Behind the Build: Interview with Pedro Fajardo, BIM Manager, Princeton University

At Autodesk, we love big goals, and we love them even more when they're forward-thinking, innovative, and sustainable.

That's why we're incredibly excited about our latest Behind the Build feature. We caught up with Pedro Fajardo, BIM Manager at Princeton University, and discussed the exciting initiatives that the institute is pursuing.

Princeton University is committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2046, and this undertaking involves revamping the energy supply systems for every building on the campus. To shed light on the subject, Pedro walks us through the work involved in Princeton's projects, focusing on the team's challenges and how tech helps them overcome those hurdles. 

Tell me a little bit about Princeton University and what you specialize in.

Princeton University is celebrated for its academic excellence across the world, and it's currently undergoing a transformative expansion initiative. We have the goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by Princeton's 300th anniversary, which would be in 2046. 

The university is overhauling energy supply systems for every building on campus. The scale of expansion is significant because it encompasses over 3 million square feet of new construction. 

So, this strategic growth aligns with Princeton's sustainability goals, and it underscores the university's commitment to providing cutting-edge facilities for both its faculty and students. 

As for what I specialize in— I am a BIM manager for Princeton's Office of Capital Projects department. I am tasked with leading and strategizing the digital workflow efforts for all projects under construction. This is a unique role because it helps foster collaboration amongst diverse stakeholders, from design to construction.

Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming BIM Manager.

I am a proud graduate of NJIT. I earned a degree in Architecture. This is where I was exposed to the world of architecture, construction, computational design, and digital fabrication workflows. 

In my last year of school, I had the opportunity to intern at Kohn Pedersen and Fox. I interned there for one summer and continued my internship throughout the rest of the school year. This was where I was first exposed to large-scale projects and the technology that drives our built environment. 

I got the opportunity to work on the Hudson Yards development in New York City at the time. This was roughly 2017 and 2018, and this period formally introduced me to BIM and Revit in a large office environment. The team was huge; about 25 to 30 people working on the master plan. The experience gave me a lot more insight into how technology and digital workflows have completely overhauled the way buildings get designed and built. That was exciting. 

Then, upon graduation, I accepted a full-time offer at SHoP Architects. This was ideal because I had been studying a lot of digital fabrication workflows in school. I joined as a BIM Specialist and was very data-driven. It was here that I was able to fully explore and understand how buildings are delivered. I got the opportunity to work on innovative projects worldwide and develop digital workflows to maximize the efficiency of these project deliveries. 

All in all, these experiences have led me to pursue the role of a BIM Manager in the industry. I think it's a fascinating role because it's dynamic and evolves with the ever-changing landscape of technology.

What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at Princeton University? Why?

I've been there for a short period—roughly six months. So far, there is a considerable challenge in spearheading the dynamic expansion and multiple projects at the same time.

From a digital lens, one of my proudest accomplishments at Princeton University has been spearheading the continued development of Autodesk Construction Cloud (ACC) as a digital platform for construction and management, as well as project turnover.

What makes this accomplishment particularly meaningful is not only the successful integration of digital technology but also the tangible improvements that it brought to our construction projects. We have multiple different projects happening simultaneously across campus, so adopting ACC has aligned with Princeton University's commitment to innovation and sustainability. 

Being at the forefront of this digital transformation while all things are transforming has been professionally rewarding and fulfilling.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?

As a BIM Manager at Princeton, one of the most significant challenges is aligning diverse teams and ensuring effective collaboration throughout the construction process. I think this is just inherent to the industry and the multifaceted nature of construction, and it's a lot more complex because there are all kinds of typologies happening simultaneously at Princeton.

That's the challenge: there is a diverse set of constraints, parameters, and stakeholders from various disciplines and expertise levels. On the owner's side, you have to deal with architects, engineers, contractors, the owners themselves, and many other stakeholders who have a say in what's happening. 

So, at the end of the day, ensuring everyone's on the same page and collaborating seamlessly is what we all desire in the industry.

The next challenge is interdisciplinary communication. Bridging communication gaps between different disciplines is crucial for project success. As we all know, miscommunication or lack of understanding can lead to inefficiencies and errors. That's time and money we could be saving if those things are improved. 

As for addressing these challenges, technology has played a crucial role in enhancing both collaboration and communication. There are three components to this. 

First, implementing digital collaboration platforms—perhaps a centralized space for all stakeholders to share and access project information—is good because it fosters real-time collaboration and ensures everyone works with the latest data.

We often fall prey to our old habits of sharing information via older means, which becomes inefficient. That's why it's crucial that we have a digital platform that is intuitive, user-friendly, and paves the way for data visibility and collaboration. 

BIM overall is a process that has transformed the industry for many years. But now that we're making it accessible and available to the diverse pool of stakeholders, these digital platforms have allowed that access and availability for everyone. 

The last thing is cloud-based communication. This has become super important after COVID because you're breaking down geographical barriers, allowing all stakeholders and team members to collaborate even if they're not physically present on site. 

Cloud communication has revolutionized communication from the office to the field, especially here at Princeton. We can get instant notifications of what's happening in the field, so that's super important.

Are you using Autodesk Construction Cloud on any unique and/or challenging projects? If so, what has been the impact of using Autodesk Construction Cloud for these projects?

