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To give students the hands-on experience they need to succeed in the 21st century, Brown University commissioned a new Engineering Research Center in 2014. Completed in 2017, the 80,000-square-foot building features labs, clean rooms, an imaging suite, and flexible shared workspaces. The project, led by KieranTimberlake architects, BuroHappold Engineering, and Shawmut Design and Construction, was one of the first institutional labs in the country delivered using the integrated project delivery (IPD) model, in which the client, architect, engineers, and contractor are all responsible for project development, stakeholder engagement, and project management aimed at an on-time, on-budget project.
Several factors made the project especially challenging. With key designers and consultants dispersed across the United States—from Seattle and San Diego to Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Providence—effective, efficient collaboration was key. In addition, the IPD team employed target value design (TVD) principles to manage the project to a fixed budget while delivering a building that meets higher-than-usual standards. Finally, because systems for hazardous exhaust and specialty gas require special piping systems, the building needed denser-than-usual ceiling cavities. This necessitated constant coordination between designers and trade partners to avoid clashes and ensure that systems routing met the project’s high design and performance aspirations.
From the earliest stages of the Engineering Research Center project, the project team took a cloud-enabled, connected BIM (Building Information Modeling) approach to drive close collaboration between architects, engineers, the construction manager, trade partners, and Brown University faculty members. Faculty and design team leaders knew they wanted to be able to confidently use the intelligent model during regularly convened dual committee meetings—one focused on design and planning and another on lab development. By using connected BIM as the framework for delivering the project, the project team members had a way to achieve their collaboration goals and create a single source of truth for design and construction information. Project management and collaboration were streamlined, all stakeholders remained on the same page, there were no surprise issues, and the project met the client’s requirements.
Using BIM 360 collaboration and project-management software, the design team was able to share model updates across disciplines in real time, enabling extensive iteration, improved coordination, and immediate clash reconciliation—from design and planning through construction and assembly. BIM 360 also offered real-time cost tracking and reporting, letting stakeholders make design decisions based on project budget while helping optimize construction sequencing.
During construction, stakeholders in the field used BIM 360 to access the intelligent model via mobile devices, which helped simplify construction management, easily identify emerging issues, and filter critical issues by location, stakeholder responsibility, and scheduling impact.
Understanding space and its management was key to ensuring that the building’s complex lab infrastructure, including pipe and duct systems, were fully coordinated with the architectural and structural design. Using BIM 360 and Revit building design software, designers conducted virtual walk-throughs with trade partners, simplifying the process of issue communication and resolution. Upon receiving clash reports from the field, designers and trade partners were able to highlight issues in the model, make changes in partnership with architects and engineers, and share the changes with the construction manager in real time.
Designers worked closely with trade partners to develop a single, cohesive, intelligent model that was accessible to all stakeholders. There was no need to generate separate models for fabrication because fabrication models were already part of the model. BIM 360 let the mechanical-piping contractor collaborate with the mechanical engineer right inside the Revit model, making the transition from design to fabrication easy.
Shared Revit models also acted as the foundation for performance and energy-modeling efforts, supporting energy-model runs, daylighting analysis, and studies in incident solar radiation and heat gain. Additionally, live scheduling and area takeoffs in BIM 360 let the team track and produce documentation for LEED credits, while enabling a fabrication process that minimized materials and costs.
“With robust, cloud-based BIM, everyone could see behind the curtain and understand what everyone else was doing. The construction manager could better understand why the architects did what they did, the architects understood exactly what the MEP engineers were contributing, and so on. Everyone was on the same page, and there were no surprises.”
The Engineering Research Center was completed several months ahead of schedule, providing Brown University with an estimated $10–$15 million in added value compared to traditional processes. Performance-wise, the Engineering Research Center’s energy efficiency is 25% above the standard for its building type, earning it a LEED Gold rating.
The connected BIM approach also made a huge difference in work-life balance for the engineers on the project, shortening their schedules by 20%, which allowed them to work regular 40-hour workweeks. That compared to the 50 or 60 hours they’d typically spend on similar projects—all while helping eliminate errors and improving design quality. In the field, the mobility provided with BIM 360 saved time and effort for all stakeholders, supporting a dramatic reduction in punch-list items during construction.
Now, with construction complete, Brown University will use the BIM model to optimize operations and maintenance.