Planting the Seeds: How Miller Hull piloted BIM

July 23, 2015 Erin Emery

Planting the seeds: How Miller Hull piloted BIM

The Miller Hull Partnership, an architectural firm based in Seattle, has designed a diverse array of projects over its 35-year history. The firm is in the Building Information Modeling (BIM) vanguard, having begun its transition to BIM in 2006. Ruth Baleiko, principal with Miller Hull, and Jay Martin, a staff architect and project manager, discuss how the firm successfully piloted BIM.

Q: How and why did Miller Hull transition to BIM?

Ruth Baleiko: We began talking about BIM back in 2005. It was clear than an industry-wide transition was coming. We decided to be at the forefront of the change and not sit back and wait for it to happen. Rather than switch the whole office at once, we started with a pilot project that would allow us to grow our BIM talent at a pace that made sense for us. That first pilot put us on the road to seeing value from BIM on all our projects.

Q: Tell us about your BIM pilot project. Why did you select it as your BIM starting point?

Baleiko: Our first BIM project, which started in 2006, was an ideal pilot. It consisted of five, 5,000-square-foot libraries. Our client, a county library system, grouped the buildings into one project as a way to receive cost-efficiencies from doing five somewhat similar projects at once. It was a perfect pilot because each building was just a bit different from the others. After setting up the model for the first building, we were able to manipulate the design to give the buildings distinctive features. It was almost like we were doing the same project five times—perfect for exploring and learning new software.

Q: What elements contributed to the success of your BIM pilot?

Jay Martin: As we designed the libraries, we began developing BIM standards for the office. Learning and documenting went hand-in-hand. We took the time to think about things, like the best way to model a roof or a window. How would we set up assemblies? How do we prefer to do callouts and details? Our standards have evolved since then, but it made sense for us to consider how we would apply pilot lessons on future BIM projects. Training also made a big contribution. The project team attended a three-day Autodesk® Revit® Architecture training session. It was enough advance training that we were poised to apply what we had learned.

Q: What advice would you give others considering running a pilot?

Martin: Pick a pilot project type that you and your firm have mastered. If that’s a library or even a single-family home, great. It’s helpful to learn about BIM in the context of a project type you already know well. Just because BIM is great for complex projects doesn’t mean you have to start with one. We didn’t bite off too much with our first BIM project, and it launched us into the BIM world very successfully.

Q: How did your pilot help the firm progress toward BIM?

Martin: The three people who worked on the pilot served as BIM “seeds.” When they moved to their next project, they took their BIM knowledge with them. One experienced BIM team grew into three. Then, the people on those three projects took their BIM skills to their next projects. Our BIM know-how grew quickly and organically. Soon everyone in the firm was working in BIM, and it all began from one successful pilot project.

Q: What impact has BIM had on your business?  

Baleiko: BIM has changed the industry because, when used well, it leads to better buildings and better results for clients. We’ve been able to share BIM with clients and show them why it matters. BIM means fewer surprises in the field, better collaboration, and increased efficiency. Our firm tracks its change order rate on construction projects. It’s always been below what’s typical for the industry, but after we moved to BIM, our change order rate declined even more. It also really encourages teams to be thinking about how a building goes together right from the start.

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