We chose Autodesk Build as our designated tool for construction management. It's one of the many modules within Autodesk Construction Cloud. 

Many things are happening on every project. There are large-scale capital projects to smaller renovations that we're working on, and each one presents a unique set of challenges. Autodesk Build has had a significant impact by transforming our construction management processes in three ways.

Going back to synchronized communication, it has played a crucial role in fully syncing how we relay information across all projects. This is super important because roughly 30 to 40 projects are taking place all at once, and multiple stakeholders need to understand what's happening; they need real-time updates from the office to the field.  

The other one that Autodesk Build has helped us with is maximizing the data visibility and accuracy. This is vital in maintaining consistency and position in those constructional workflows, whether a large capital project or a smaller renovation project.

Lastly, it has definitely improved collaboration. We have fostered these tools, and the team has been brought together. The platform has ensured that all team members are on the same page.  

How has Autodesk Construction Cloud driven more predictability and confidence in your projects?

Autodesk Construction Cloud brought lots of confidence in the data we're seeing. It has enhanced predictability primarily through its robust data analytics and insights-type capabilities within the platform. 

Data-driven decision-making is really important. One of the most impactful aspects of Autodesk Construction Cloud is having the ability to leverage data analytics and insights. This data-driven approach has revolutionized how we visualize and understand our entire project portfolio. By utilizing Autodesk Construction Cloud analytics, we gain comprehensive insights into project trends, allowing us to make decisions on that real-time data.

One example of this is our labor force forecasting. For each project, we essentially need to be able to forecast the required labor at each given month, or in the future, so we need to compare that against a baseline. 

We developed a workflow in which we collaborate closely with our contractors collecting that data. Then, we use Autodesk Construction Cloud's analytics tools to predict accurate numbers of the expected labor force at any given time. This approach ensures that we have the right workforce in place, and it helps us minimize delays and optimize project timelines.

All of this is possible because of Autodesk Construction Cloud's seamless integration with Power BI through the Insights module. It has been instrumental in making data visible and accessible to everyone at Princeton. 

Again, this enhances collaboration, brings transparency, and gives us a visual representation of a clear and intuitive set of tools in which we can communicate project trends and forecasts.

How has partnering with Autodesk helped make your projects more successful?

Autodesk provided the essential tools we need for all the different projects happening on campus. We have a comprehensive toolset for these complex projects. Thanks to Autodesk Construction Cloud, we can access a robust platform that addresses the intricacies of managing and executing complex projects. This includes cutting-edge solutions that we can tailor to our construction management processes. 

Autodesk is user-friendly, which is super important. Plus, there's the support that all the team members at Autodesk provide every week, showcasing the latest and greatest. 

These tools have also brought a lot of scalability and adaptability. So again, the varying complexities of projects and the different scales that we're working with ensure our teams can effectively scale those resources and tools to meet the unique demands of each project.

When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at Princeton University?

My plans to advance innovation and productivity at Princeton University are centered around embracing cutting-edge technologies and the advancements of these technologies, with a particular focus on digital twins. 

As an owner/operator entity, Princeton University stands poised to harness the power of digital twins. This will involve creating a virtual replica of physical assets and systems. Digital twins will provide a real-time and dynamic representation of the campus infrastructure. The technology will be vital in maintaining and keeping up with Princeton University's infrastructure.

While digital twins are still in the early stages, our proactive approach involves setting ourselves up for success. We're laying the groundwork for seamless integration and ready to pivot into the expected advances in the next couple of years. 

This whole strategy positions Princeton University at the forefront of the digital transformation in the construction and facilities management landscape. There are a few focus areas that we can look forward to, including virtual asset management through the implementation of digital twins. That way, we can manage and monitor the campus virtually. 

There's also predictive analytics. Data and analytics are super important when dealing with so many buildings at once. We need to have the ability to understand energy consumption and overall campus optimization, especially when we want to reach net zero.

And the last one where we can take advantage of this is smart campus integration. Integrating digital twins with other technologies opens up opportunities for creating an interconnected, intelligent campus ecosystem, and that's incredibly exciting. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry?

Number one is to embrace mentorship, because it can provide guidance and insights based on their experience in the industry. You gain valuable advice, support, and a broader perspective on career development. Mentorship is one of those things that can last a lifetime, so seek good mentors early on. 

Number two is to welcome lifelong learning. The construction industry is moving so fast with all these new technological advancements. We need to embrace a mindset of lifelong learning to stay current with the latest tools, technologies, and industry best practices.

Thirdly, I advise folks to develop technological fluency. We're moving into an era where construction is being pushed by technology, either in the built environment or the digital platform. So, understanding emerging technologies and construction, digital platforms, etc., will be a valuable asset, and we're seeing it more and more. 

I would also point out the importance of sustainability and innovation. We must stay informed about innovative practices and materials that contribute to the environment and energy efficiency.

Finally, I believe that finding passion and purpose in your work is key. The construction industry plays a significant role in shaping the world we live in. So, being driven by a sense of purpose will fuel the commitment to excellence and innovation, and we need more of that in our field. 

Kelsee Campbell

As a Senior Customer Advocacy Program Manager at Autodesk, Kelsee has the privilege of working with Autodesk customers to champion their stories on the Digital Builder Blog. Kelsee strives to create an engaging experience that amplifies customer perspectives, fostering a sense of community and connection.