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In Adaptive Reuse, BIM Creates a Strategic Advantage

Dec. 8, 2020
Owners and managers are turning to adaptive reuse to restore or optimize building performance.

By Ken Smerz, CEO of ZELUS

Adaptive reuse has long been an attractive alternative to new construction in gridlocked regions, as a way to bring life back into a defunct area or to optimize the operational and commercial performance of a built asset. And now, as businesses across nearly every sector reevaluate the physical space they occupy, owners and managers are having to adapt to meet changing needs –– and turning to adaptive reuse to restore or optimize building performance.

In certain regions and industries, vacancy rates have shot to new highs, and in others where occupancy remains steady, health and safety protocols are necessitating reimagined spaces. In either scenario, the right technology like building information modeling (BIM) is proving an important asset in informing space utilization decisions, accelerating construction schedules, and mitigating unforeseen, potentially costly problems.

In certain regions and industries, vacancy rates have shot to new highs, and in others where occupancy remains steady, health and safety protocols are necessitating reimagined spaces. In either scenario, the use of building information modeling (BIM)--the act of creating a highly accurate computer 3D model--provides a significant improvement in understanding the building structure. BIM assists in overall space management and tenant coordination. And when the structure needs to be modified, it helps in reducing rework, compressing schedule to mitigate downtime, and overall re-design planning.

Restoring building performance

In 2017, the team at Deloitte predicted that nearly 90% of real estate development would involve adaptive reuse within the next decade. This is primarily because, in most scenarios, adaptive reuse alleviates the high costs and lengthy schedules associated with greenfield construction and new builds, not to mention it’s often a more sustainable approach.

Now, the trend towards adaptive reuse appears to be accelerating as global economic and societal changes continue to contribute to the high inventory of abandoned space, and as health and safety protocols command changes in work and public environments. But not all adaptive reuse projects deliver the returns they promise.

Naturally, when you’re able to preserve most of the existing building’s structure, you’ll save on design, material, and construction costs. But if that building is not a structurally adaptable fit for the reimagined final use –– requiring steel reinforcements or connections –– costs will rise significantly. Issues within MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing) systems can also become extremely costly and add to the construction timeline. 

For adaptive reuse to be lucrative and to truly transform an existing building into a high-performing structure, owners, designers, and contractors need a 360-degree view of what they’re working with –– and this includes what’s hidden behind the walls. Being able to fully assess the condition of a building, including plumbing, electrical, ventilation, and overall structural integrity, using BIM instead of traditional 2D models will help determine what is possible within an existing space.

Clash detection, an important component of the BIM process, also identifies potential conflicts or clashes, whether structural or MEP, before they become costly issues. In fact, in projects where BIM was used, it increased the speed of completion by at least 5% and contributed to a 25% improvement in labor productivity over the course of the project. Today, rework accounts for approximately 13% of a construction project and more than 50% of that is due to poor project data and miscommunication.

The visibility and transparency BIM provides to all stakeholders is mission critical in today’s high-stakes environment where misquotes on budget estimates, rework, and schedule delays can make or break a project.

Improving space planning and utilization

As property owners, designers, and contractors work together to reimagine the utilization of abandoned and occupied spaces, they’ll simultaneously have to consider shifting trends as well as the potential for changes to building codes. For instance, within commercial office space, the trend toward densification and open-plan layouts is likely to reverse sharply, with the possibility that public health officials may amend building codes or protocols to limit the risk of future pandemics. This could impact standards for HVAC, square footage per person, and the amount of enclosed space –– some of which we’ve already seen.

Using BIM, many owners are creating digital twins of their built assets to better understand what can be done and visualize the environment, allowing owners and tenants to fully maximize space and efficiency. We’ve seen this in the case of restaurants, for example, in which owners are using 3D modeling to reconfigure and visualize seating and walkways to accommodate new public health standards. And again, visibility into the MEP system, the building’s central nervous system, provides contractors the data they need to maximize efficiency by assessing pump sizes and water heater sizes, the heating and cooling system, lighting needs, etc.

Data from these 3D digital twins can also be transferred to systems that track, manage, and control building assets, providing the framework for future operation and maintenance plans — leading to long-term cost reductions.

Ultimately, access to better data translates to more accurate designs and the ability to identify what is logistically feasible for the space while maximizing ROI. It’s a win for all stakeholders involved.

Empowering virtual communication among distributed teams

The AEC industry is a hands-on industry. There are simply certain tasks that have to be done on site. But the pandemic has spurred many to look at new ways of doing things –– and doing it virtually to keep operations moving forward. The beauty is, this has allowed many teams to continue to work collaboratively no matter where they are in the world. Now, an architect in Florida can complete a project in Alaska. BIM and other cloud-based technologies have removed the location barrier.

Now, more so than ever, AEC teams are turning to cloud-based construction and modeling platforms to ensure everyone, regardless of location or team, is working from the same, highly accurate plans. For instance, platforms like BIM360 are enabling cloud-based file sharing at every step in the AEC process to maintain organization, cohesion, and collaboration.

Additionally, using technology like 3D visualizations and HD video capture to assess buildings helps limit interactions and on-site visits, while allowing most project teams to view and analyze the space from anywhere, anytime.

Adaptive reuse projects will only continue to expand as owners and managers look to restore the vitality of their once high-performing assets. And the need to support these projects virtually and with a great deal of accuracy will become table stakes. This is where BIM will prove a tremendous asset to all involved. It’s time to embrace it.

Ken Smerz is the CEO of ZELUS, a digital as-built service provider. The company delivers Virtual Design Construction (Building Information Modeling) services as well as 2d/3d digital documentation using the most advanced, latest technology.

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