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BIM Used to Deliver One World Trade Center, New York

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At 104 storeys tall, One World Trade Center is New York’s – and indeed the western hemisphere’s – new tallest building. Standing at an exact height of 1,776 feet, it makes a direct reference to the date of American Independence.

That, combined with its symbolic importance for the free world following the horror of 9/11, has led it to be affectionately dubbed the ‘Freedom Tower’.

Costing $3.9bn to deliver, it also stands proudly as one of the earliest examples of BIM on a project of that scale.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) were the firm that oversaw design and construction of the new tower for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Their Partner Carl Galioto explained: “There were also numerous technical challenges; we had to integrate the building into the entire below-grade One World Trade Centre complex. That involved tremendous interdependency with other buildings and utilities. We needed the right digital tools for working on this project”.

After a competitive software selection process, SOM chose Autodesk’s Revit Architecture software as the primary architectural design platform, enabling the team to work in a BIM environment.

“We started off cautiously,” says Galioto. “Our initial plan was to use Revit complemented by AutoCAD just to model the subgrade levels. But on seeing the benefits down there, we quickly extended its use to the whole tower and moved into working in a BIM environment”.

Mindful of the scheme’s prominence, importance and scale, Autodesk provided direct assistance to SOM and the architectural team.

SOM split the Freedom Tower into five separate projects – base, tower-core and structure, base enclosure, main tower enclosure and spire – helping to define clear interdisciplinary workflows and making it easier for the design teams to meet deadlines for separate bid packages.

Once fully implemented, the new software quickly demonstrated its value. “Traditionally, in the construction document submittal process, we spend an enormous amount of time on quality assurance tasks,” says James Vandezande, a Digital Design Manager at SOM. “But with Revit Architecture, we can bring the 3D production model into the conference room—a place where it never existed before. That enables us to spend more time on collaboration and design, and less on the process of coordination.”

“We used to gather around the drawings on the table with a box of red pencils whenever we had to coordinate very complex or tight-fitting areas of a building, such as the lobby or mechanical room,” says Galioto. “Now, we can open the model on a plasma screen and zoom right in to whatever area we’re working on.”

For example, when inserting columns into the tower, project team members were able to drop a ‘virtual camera’ into the model to see if the new columns obstructed crucial views. “The results were simply amazing,” says Vandezande. “Instead of highlighting the issue in red marker and getting an answer in a week, we got real-time results.”

"Instead of highlighting the issue in red marker and getting an answer in a week, we got real-time results"

BIM proved equally valuable to the project’s structural engineering firm, WSP Cantor, Seinuk. “BIM opened up new methods of communication with contractors and subcontractors, methods that were unheard of a few years ago,” says Charles Guerrero, Vice President at Cantor Seinuk. “We were able to incorporate the architectural model into our structural model and easily see if any clashes exist.”

MEP Engineers from Jaros, Baum and Bolles (JB&B) began their work on the project with three weeks of Autodesk-led training. “They really helped us understand the base platform, and then build custom content in the early phase,” says Jay Conti, technology manager at JB&B.

Once up to speed, JB&B engineers benefitted from increased levels of coordination and clarity. “In particular, and as a direct result of using Revit MEP, we saw a drastic reduction in change orders,” says Timothy Fu, a mechanical engineer at JB&B. “That’s where MEP engineers typically lose the most time.”

“Going from a 2D, computer-based environment to BIM has really transformed the way we work and make everything more efficient,” adds Fu. “We’re now able to coordinate the MEP services right up front with the architect and structural engineer.”

The project saw real pioneering and development and many of the technological solutions developed from Autodesk’s partnership with the project team made it into later versions of their software packages.

One World Trade Centre is an achievement that many can be proud of. As well as being a symbol of hope, freedom and defiance for Americans and those of us living in the free world, it is a fantastic landmark for BIM development in the AEC industry.

Shared on The B1M channel by Autodesk.

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