Shaping smart integrated environments with BIM

Although Building Information Modelling (BIM) has been variously adopted in the Fire Engineering sector, most of the BIM-related activities are still focused on stand-alone, contractor-owned models. At BuroHappold, explains Peter Stephenson, Associate Director, our designers use BIM to shape smart integrated environments. One key benefit is that all parties involved can directly access the information relevant to their competence area. By integrating Fire Engineering in the BIM rendering, designers improve the building’s model in its entire complexity and functionality. 

As a specialist discipline within BuroHappold it is important that the fire engineering team works closely with architects and the MEP, structure and other core service teams on all major projects. Such end-to-end design integration enables the client and his field technicians to retain the full overview of all life safety systems in the building at all stages – also in post-construction. Thanks to an always evolving BIM technology, Fire Engineering nowadays can span fire strategy concepts and models from active and passive suppression systems to every single aspect of the fire protection segment.

BIM applications: as good as the designer and fire experts
BIM has one limitation: the level of information delivered by the designer and the discipline experts, and the amount of data made available in the model. If adopted in a proper manner, BIM-based design models can deliver a comprehensive set of data regarding each single component and include all corresponding operational, preventive, maintenance and replacement part information. This is possible because contractors, commissioning agents, installers and every party involved can access the model throughout all design and construction phases and model the information relevant to them before and during the implementation process. In post-construction fire protection service technicians can be given the same access to the model enabling them to identify potential system failures prior to visiting the field and without being deeply familiar with the system beforehand.

Visualising fire strategies with graphics
We have been increasingly using graphics within our fire strategy reports to depict the proposed

General fire system (hose cabinets, sprinklers, detectors, voice alarm etc.)

General fire system (hose cabinets, sprinklers, detectors, voice alarm etc.)

engineering solutions. Dedicated topic-relevant, illustrated reports now clearly delineate the range and the extent of fire safety measures to be provided for each building. The availability of accurate, three dimensional information is greatly beneficial: all aspects of the fire strategy, including fire compartmentation and complex stair geometries, can be visualised in all their details by adopting colour-coded diagrams formerly originated in the building design software in use.

Game change with BIM: reliable fire prevention and interdisciplinarity
The main reason for BIM is to produce an end-to-end, coordinated model of the building. This is the area where the fire engineer experiences the most complex challenges. Fire Engineering is a broad discipline and presupposes intense interaction with other disciplines. Therefore, in a BIM context, we have to provide inputs to the architectural model on compartmentation, space planning, egress design, and crowd management planning. The structural model can be used to define the levels of structural fire resistance to elements, while the services model defines service routes, fire damper locations and coordination within the architecture. These initially isolated parameters can then be merged and coordinated to form a fully integrated model. This is useful also to assist with costing a project and analyze the building lifecycle costs in a more accurate manner.

During the operational phase of a building, the development of workplace-related fire risk assessments can utilize the integrated building models and enhance the inner safety culture. During the building lifecycle any alterations and/or extension can be captured within drawings; BIM models can be flexibly re-shaped and re-adopted according to the needs of the communities in the building and environmental changes; they continue to evolve as a central hub of information supported by the building’s management team. Fire Engineering has become a core discipline, fully integrated into the design process to increase safety in modern buildings. This is mainly due to the professional adoption of BIM in the entire building design and construction cycle on to maintenance in the post-construction years. The fully integrated 3D BIM model contains a large amount of data on the building in question. This is the best, most reliable way for the investor and the building managers to know everything about the physical parameters of the fire strategy and, in accordance, draft the contract concerning the future maintenance of the fire safety systems. As a matter of fact, it is generally known that this aspect can prove difficult to manage within large and complex real estate properties having key components within a fire strategy never been considered integral part of a traditional construction plan.

Clash detection made easy
The BIM model allows careful co-ordination of service installations that are unusual and pose potential space allocation demands. The data coordination capability of BIM (clash detection) is a key function within a project whereby multi-disciplinary teams can readily identify clashes with other services and building detail which can be captured in a clash report for resolution during the design development. The discipline-specific models produced by the relevant engineering team can be evaluated as if they were a single model by uploading them into specialised software programs that can read multiple file formats concurrently allowing any geometric conflicts between the models to be resolved accordingly.

The age of connectivity
BuroHappold’s fire engineering and SMART teams are developing software applications in order to merge silos and proprietary data into analysis and BIM models, reducing so the time needed for design development. Whenever there is a need for geometries to be modelled independently from fire and evacuation design, it is often necessary to combine an existing “REVIT©” model with other software or graphic packages to enable the creation of an alternative, specific model geometry.

For example, if we consider evacuation modelling by importing the architectural design produced with “Rhino,” the outcome of connecting data stored in isolated systems and merged into BIM is an exact geometry and a realistic simulation of an evacuation plan. It reflects the width of escape routes and stairs, gradients, and detailed obstructions such as handrails and columns, sprinkler piping and fire alarm panels, call points, smoke detectors and many other elements of the entire fire
safety package.

2D still images, 3D movie and a graphic representation of facts and figures provide a transparent visual interpretation of the supporting data files which form the key deliverables of an evacuation analysis. The rendered animations generated are fundamental for the design team and approving authorities to determine any further measure. Working together with our BIM experts, the Fire Engineering Team can deliver a bespoke `walk-through’ environment to facilitate an unhindered and holistic view of the fire strategy in all its operative stages, including the accurate positioning of exit signage, lighting and all key fire safety elements. Our BIM-integrated fire strategies translate life safety plans in realistic simulations paired with ‘virtual inspection’ functionalities from a user’s desktop computer.

On BIM: when a change in mindset leads to sustainable results
BIM is a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of both physical and functional characteristics of spaces with files. Comprehensive data exchange and analysis support decision-making during the project lifecycle, where each of the involved parties reap the benefit of faster project delivery, higher output quality, and more efficient and economical operations. BIM is also about managing expectations and detailed planning. It’s about learning new skills and habits and mastering initial difficulties in order to effectively profit from all benefits deriving by this technology. 2D design lines generated in CAD are history.

The superior 3D intelligent model with data-rich components and their specific information and correlation to other components affords a more robust and comprehensive platform for building design and on-going management of the facility. Modern BIM applications can be used by all built environment specialists who plan, design, construct, operate and maintain a diverse range of buildings, such as, but not limited to high-rise buildings, aviation/rail, communication utilities, residential, schools, retail, offices, and leisure projects.

About BuroHappold Engineering
Described by our clients as ‘passionate’, ‘innovative’, ‘collaborative’: BuroHappold Engineering is an independent, international engineering practice that over the last 40 years has become synonymous with the delivery of creative, value led building and city solutions for an ever changing world. Having worked on every continent, clients include more than 90% of the world’s leading architectural practices and we have collaborated with global organisations such as the United Nations, The World Bank and UNESCO. Through our global community of driven, world leading engineering professionals deliver elegant solutions for buildings and cities that seek to address the major problems facing societies today.