Better buildings
May 5, 2022

Using BIM to deliver low-carbon wood buildings

In the original design for the Sydney Opera House, Jørn Utzon envisioned the shells supported by precast concrete ribs under a reinforced concrete structure, which turned out to be prohibitively expensive. As one of the first projects to use computational calculations, the final solution—reached jointly between the architect and the structural engineer—consisted of a precast ribbed system of concrete shells created from sections of a sphere.

Laptop screen showing a 3D render of a building wood structure.

1 Lonsdale Commercial Building, Photo: KK Law

By Eduardo Souza, ArchDaily

At the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the project team used CATIA software (typically used by the aerospace industry) to model and materialize the complex curvilinear shapes of the titanium-coated volume designed by Frank Gehry. Challenging projects tend to spark the creativity of those involved to make them possible, but there are constructive systems that interact well with existing technologies. This is the case, for example, with engineered wood and the BIM system. When used simultaneously, they usually achieve highly efficient and sustainable projects.

Beyond a three-dimensional view

Information that supports building management

BIM (building information modelling) allows the incorporation of a variety of valuable information into the model, in addition to the traditional three-dimensional views of walls, roofs or doors and windows, that permit design iterations and simulations. It also promotes collaboration and exchange of information throughout the team involved, from the first sketches to the end of a building’s useful life. In other words, from planning and design to operation and decommissioning, the information contained in the BIM model supports building management.

BIM has proved to significantly increase the productivity of designers, control costs (avoiding errors and rework), and reduce waste on-site. Other benefits include simplified communication between everyone involved in the project and better quality and management of information. According to a report by the Boston Consulting Group on digital tools in engineering and construction, broader adoption of BIM could save the global infrastructure market 15 to 25 percent by 2025. For wood buildings, this requires the involvement of engineered wood manufacturers, consultants, designers and even the owners of the future building.

1 Lonsdale Commercial Building, North Vancouver | Photo: KK Law

Shifting mindsets

Incorporating a more precise approach

Mass timber buildings have a high potential to change the mindset of traditional construction, focused on craft practices at the construction site, which are often uncertain, risky and subject to lower productivity levels, resulting in unreliable costs and schedules. Wood is a material with low carbon content, easy to mill and to be prefabricated in controlled environments for on-site assembly, with precise dimensions, configurations and fittings that align precisely with the virtual model. Wood is also lightweight, yet sturdy enough to handle and transport.

1 Lonsdale Commercial Building, North Vancouver | Photo: KK Law