Paperless 3D software now a norm for architects

3D building design

Sara Murphy, Savannah District Design Branch architect, works on the design of a future training building in a 3D building information modeling (BIM) program.

3D building design

The internal rendering of a training building as seen in a 3D building information modeling (BIM) program.

3D building design

The final mock-up of a training building as seen in a 3D building information modeling (BIM) program.

3D building design

The mock-up of a brigade’s unit complex as seen in a 3D building information modeling (BIM) program.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District has been going digital for about five years with 3D modeling programs, which allow them to scroll through an entire building’s layout digitally rather than flip through dozens of sheets of blueprints. 

“The 3D modeling programs have changed the building design process from having to view each floor and the elements within them – heating and air handling, electrical – on individual blueprint sheets, to being able to view the whole building and its components together,” said Kate Dixon, acting chief of the Design Branch, Savannah District.

“We’ve even modeled the furniture,” added Dixon.

The 3D building information modeling (BIM) programs now allow users to see the structure all together before even getting to the building site.

“It is able to tell us things like ‘hey, you’ve got a beam and a piece of ductwork running through each other,’ or a beam outside of the building envelope,” Dixon exclaimed. 

It’s that looking ahead that has furthered the design and building process for the Corps.

“It helps our coordination between all of our disciplines – architectural, structural, electrical and mechanical. In order to make sure everything fits, for example, no conflicts between ductwork and structural beams,” said Dixon.

Some of the folks who have worked in 2D for years have come to see the benefits of using the BIM programs.

“It’s actually easier to draw piping in 2D, because with the 3D programs you have to put in each individual joint or fitting and that takes more time,” said Shawn Yearwood, Savannah District Design Branch mechanical engineer.

“However, with 3D you can see things like if you need two toilets back-to-back on a wall, you can see that you might need a thicker wall because of the fittings needed to install them, all before anything is even built,” said Yearwood.

In early versions of the design software everything was still done in two dimensions like if someone was still taking a pencil to a blueprint or schematic drawing. As Sara Murphy, Savannah District Design Branch architect, points out the BIM software already has preset structural elements, such as walls, that can be adjusted by the user.

“With the current versions of the BIM programs we see everything real-time, overlapped, as it is proportionally in space. All I have to do is click, and put that wall someplace, so I don’t have to draw 15 individual lines that represent a wall, I’m actually putting a wall in three dimensional space.”

“It’s a really user-friendly program that helps achieve our end result successfully, and gives people the opportunity to experience architecture before it’s built,” added Murphy.

By leveraging newer tools like the BIM programs, the Savannah District is able to provide a good visual for our stakeholders to see the final product, sometimes before dirt is ever moved.

“Rather than just showing someone a blueprint, we can show the end-user a complete rendering of what the whole building will look like,” said Dixon.