The design of the new Microsoft office in Chevy Chase, Md.—with the aid of Autodesk’s Revit building information software—enabled SmithGroup to come in on time and under budget for the global software giant’s first joint sales and development office. Although the benefits proffered by BIM were numerous for this LEED-CI-registered project, the tool’s strengths really came into play when the design team had to fast track the five-story, 120,000-sq.-ft. design to completion after a four month hiatus.
Of course, the 3D model views inherent from the plan development for the space facilitated early buy-in from the client during the design phases, plus a rapid permitting process after completing the construction documents. In addition, detailed daylighting studies, a la Revit, enabled the team to position the corridors and circulation nodes along the office floor for optimal daylight and outdoor views. And when it came to shoehorning in a stairwell, Revit proved its worth once again by identifying the few inches of clearance between the structural columns, beams, and post-tension cables.
Design Up Front
Overall, one big difference between BIM and traditional CAD design is that instead of sketching up a general design and then filling in the details, Revit requires the team to input detailed parametric data for every design object (i.e., determining the wattage, lamping, and finish of each light fixture). Then, with all this data loaded into the model, the process of extracting quantity take-offs, a cost model, and schedule can be delivered in a very short time frame.
Naturally, the high-end graphics also were a great tool to visualize color scheme and finish material options in order to achieve consensus. However, in terms of life-like renderings, although Revit has the built-in capability, SmithGroup chose to export the model to Google SketchUp to more freely edit and fine-tune design, and finally to Autodesk’s 3D Studio Max to add more texture and detail to the renderings presented to the client and permitting office.
In fact, coming armed with the rendered digital model to the authority having jurisdiction (in this case, the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services), the team literally could walk them through the stairs and egress paths to provide a realistic image of the proposed project. Since the officials already were familiar with the 3D images, once the building plans were officially submitted, they were willing to fast-track the permitting process.
Serving as a new home for Microsoft’s federal sales team and newly acquired Healthcare Solutions Group for product development, the vibrant, modern space co-locates two diverse employee cultures in a cohesive environment while showcasing product and reinforcing company core values. BIM’s 3D blocking and stacking diagrams for the facility enabled the design team to optimally locate spaces to be used by both groups—including meeting areas, social hubs, a divisible multipurpose room, and specialized briefing centers and suites—based upon the company’s adjacency requirements within the vertical building stack. In addition, BIM was used to coordinate clearance for items such as duct work, lighting, and sprinklers.
Although Revit has a plethora of capabilities and features, it’s not quite as simple as opening up the box and presto. On the contrary, a significant learning curve is required. And the client had to commit to an altered fee structure, as BIM projects require shifting a percentage of the design fee to the project’s front end, where much of the work is actually done.
A BIM-driven process also requires more model management, as each designer is working on the exact same model. As a result, one person must oversee the process and assign parts of the model in a way that they don’t overlap with one another.
Ultimately, although the application of BIM requires an altered management and design process—not to mention an infrastructure and training investment on the part of the design firm—the added efficiencies, visualization abilities, and streamlined process make it well worth it. In the case of the new Microsoft offices in Chevy Chase, the SmithGroup team delivered an award-winning design that exceeded client expectations, born out by the vastly improved satisfaction results found in Microsoft’s post-occupancy evaluation.
High-end visual renderings (above) helped facilitate early client buy-in and a fast-tracked, life-safety permitting process for the five-story stairwell in Microsoft's new Chevy Chase, Md. office building.