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Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Design/Build/BIM Future

I posted about the Steve Badanes lecture at University of Hartford earlier in the week. I attended the lecture and was asked to write an article about it...

Jersey Devil
A Design/Build/BIM Future.

October 31st, 2009
By: Jeffrey A. Pinheiro, LEED AP

Steve Badanes conducted a very intriguing lecture at the University of Hartford this past Thursday. The lecture focused on many of his design/build projects with Jersey Devil Design/Build and many more recent design/build programs at colleges around the United States. Although most of the design/build projects with Jersey Devil were completed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, it felt as though he could be sharing a glimpse into the future with his audience.

For most of his projects Steve lived on site in a mobile trailer. He grew his own food and cooked it in a solar oven. The thought comes into mind of what LEED Innovation in Design credit could this relate to? Could this possibly be used towards a Sustainable Sites credit as well? Lots of people are searching for new ways to create less pollution, emit less carbon, and disturb less earth while building, but Jersey Devil appeared to be doing so back in the 1960’s.

Additionally, there is a dramatic shift taking place in the building industry that focuses on improving the collaboration between all levels of the building process. Jersey Devil designed and built their projects. Talk about improving collaboration. Fifty years ago Steve Badanes and Jersey Devil were way ahead of the industry. Looking even further back, even the Ancient Egyptians saw the advantages of a design/build approach. Today, there is a major added cost to a project due to change orders, miscommunication, and clashing. If the design team is the building team the idea of clashes, change orders, and coordination problems could possibly disappear. It is interesting to see that it has taken fifty years for the rest of the industry to begin catching up to these ideas and using technology to advance them. The advent of Building Information Modeling (BIM), Integrated Project delivery (IPD), and green building practices appear to be at the forefront of the shift taking place.

The idea of a design/build company can be paralleled with today’s Architecture /Engineering Company (A/E). It is also interesting to juxtapose why Jersey Devil’s design/build concept was so successful with the success rate of BIM and IPD projects. The National BIM Standard defines BIM as “a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility and a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition” (National Institute of Building Sciences, 2007). In the 1960’s Jersey Devil did not have a virtual representation of their project but their physical project became a building information model.

During his lecture Steve explained that they were able to see, experience, and adapt to issues such as mechanical clashing and complex details on site. Of course, they did not have three months of strict drafted construction documents to follow and change orders to be submitted. Ultimately, the designers/builders on site were performing the tasks of today’s building information modeler. Today’s building information modeler creates a virtual representation of what the building will be and foresees the problems that will arise long before construction begins. The use of BIM has proven to yield 79% fewer RFI’s (Request for Information) and field coordination problems, 79% better communication due to the three-dimensional model, and 66% positive impact on overall outcome of projects (McGraw Hill Construction, 2008). One issue that arises when a virtual building is being created before it is constructed is the knowledge of the virtual builder.

When Steve Badanes spoke about the many design/build projects he directed at colleges across the United States he stressed the idea that it teaches architecture students how a building is built. Phil Bernstein, Vice President of Industry Strategy and Relations at Autodesk, stated that, “We’re seeing this very interesting dynamic where you have young architects who are extremely digitally skillful, but they don’t know anything about putting a building together, along with baby boomer architects who know a lot about putting buildings together and have no digital skills whatsoever” (McGraw Hill Construction, 2008). Perhaps Steve Badanes has the solution to this problem, design/build. Many students learn better by physically performing activities rather than text based studying. In fact, research shows that students involved in activity-based programs performed 20 percentile units higher than the comparison groups that used traditional text book approaches (Haury & Rillero, 1994).

If BIM is a resolution for many of the problems in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry and design/build will educate students about how a building is built, could they exist together in the classroom? The research shows the benefits of each party, but not the two parties together. A classroom where the student learns to design a project and build it with his/her own hands while simultaneously developing a virtual model in the classroom would educate a student with most of the skills required to be the architect of the future: an architect with technical skills, practical building knowledge, and understanding of communication and coordination importance. The future architect will no longer only be a designer and consultant for the owner. The future architect will be part of a team consisting of engineers, contractors, and sub contractors that share a common interest in the success of a project without the strict separation of roles that exists presently. A design/build/BIM approach in the classroom could help prepare a student to become the architect of the future.


Haury, D. L., & Rillero, P. (1994, June 30). Perspectives of Hands-On Science Teaching. Retrieved November 1, 2009, from Pathways:

McGraw Hill Construction. (2008). Building Information Modeling (BIM): Transforming Deisng and Construction to Achieve Greater Industry Productivity. New York: McGraw Hill.

National Institute of Building Sciences. (2007, December 18). National Building Information Modeling Standard. Retrieved October 31, 2009, from Whole Building Design Guide:

Please let me know what you all think! Thanks to Greg for some of the resources!