Design tools improve communication and can eliminate potential problems before they become real.

When Western Illinois University sought to build a grand, new entrance to its campus, Farnsworth Group recognized it was a very high-profile project that required input and approval from several members of the university’s board of trustees. To suit that need, our landscape architects were able to produce several different 3D concepts from which Western Illinois could choose elements that best fit their vision. With the client heavily involved in the design process, the final construction was precisely what the school had anticipated.

While many architects still sketch and render by hand, advances in technology have become vital tools in conveying designers’ ideas to clients in a quick, easy-to-understand format. These advances also allow for more precise information gathering and better communication between designers and contractors.

Software for Design and Modeling
For the Western Illinois project, Farnsworth Group turned to a program called Sketchup. This collaboration between Google and Trimble offers designers the ability to create highly sophisticated 3D visualizations of their concepts in a fraction of the time it would take to construct a physical-scale model. At little cost to the user, this powerful tool allows clients to have an instantaneous understanding of design intent, whereas traditional 2D drawings can seem complicated or unclear to the untrained eye.

As was the case with WIU, this empowers stakeholders by giving them a much-improved ability to offer feedback as a plan progresses, ultimately resulting in a better product. Design professionals have realized the advantages of Sketchup and are utilizing its time- and money-saving abilities on projects from the concept phase all the way to final presentations.

Another technology employed by the company is Building Information Modeling, or BIM. Not only does a BIM model entail all the aspects of a facility’s design, additional information on the products and systems used within the design can be embedded within the objects in the model. This information can then be used by the client to maintain the facility in the years to come.

The Autodesk Revit suite of software is the BIM platform of choice for designers at Farnsworth Group. It is used in each of the company’s design disciplines (architectural design, interior design, structural engineering, mechanical engineering, plumbing engineering and electrical engineering) during the design and construction document development of projects. Autodesk Civil 3D allows for the site model to be integrated into the overall Building Information Model, a step which verifies and coordinates the site conditions with the building model. Autodesk Navisworks serves as a virtual coordination tool during the design process to minimize or eliminate potential construction conflicts among the various disciplines involved.

This suite of software is used to provide a holistic approach to designs, which, in turn, offers a more coordinated and developed design to clients. The value of the BIM approach is realized in a better set of construction documents for the building and site, which can ultimately lead to fewer contractor-driven changes during the construction phase.

3D Laser Scanning
Another new technology has proven especially popular during redevelopment or remodeling projects of complex spaces, or where existing features need to be measured with a high degree of accuracy. Static LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), more commonly known as 3D laser scanning, can help create very accurate, as-built BIM models of existing structures.

A 3D laser scanner bounces pulses of laser light across any visible feature on the inside or outside of a building or site. Each time the laser pulse is reflected by an object, it returns a single point in space to the scanner. It will do this up to 1.2 million times per second, creating what is known as a point cloud. This data is converted into a BIM model using software such as Autodesk Revit, which is then used by designers as they work through the design process and then rolled over into the construction process as well.

3D laser scanning can be used for all types of projects, including the industrial, utility, retail, education, hospitality, office, civic and mining industries, as well as historic preservation and street and roadway projects. The benefits of this technology primarily revolve around the premise that it can reveal details of an existing building or site that cannot typically be revealed by conventional surveying technology. Ultimately, this additional insight allows the team to see potential problems before they become real during construction, where surprises and problems can cause delays and create cost overruns.

As with most industries, technology can have a profound impact on the way we do things. These tools enable design professionals to give a more accurate picture of what potential projects could look like and better tools equate to a better end result for both clients and the community. iBi