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Cambridge, MA
The Future Of Building With Gilbane Building Company

By TJ McCueFriday, September 26, 2014
BIM, Construction

Gilbane Inc. is a real estate development and construction company that knows how to see into the future. Lots of companies want to know their secret and I’m happy to reveal it, although I know it is always easy to achieve: They hire wicked smart people that know how to use and think with today’s tools and then they let them run forward to opportunity with those tools. That isn’t meant as some grandiose statement, but an in-person observation of a small part of their team in action.

3DRV spent an afternoon with John Myers, Senior Virtual Design and Construction engineer, onsite in Boston to discuss the creation of a “smarter” Life Sciences Building (just down the street from MIT) using Autodesk Revit and Navisworks. Gilbane has a bit of an edge in creating life sciences buildings as they have built more than 110 facilities, totaling more than 9.3 million square feet, in the last ten years. So they clearly know that the better the tools and talent; the better the end product for their customers.

However, most of us know that it takes more than tech and talent to do anything – among many factors; it takes hard work, passion, commitment, and as hokey as it might sound – service to others. That service is most obvious when it happens to your customer, but in small ways, it happens between team members and to people you whose path crosses yours. Across the nation, I have been privileged to meet and hang out with really wonderful people.

At one point in my journey to the Gilbane site, I took a wrong turn shall we say and was stuck with the 3DRV on one of Boston’s notoriously difficult-to-navigate streets. When I called John to explain that I would be late, he didn’t say “sorry to hear that or call me when you get closer.” He said, “where are you and I’m coming to get you.” Throughout my short time in Boston, he became a good friend. Later, when he heard that I might visit a city that he used to live in, he sent me a list of places I should go visit or people I should talk to.

That service ethic must permeate Gilbane’s work because as John points out in this video, the building owner is extremely supportive of the smart use of technology. John received permission from the owner to use his own personal UAV to explore the site from the air. That trust is earned, in my experience, when you start with a “serve others” mentality.

My visit to Boston was impressive because of the tech, but just as much from the way Gilbane showed me around. During our time together, John flew the quadcopter around to show me a bird’s eye view of the site and building from the adjacent field. It was fun to watch someone else fly a drone, since my flight skills are still incubating in Kindergarten mode… The UAV gives John ideas for what the future of drone flying on commercial sites might look like when the FAA approves it, but for business needs, he uses the Faro Focus laser scanner to consistently collect point clouds of the project to add into a working model.

The model or models for which John collects data are part of a process known as Building Information Modeling (BIM) that is changing the way that urban areas, structures and frameworks are designed and built. Autodesk is one of the players to make the term BIM what it is today. The National BIM Standard, from the National Institute of Building Sciences buildingSMART alliance defines BIM as follows; pay careful attention to the second paragraph.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition.

A basic premise of BIM is collaboration by different stakeholders at different phases of the life cycle of a facility to insert, extract, update or modify information in the BIM to support and reflect the roles of that stakeholder.

BIM might be considered solely a virtual model – whether of a building, a site, a foundation framework or a city, but more so, it has become a way of thinking about how one works with and collaborates around digital models. It permits any part of a plan's execution to be changed before it is made – helping architects and designers to comprehend the design better and quite earlier, which, after talking to John is one of the key aspects to a successful building project today. It might seem quite obvious that to find a mistake early on in any project, before hammers hit nails, makes for a better project. However, the challenge for many firms is they do not have a method for doing that and why John believes BIM gives you an incredible edge in the marketplace. Listen to some of John’s ideas in the above video.

Right now, John has to carry the Faro scanner from point to point, but he foresees a time when, “We’d love to see laser scanners get to the point where you can mount them on a hardhat for a building superintendent… So that you can just walk through the space, day-by-day, iteratively and gather that data. Then architects and designers have access to that as the building is going up, the future is really exciting in construction management. ”

Of course, seeing the future is not the work of one person, especially in a big building project. The future in the work that Gilbane does is possible when you align a team and give them the ability to collaborate around data, in this case, lots and lots of 3D data. More is better than less, as John reminded me. If you can compare models early, and throughout, the building process – you will find the areas to improve, the mistakes, the tough spots, because you have plenty of 3D data -- and that better result makes for happy owners and happy tenants.

* * * * *

You can read John’s blog at The Better Building Bureau. John also pointed me to one of his favorite blogs, which has become one of mine. It’s written by an LA architect. It waxes a bit more poetic than concrete, everyday stuff. It looks to the future and provokes you to think, “what if?” and his ideas have inspired John and I think you might enjoy it, too: BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh.

Side note: I was just at Faro’s headquarters where we had an informative meetup and in the company’s museum you can see the shrinking nature of laser scanners and other measurement equipment. John’s hope for a small laser scanner is not far off. 

Follow along at! #3DRV

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