Construction goes digital and sustainable

The digitalization of society is driving lasting change and the construction industry is no exception. Digital modeling, or BIM helps us to build better, more sustainably and more responsibly. So, how can we leverage BIM? What challenges does BIM help us to succeed in? We’ll tell you the whole story!

Visualize a building from every angle
“BIM is a living and dynamic thing. At each phase in the construction process, it can be enhanced, expanded and used in different ways.”
Stéphane Patrix

At 165 meters high with 49,000 square meters of floor space on 44 levels and 1,100 square meters of balconies and terraces, the Group's flagship headquarters, the new Saint-Gobain Tower has all the visual appeal of a crystal cathedral rising from the La Défense business district just outside Paris. Implemented by Generali, Vinci Construction and architects Valode & Pistre, this colossal project is one of the first towers in France to use BIM. BIM? This acronym has three possible meanings: Building Information Management, Building Information Modeling and Building Information Model.

“This innovative way of working involves every construction stakeholder in working on a single digital 3D model that provides a virtual representation of the project in its entirety,” explains Stéphane Patrix, Technical Director, Habitat Markets France at Saint-Gobain. “BIM allows us to accurately track every stage in the project life cycle, from concept to end of life.” Now commonplace in the USA and mandatory in Norway, Denmark and the UK, BIM is gradually gaining ground elsewhere in Europe, particularly in France with its National BIM 2022 plan, the buildingSMART France openBIM community and the involvement of all construction industry players.

A multiform and comprehensive resource

From design through structural work, the choice of materials, logistics and environmental footprint calculation, BIM is a multiform solution that makes it possible to analyze, simulate and visualize a building from every angle, including the structural, energy efficiency and budgetary perspectives.

Let’s take the Saint-Gobain Tower as an example. And more specifically, its curtain walling. Its entire visual appeal depends on the choice of special glazing that creates visual changes in response to light levels. With ‘traditional’ projects, the architect or client makes such choices on the basis of samples or prototypes. The result is a solution that often fails to reflect reality. Using BIM, the teams of Saint-Gobain Vitrage Bâtiment have been able to work with their counterparts in the Group R&D teams to define all the performance characteristics of the glazing to model an extremely realistic exterior. As a result, the architect was able to select the glazing solution by visualizing the desired effect using the GlassPro Live rendering program. Such simulations are now commonplace, and construction companies are using BIM to select materials and ‘shop around’.

A purchasing library

So what exactly can you find in a BIM Library? Well, the Saint-Gobain library gives you access to 130 Group products, all of which can be configured and rendered in 3D. Each object (partition, ceiling, glazing, etc.) is associated with technical data (size, type, energy data, etc.) that can be shared between all those involved in the project.

In the same way as in a video game, the architect, design office or contractor then simply has to pick and choose the materials and do the design work. Better still, modeling software (like the packages offered by ISOVER / Placo®) can also be integrated into the digital model. These configurators work around the geometry of the space, and guarantee layout accuracy with a detailed that plan provides a virtual reproduction of how the individual elements fit together. They also generate the list of materials to be ordered, together with a delivery schedule, precise installation drawings and other essential information. The end result is reduced room for error, fewer budget overruns and shorter project lead times.

From BIM to RIM

BIM is certainly proving to be invaluable in the process of choosing materials, but at the same time is proving itself as an asset for more energy-efficient and eco-friendly approaches to construction.

HVAC systems, building orientation, number of openings... BIM can model all of them, and many other aspects as well! Given the complexity of thermal performance regulations, its importance cannot be overstated. “BIM allows everyone involved in the construction process to review the way they design and build by providing full continuity of information,” continues Stéphane Patrix. “For example, the model can be used not only to quantify building thermal, environmental, comfort and aesthetic performance using simulation software, but also to integrate operational constraints throughout its life cycle.” The fact is that data are key to this process, and enable many variations to be explored. For example, RIM (Resource Information Modeling) uses project data to analyze the materials used and calculate their carbon impact, from their supply to the amount of waste generated and the ultimate demolition of the building. This ultra-modeling capacity makes it possible to ensure traceability of every material used, forecast the cost of demolition and explore opportunities for recycling or re-use. So the ability to use project data from BIM and RIM systems offers many possibilities for putting sustainable buildings center stage.

Construction site unity

The other great strength of BIM is its incredible ability to bring all project stakeholders together around a single point of focus. By offering 360° visibility of the building under construction, BIM is the absolute opposite to the silo strategy in which everyone works separately. The use of a single file format (Industry Foundation Classes) makes interaction so much easier. “BIM reproduces the kind of unity you get on a construction site, allowing everyone involved in the construction process to work collaboratively and share their expertise using a virtual representation of the building,” adds Stéphane Patrix. “This continual process of coordination between stakeholders via a shared model improves decision-making and reduces data loss and conflict.” This joint approach to construction means that end-user customers can also be involved in the project.

Let’s go back to the Saint-Gobain Tower. While the building was still under construction, the people who would be working there could tour their future offices using a virtual reality app.

Helping SMEs get onboard with BIM

So the major advantage of BIM is that everyone can be involved in the project. Everyone? Really?

While the majors of the industry have already integrated this innovation into their working practices, SMEs are slower to get onboard. But their take-up of BIM is likely to accelerate, given everything they have to gain from it. "BIM awareness and training have become priority goals for Saint-Gobain. We need to make this technology available to everyone, especially small businesses. Which is why we’re developing resources to train them and help them integrate into the BIM process”, explains Stéphane Patrix.

The challenge posed by BIM adoption can only be addressed through training. In Germany, the national ‘Stufenplan Digital Planen und Bauen’ (Step-by-step Digital Planning and Building) plan has encouraged the use of BIM via a multi-sector approach delivered through local working groups and trade associations. In France, the BIM 2022 Plan is designed to provide construction industry support via a collaborative online platform called KROQI.

Upscaling the entire construction industry is essential if we are to build the sustainable cities of tomorrow. And with that in mind, BIM already has a worthy successor: CIM (City Information Modeling). This fully collaborative model will go further still to provide a global overview of urban projects, including transportation, flows of people using the building, etc., providing yet another step towards 100% sustainable and responsible construction.


Credits: Laurent Kronental/Shutterstock, Have a nice day Photo/Shutterstock, Blanscape/Shutterstock