In the 21st century design workplace, contractors, architects, and engineers increasingly use Building Information Modeling (BIM) to collaborate over long distances using virtual technology.

With support from alumni and donors, the School of Design and Construction is building a BIM laboratory that will let students experience a global working environment on campus and gain access to equipment, software, and updated classrooms that reflect current industry technology. The lab will educate students in creating and navigating multi-dimensional models and in manipulating models and documents using collaboration technologies. It will annually serve 200 construction management and 120 civil engineering students, who are in high demand upon graduation.

Building Information Modeling lab at Washington State University

Funds raised for the project are covering construction costs, equipment, and training. The initiative also establishes a fund for future technology infrastructure.

McKinstry Co. and Hoffman Construction Company provided lead gifts for the project and funded the project’s first phase, which includes smart boards, cameras, microphones and speakers, so that students can learn about BIM-based workflow. A $60,000 gift from PCL Construction Services, Inc. is supporting the project’s second phase, which creates semi-immersive stations in the classroom for collaboration with BIM in 3D virtual environments.

The design and construction workplace has changed dramatically in the past decade, said Darin Chestnut, (’86 Arch, ’87 CM), director of Major Projects with PCL Construction Services, Inc. and a member of the SDC Advisory Board.

PCL, for instance, started its virtual construction program in 2005, and it has expanded significantly since then. The company uses BIM throughout its building projects, from the very beginning through closeout. Using BIM means that its construction team can take the architect’s model and easily integrate all of its building components – down to metal studs and finishes – to make sure everything fits. The tool helps the builders identify potential conflicts and eliminate problems before they ever show up on a work site.

“It’s really an important tool that is changing the way we do construction,” said Chestnut. “We build it once and we build it right.”

The company is excited to support WSU’s new lab.

“We think that virtual construction is going to have a major impact in our industry — we’re already seeing it,” he said. “We’re excited about helping to give that exposure to WSU students, so they’re better prepared when they get out into the workforce.”

Skanska USA is also supporting the work. The final phase of the project will include equipping the space for a fully immersive virtual reality experience with the addition of VR and augmented reality (AR) headsets and software for student training in visualization and navigation.

“At the rate that technology is changing the way that we deliver construction, it is essential that university graduates are exposed to the BIM tools that are becoming more prevalent in our industry every day,” said Mark King, Seattle’s Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Manager for Skanska USA. “By providing a facility that provides them the skills to leverage the most common BIM tools, we are democratizing many BIM processes on our projects as opposed to relying solely on VDC staff. Through their exposure to BIM in school, these creative young minds will also develop new ways to leverage the power of the tools at their disposal, and hit the job market well ahead of the curve.”