Students Learn with Integrated Building Modeling
Before starting design, students produce an economic pro forma — a rough projection of costs and anticipated revenue — to help develop the program and evaluate project feasibility. While developing their designs, students work on cost estimating to test their proposals against the pro forma.
Revit manages information in a database and tracks relationships among building components. As a result, it is harder for students to gloss over detailed design decisions. If a column on one floor doesn't line up with a column on the floor above, Revit makes that obvious.
Students also have to carefully consider the components they're designing. Using a building information modeling approach confronts students with the specific properties of materials and assemblies.
For instance, when asked what their building is made of, students may say, "concrete," because it seems easy to work with and shape — whether or not it is an appropriate material for that particular condition. With Revit, however, they also have to take into account the design of the wall (or floor or roof) assembly. A wall becomes more than simply an abstract pair of lines.
In the fall 2002 semester, students were asked to design a 5,000-square-foot (465-square-meter) technology center for a branch library, with programmatic information borrowed from a real-world project in our area. The project was of a manageable size, and the students' schemes varied from a "single box" concept to fragmented elements expressed in massing and elevation.
In most of their projects, the students carefully developed and exploited the technology of building systems in the architectural character of the design — by exposing the structure, for example. Many students chose glass curtain-wall enclosure systems to make the lab activities visible to the public.
In the spring 2003 semester, students designed a combined residence/ art gallery. This project was more complex, and the economic parameters had a stronger effect on the program.
The student projects were more developed than in the previous semester, as evidenced by the number of renderings and interior views and by their attention to finishes and smaller-scale components.
How the Course Is Evolving
The Revit 3D software allows my design studios to cover more ground than before. In the past, my students would design in plan and section almost to the end of the semester. Now, they can work with perspectives, renderings, and 3D models as well, at any time during the semester, because Revit calculates these automatically from the building model.
Student design projects are now more thoroughly developed and refined. Revit also requires students to think more deeply about how to integrate mechanical and structural systems into the design.
In the spring 2003 semester, I taught the course without the cost estimating component at the end to leave more time for students to develop their designs. For the fall 2003 semester, however, I plan to reintroduce the cost estimating element but develop the cost-estimating database myself for the elements they'll be using.
Some faculty members, after sitting in on initial critique sessions, expressed concern that using Revit might limit creativity because the students select elements and objects from Revit's (and some manufacturers') libraries rather than drawing each component from scratch.
The more these faculty members became familiar with Revit, however, the more these concerns were alleviated. Over time, I see students working more on modifying standard components in the Revit libraries and customizing them for their individual projects. We plan to continue expanding this aspect in the future.
One colleague at Tulane is incorporating Revit in a design studio during the 2003 summer session, and another will do so in the fall. Students are generally enthusiastic because the focused nature of the course takes them farther along in the design process. I look forward to continuing to expand the set of parameters that inform these students' designs.
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Ronald Filson is professor of architecture and dean emeritus at Tulane University in New Orleans and principal of Ronald Filson FAIA Architects. Ron Nyren is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.