An Interview with Jim Balding, Architect

Jim Balding renowned architect, author, technologist, and Revit guru has long been an industry leader in the integration of architecture and technology. Jim is a member of the Autodesk Revit Client Advisory Board and served five years as Revit Product Chair for AUGI. Jim co-authored the book Introducing and Implementing Autodesk Revit Architecture and is a continuous featured presenter at Autodesk University. During his previous tenure with the Newport Beach/Irvine, CA architecture firm Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo (WATG) , he founded and lead WATGs technology research and development group (WimberlyLabs). Jim has since gone on to found The ANT Group (Architecture & New Technologies) – Irvine, CA, which is dedicated to finding and incorporating technological solutions that benefit the AEC industry. Recently Jim spoke with John Russo, contributing author of the LiDAR News.

JOHN RUSSO: How did you first get involved with technologies such as BIM [Building Information Modeling]?

JIM BALDING: I have always been interested in technologies. My interest in computers goes back to my Commodore VIC 20 days. I learned VersaCAD just after graduating from the University of Colorado. As for Revit, I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. When Revit, back then called Charles River Software, was looking to get architects involved with their Early Adopter Program WATG was on the list to visit. I was able to sign up as their 4th early adopter.

JR: Have you utilized laser scanning on any of your projects?

JB: Yes. Ive successfully utilized it on two renovation projects; one for the Newport Rib Company and the other for the Downtown Los Angeles Marriott.

JR: What made you consider the use of laser scanning on these projects?

JB: In the past Ive experienced numerous instances where inaccurate as-builts have impacted my designs. With inaccurate data, you see things inaccurately, thus design decisions that are made based on inaccurate data become inaccurate themselves. This often results in costly rework and delays. A renovation model is only as good as its as-built.

I first decided to try laser scanning on a renovation project I was doing for the Newport Rib Company. I contracted a company to laser scan and provide accurate as-built documentation. Due to budget constraints I wanted to keep as much of the work/fee in-house as possible. My scanning service provider recommended a process of providing me with 2D AutoCAD as-built plans derived from the laser scans which I could import into Revit to begin building my BIM. They then provided me with hosted TruView Images from which I was able to obtain the needed vertical dimensions as well as refer to for clarification on the level of detail (LOD) not shown in the AutoCAD plans. Being able to view the TruViews was phenomenal! It was just like being on-site.

JR: Were there any downsides to this process?

JB: Yes. At first I was trying to view the TruView imagery over a wireless Internet connection. This was extremely slow and frustrating. I quickly discovered that a hard wired connection to the Internet improves the performance dramatically and later learned that TruViews can be loaded and viewed locally for even faster performance. I also found that color TruViews are superior to black and white TruViews.

JR: What recommendations do you have for someone looking to utilize laser scanning in their process of creating an as-built BIM?

JB: It is critical to define the various flavors of the programs being utilized to overcome potential workflow issues. If you are expecting your deliverables to be provided in Revit 2011 make sure to specify that it is in Revit Architecture 2011 vs. Revit MEP 2011 (or vise versa) since each of these versions may treat object creation differently.

Also, to save on time/cost consider keeping things 2D if you can get away with it. Ive done things like keeping sprinkler heads as a symbol to avoid over modeling.

JR: Many laser scanning service providers come from the land/civil side of the industry. As they expand their services to include building survey Ive seen some of them struggle with the concept of providing their deliverables to architects in an ortho fashion vs. in real world coordinates as typically found in a point cloud. Can you provide any insight from an architects perspective?

JB: Architects typically want their plans and models ortho. It is often more difficult for us to work with walls that are illustrated out-of-plumb. We want our as-builts accurate, but we also need them presented in a form that is useable to us. It would be nice if we could see the as-built conditions presented as they exist in a real-world out-of-plumb fashion, along with an adjusted ortho view.

JR: What do you see as the future of laser scanning and BIM as they continue to converge?

JB: Cost savings. As these technologies continue to mature I believe that well be able to capture an increased level of detail of existing conditions data and model it more accurately. Cost savings will be realized as the process for deriving this data is refined. However, whether it is 2D data or 3D data, clients need to understand the cost impacts of specifying higher levels of detail. I start shaking when I hear people talk about specifying a Level 400 or Level 500 LOD.

To many, the first impression of laser scanning is that it is expensive. However, I choose to look at it from the value I derive from it. If this technology can give me more accurate information, I can in turn, have a higher level of confidence that I am producing a good design.

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You can learn more about Jim and The ANT Group at