Laboratory Design Newsletter 2011 Selected Abstract


Building Information Modeling—Opportunity Knocking?

Galen Lif, AIA, LEED AP® BD+C, PGAV Architects

We have come a long way in our ability to design, document, and construct laboratory projects through the exchange of digital information, but in many ways, the simple napkin sketch conveys as much information as a well-thought-out set of construction documents. Yet architects and engineers are being asked by owners and contractors to generate more drawings and provide more information in order to get buildings constructed. Consequently, there is a demand for more efficient ways of getting things done. The use of building information modeling (BIM) can be a path toward the golden triangle of better, faster, and cheaper projects.

Following are some of the successes, shortcomings, and lessons learned on how BIM was used in the design and construction of a new laboratory/office building for the Kansas Bioscience Authority in Olathe, Kansas.

Image of building interior

Better–BIM was a key component to the success of this laboratory facility. Through the use of BIM, we were able to design the structural and mechanical components as integral elements of the architecture. Modeling these systems allowed us to identify the coordination and interference conditions early in the process and focus on more elegantly routing and placing these systems. Additionally, not having to worry about whether things such as the proper labeling of wall tags, room numbers, door numbers, and section tags enabled us to spend more time focusing on the actual design of the building and developing well-thought-out details.

Faster–BIM provides the ability for us to perform work offsite and bring assemblies to the job ready to install as complete components, which is an essential part of faster construction. Additionally, procurement time for some equipment can be reduced if all the design information is part of the model, thereby reducing the submittal processing time and rounds of revising and resubmitting that are so common with mechanical equipment. Ideally, all subcontractors would use the model to coordinate and complete the coordination drawings, as that is one of the main reasons a model is developed. On this project, the subcontractors chose to not use the model, so overhead coordination drawings took more than three months, and even then there were plumbing lines that needed to be taken down and reinstalled to avoid conflicts.

Cheaper–This part of the triangle is always the hardest to quantify. BIM should cut down on the number of requests for information, and the corresponding time required to write and respond to them, as well as reduce the number of change orders resulting from coordination issues. A bigger impact to cost would be having equipment model elements with information attached directly from manufacturers that match the specifications and identify system requirements, thus reducing the number of missing services to a piece of equipment, which can cause schedule delays and sometimes major retrofit work.

Lessons Learned–The owner, the design team, and, as soon as one is identified, the contractor should be a part of the discussion when deciding how the model will be used during design, construction, and facility management. Also, as part of that discussion, the team should agree on what is considered basic architectural services and what would be considered additional services. It is important to decide who controls the model (usually the architect) and establish the platform and parameters of how information will be shared. This step is of prime importance for seamless coordination.

A recurring theme of BIM is its underuse, and it does not need to be that way. What BIM requires is full cooperation and understanding between the owner, design team, construction team, and key stakeholders of a project in what is possible and what is expected. BIM can assist in the design, construction, and operations of complex laboratory projects in several notable areas, provided all the members of the team see its intrinsic value and invest the time and resources to fulfill its potential.

While the use of BIM immensely helped the Kansas Bioscience Park Venture Accelerator, in many ways it was disappointing that BIM was not to be used to its fullest potential; in the end, opportunity should have knocked louder.


Galen Lif is a senior project architect with PGAV Architects and specializes in the design and delivery of highly efficient research facilities. Mr. Lif thrives on complex challenges and leading the project team through the design and construction process. Mr. Lif's true strength lies in presenting a clear and consistent vision for the project while attending to countless details. Mr. Lif is a LEED AP, member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the U.S. Green Building Council, and is currently serving on the AIA Missouri Board. Mr. Lif earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Kansas and has a total of 22 years of design and construction experience. Prior to becoming an architect, Mr. Lif spent 13 years as a civil engineering designer, working on transportation and stormwater management projects