Making the CASE: How 3 Architects Built a Booming BIM Consulting Business in Under 5 Years

by Jeff Yoders
- May 28 2013 - 4 min read
bim_consulting
CASE Louisiana State Museum and Sports Hall of Fame. Courtesy Trahan Architects.

Technology is raising the stakes in the architecture and engineering world more than ever. For CASE, a Building Information Modeling (BIM) consultancy based in New York, it was a lucrative bet to make.

In less than five years, CASE has grown from a partnership of three former architects (previously at SHoP Architects) to a robust consultancy business with 21 employees, including recent hire David Light, director of implementation in the UK and a former firmwide BIM manager at HOK. CASE provides strategic advice to builders, designers, and owners seeking to supplant traditional project-delivery methods through technology-driven process innovation.

Federico Negro, a founding partner of CASE, talks about the consultancy’s origins. “In late 2008, it was literally me and my partners—David Fano and Steve Sanderson—around my kitchen table in my apartment,” he says. “We had a very clear goal in the beginning. We believed in the value behind design technologies and how they can improve the design and delivery of buildings, and we believed that value to be high enough to make a sustainable business out of it.”

CASE offers engineering consulting services in four key areas: technology strategy to help clients maximize their tech investments; BIM implementation, platform-neutral training and support; project consulting, using CASE’s insight into a specific project; and software development to expand out-of-the-box software and improve clients’ workflows. Some of the consultancy’s clients include Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Hoar Construction, and HDR.

“We like to work with companies that have made the decision to make design technologies a fundamental part of their work process. They’ve identified them as a differentiating factor or a competitive advantage,” Negro says. “Once they’ve made that decision, the logistics of what they do and how they do it are where we get involved and get our hands dirty. We help them get where they want to go.”

CASE has helped clients on projects that include Chiswick Park Building 7 in London, a project designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners. There is a high level of 3D modeling detail in its models, and CASE is working to help ensure that design intent and a high level of architectural quality are met by implementing new processes and technologies to help the company improve upon traditional methods. Another project CASE worked on with a high level of detail was the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, designed in Revit by Trahan Architects. Its curvilinear design required coordination and planning that would not be possible without the use of 3D modeling.

building information modeling
A CASE model of the exterior connections in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Courtesy Trahan Architects.

Trahan Architects used Rhino 3D—a NURBS tool—for the freeform, curvilinear exterior skin model. Trahan originated that model in Maya animation software and brought it into Rhino to add geometric information. The company also provided a Revit model of the entire project. Still, fabrication considerations needed to be built into the model—the precast concrete panels themselves couldn’t be created with any level of detail necessary for installation by the construction manager, VCC. CASE analyzed the skin model and rationalized it so that a total of 1,000+ separate precast panels could be analyzed for connections to design, fabrication, constructability, and installation.

“A lot of it was driven by the design’s complexity, the complexity of the panel’s structural system, and the complex manufacturing processes needed to make these,” Negro says. “It was pretty unique in that all three of those design constraints came together at once. Every project has its complexities, and the level of modeling on that project wasn’t rare, but it’s high on the spectrum.”

Project work is actually the minority of CASE’s work (about 40 percent). Process and implementation of firmwide technology accounts for about 60 percent of the consultancy’s work, and the growth of those sectors has mirrored CASE’s growth.

“If you look at our overhead now versus what it was just one year ago, you want to cringe,” Negro says. “But our business basics are in line, we’re profitable, and our cash flow and sales are on-point—we’re good.”

With regard to architectural firms looking to work in 3D, Negro gives the following advice: “Manage and value your time. Architects get totally starstruck at projects and the opportunity to work on them to the point that they will give their lives away for free. You can’t afford to do that with your own business. It’s pretty detrimental to the industry. The idea that you should give up so much of your time just to have something in your portfolio is unfounded. You think the investment is valid because of what it will bring in terms of future opportunities, but if you look at what it actually costs, it’s not likely to make up for your loss. If you have time to make such an investment, be very focused and clear about what you’re looking to get out of it. Value your work highly. If somebody is not willing to pay for it, then move on.”

Check out building.co.uk’s article on the rise of BIM consultancies.

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