related projects.

“This is a significant event, but it’s not life-changing,” he said. “We’re not keeping anyone from doing business with us. It’s the first step of a long process.”

Still, architectural firms not familiar with the program must invest time to learn the program and cash to buy the computer software — some BIM programs cost more than $5,000.

But Johnson said architects that want to stay competitive must adapt.

“Once we do get a feeling for how this stuff really works, it will be incredible,” he said. “There’s all sorts of information embedded in these programs, and I think we’re really just scratching the surface.”

But that does not mean all architects will embrace BIM. Tom McHugh, an independent Middleton architect, said business is too slow to even consider investing in BIM.

A lack of BIM should not keep McHugh from performing state work because he only works on smaller state projects, but he said small firms might be knocked out of competition if they are interested in larger projects.

Ed Darden, president of Fresno-based Darden Architects Inc., said although California encourages BIM use and his firm deals extensively with the technology, he is shocked Wisconsin is requiring it.

“I don’t understand why a government would care,” he said. “It’s ludicrous to require it, even though a number of firms are working toward implementing it.”

But Napier said Wisconsin is not pushing the industry, only working within it.

“This is about the coordination of multiple disciplines,” he said.

And if growth leads to a few headaches, Johnson said, so be it.

“This is progress, and it’s a smart move for the state,” he said. “They’re embracing the wave of the future.”

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