BIM Tools for Sustainable Buildings and Infrastructure

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Our planet is facing big challenges. The environment is at risk and population growth is accelerating in the megacities of tomorrow. The building industry consumes a large part of our natural resources. There's a big demand for houses and infrastructure to welcome these future populations, and buildings are generating a large portion of the carbon footprint on our planet. How can we overcome all these challenges and make a better world for our children and grandchildren? Featuring concrete examples and solutions, this article explains how BIM and other digital tools can help you and your firm design more sustainable buildings and infrastructure. 

Designing Sustainable Buildings 

The challenges of climate change become more significant every day, and we are faced with an ever-growing population, placing greater demands on the planet. This is a design challengeand an opportunity. To address the demands of urbanization, we must build 13,000 buildings per day from now until 2050. The trick is that we need more buildings, and also less energy use. How do we achieve both at the same time? It’s imperative that we consider our building designs, and set a goal for all carbon neutral buildings.

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Another big challenge is that productivity has not evolved in the AEC industry for more than 50 years. Last but not least, a vast number of workers are going to retire soon and we will have to find solutions to accelerate the production of buildings and infrastructure in an efficient and sustainable way. One solution may be industrialized construction, based on a BIM process.

Related: Innovative BIM Workflows for Industrialized Construction 

Coupled with those external factors are business factors impacted by climate change. The effects of a changing climate translate to financial risks and costs for business. But rather than viewing this as a massive, intractable challenge beyond our human capability to solve, we can see it as the business opportunity of a lifetime.


High-Performance Buildings

Demand for sustainable buildings is increasing, doubling every three years. High-performance buildings integrate and optimize all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, and lifecycle performance. The global green building sector continues to double every three years, with survey respondents from 70 countries reporting that 60% of their projects will be green in the coming years.

BIM: A Powerful Process to Achieve Sustainable Goals

So how do we achieve all these challenging goals? The first step is changing the way we design and build our assets. Using BIM will help you imagine, create, and build a better world in a much faster and more efficient way. But in order to understand this revolution shaking our traditional way of thinking and working, we have to step back and understand what happened in the past years. In recent decades, there have been three technological eras of disruption.

In the first era, we focused on documentation and efficiency which encompasses the Autodesk AutoCAD platform and collaboration via DWG in the 80s and 90s. But this is not the best way of designing as it is just about drawing lines, arcs, and circles, with no intelligence at all and no connection between drawings and above all no information associated.

Then, about 12 years ago, Building Information Modeling (BIM) was introduced which has enabled customers to better understand and optimize projects on one platform.

And now we are entering the next era, one of connection, bringing cloud, social, and mobile technology to bear by considering a range of dynamic external factors (environmental, economic, even social).

This era of connection is the natural evolution of Autodesk’s work to deliver disruptive innovation to customers. This is well-positioned to become the next generation of BIM.

BIM is an integrated collaborative process between all the stakeholders of a project. The architect starts by creating the BIM model in Autodesk Revit with no creative restrictions. The model is then handed over to the engineers who will simulate the structural performance of this buildingjust one aspect of sustainability. The architect can work back at any time on the model, enrich it, calculate the necessary quantities, add any complex elements like complex curtain wall systems with anthropomorphic shapes, and so forth, again with no limitations at all.

The BIM model is then handed over to the MEP engineers. Thanks to the fact that the model is georeferenced, it will take all necessary data from the closest meteorological station (winds, temperatures, etc.), allowing the precise calculation of the energy needs of this building and its performance as well, based on all the data included in the model like spaces, material, areas, volumes, quantities with technologies like Autodesk Insight. The MEP elements dimensioning will not be purely geometric but they are based on a scientific calculation related to all these data using a smart energy calculation engine.

Related: Energy Analysis with Revit Insight and Green Building Studio


Finally, BIM is also a strong way to communicate a project to your own teams but also for your customers, enabling you to make photorealistic renderings and therefore to convince both your customers and public authorities much faster and more efficiently. As you can guess it, there can be many different BIM discipline models like the architectural one, the structural one, the MEP one, or many other ones, bearing for each one all of the ad hoc information needed for each simulation or purpose.

Sustainability Objectives: A Big Opportunity

We are now in a time when a carbon neutral built environment is no longer a “nice to have.” It is absolutely critical, and all designers and engineers need to be rethinking how they design, and implementing the practice of sustainable design, if they are not already.

From multinational corporations to entrepreneurs and students, Autodesk is working with our customers to address climate change. AEC professionals are designing net-zero buildings that produce as much energy as they consume, zero-emission transportation systems, resilient infrastructure, and net-positive products, among countless other climate solutions. And this is where BIM will definitely help you.

The Right Tools to Achieve Sustainability Goals

It is also important for AEC professionals to understand and meet the needs of their clients. The more equipped you are with the tools and practices in your own firms, the better you will be able to help your clients achieve their goals, whether it be to save money, save time, achieve their own sustainability goals, or have healthier buildings.

Image courtesy of HFB.

Designing Sustainable Infrastructure

This same BIM process can be adapted to infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, highways, tunnels, stations, and airports. We may even use CIM (City Information Modeling) to design and build the smart cities of the future.

Capturing Existing Conditions

Knowing the existing conditions and the location of your project is the basis to start. We all know that one of the most tedious and complex phases of a project, especially when it’s all about renovation or extension of an existing building or infrastructure, is the existing conditions capture phase. Thanks to BIM and new technology like laser scanning and photogrammetry, we’ll see that digital approaches really bring added value and allow the possibility of drastically reducing cost and time commitments.

Thanks to laser scanning, it is possible to fully digitize the existing conditions of large projects like airports but also smaller projects. The remaining result is a point cloud model, which allows you to fully and quickly remodel a BIM infrastructure model. The big benefits also rely on the fact that you have all the dimensions and details of the buildings and that you don’t need to go back on-site to get a dimension you would have missed. You have the precise existing state of a building thanks to this approach, compared to a physical analog process. And costs and time are drastically reduced. These point clouds can be edited, analyzed, and cleaned up using Autodesk ReCap.

Simulation Tools for More Efficient Buildings

The beauty of BIM is that you can start getting information at the very early phases of a project. With powerful early BIM technologies like Autodesk FormIt, you can simply enter the address of your future project, and you’ll georeference it, get a Google map, and therefore get the precise location, with the ad hoc meteorological data and sun position. Then, you can start designing and modeling the environment, only by extruding, dragging, dropping, and modifying shapes, and afterwards getting a good mockup of your project. This is very important as you’ll be able to anticipate the impact of your project on its existing environment, like a skyscraper potentially dropping shadows all over the place, or the impact of the environment on your project.

Sustainability can right away be controlled as you’ll be able to first extract some important data like gross areas by level, but also make a quick sun study by changing dates and times of day. Sustainability simulation is starting at the beginning of the project design phase.


The same project can then be retrieved in some CFD technologies, allowing you to verify its quality thanks to wind tunnel simulations (as in the automotive industry). We can therefore check if there are any design defects which would, for example, generate bad Venturi effects at pedestrian levels or wind noises or disturbances linked to the shape of the building. The project can then be modified from the initial stages.


Finally, we could also perform some solar radiation studies on the building facades to check which ones are the most affected by sun heat. This information will help us to define and choose which insulation materials would fit best, which glass or material thickness would be best adapted, and what impact it would have on the global price of the tower.

Last but not least, thanks to these innovative approaches, we could eventually anticipate the placement of some wind turbines or solar panels in order to retrieve natural energy and generate a clean energy building.


But simulation doesn’t stop at the building level. It can be performed at the city level thanks to BIM for infrastructure technologies like Autodesk InfraWorks. In this example, we can evaluate in the city of Washington, D.C. the energy consumption of a district, the energy usage intensity, the annual energy cost, the lighting or window retrofit potential, or any other kind of sustainable goals that you’d like to attain and control.


Thanks to cloud-based technologies like Autodesk Insight or Forge-based energy simulation technologies, we could also calculate the carbon footprint of a building or a district. This is very powerful and harnesses the power and richness of data of your BIM models. For example, a European project has generated a solution called EC3, partially based on BIM 360.



Going further in the design process, thanks to Autodesk Insight as mentioned previously, you can run an advanced performance analysis of your BIM models using the DOE (Department of Energy 2.0) engine.

Energy optimization in Revit, using Insight, is:

  • An in-BIM building energy analysis tool– no more “throw away” models
  • Fast, easy, and intuitive tools for energy performance, that can be used by designers (not just specialists anymore)
  • Cost-effective and highly accurate
  • Offers real-time feedback

Generative Design: Going One Step Further


Generative design enables you to go further in terms of shape modeling on your projects, with technologies like Dynamo or generative design inside Revit. In terms of sustainability goals, it enables you to simulate, for example, the dynamic opening of a curtain wall panel based on the sun position and intensity (see image). The envelope has gaping workflow holes that Dynamo and generative design address very nicely.


In the image above, you can see an example of multiparameter optimization using generative design.

The office layout is evaluated based on many parameters such as:

  • Travel distance to collaborate between teams
  • Acoustic levels
  • Visual and audio distraction at each desk
  • Natural light 
  • Exterior views

You can definitely achieve highly sustainable goals using generative design.

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Emmanuel Di Giacomo has been working for 18 years at Autodesk. With 7+ years of experience as a BIM solutions expert on Revit in Europe, he has a degree in Architecture (1993) and has more than 30 years of experience in 3D technology. Actually BIM Ecosystem Development Manager for Europe, his role is to ensure the whole AEC industry is embracing BIM and to expand its ecosystem as widely as possible by helping both the private and public sectors in order to have a successful shift in the industry. Formerly a BIM technical expert, he has been promoting BIM solutions in France’s major architectural practices, design offices, and construction companies in the building industry. He also trained in some famous architectural practices in Europe in advanced modeling like Zaha Hadid, Sweco, and was in charge of customer successes in EMEA. He has been AEC marketing manager for three years and also product manager for three years.