When you walk into a typical office building, chances are you never think to look up. At the new Waltham, Mass., headquarters of Autodesk Inc.’s Architecture, Engineering and Construction Division, however, you immediately notice the ceiling. Instead of banal acoustic tiles, the ceiling of the company’s 5,000-square-foot (465-m²) customer briefing center and gallery is covered in a 3-D decorative screen. Made of boomerang-like wooden pieces, the screen resembles waves, basket weaving or even an abstract take on a flock of birds in flight. What isn’t so obvious is that the ceiling also is an example of the project’s integrated approach to design and sustainability.

Autodesk, whose worldwide headquarters is in San Rafael, Calif., is a leading producer of 2- and 3-D design software, such as the AutoCAD system. When the company decided to open its new AEC headquarters in Waltham, it chose to occupy an existing 55,000-square-foot (5110-m²) building rather than opt for new construction. It was essential to the company that the project not only be sustainable, but that it employ its own suite of building information modeling products.


The project also used an integrated project delivery approach in which all parties—client, architects, engineers, contractor and subcontractors—collaborate throughout the process. With an interior designed by Philadelphia-based architecture firm KlingStubbins and construction provided by Woburn, Mass.-based Tocci Building Cos., the project is expected to earn a Gold rating under the LEED for Core & Shell system and a Platinum rating under LEED for Commercial Interiors from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council.

“We were really clear that we wanted a space that represented the mission of this group, which is to build technology that improves the state of the design industry,” says Phil Bernstein, FAIA, LEED AP, Autodesk’s vice president of industry strategy and relations. “We wanted it to have a slightly edgy, modern, fresh design, and we wanted it to be as sustainable as possible.”

Models for Success

When designers have no control over certain aspects of a building, such as the exterior envelope or an existing HVAC system, seeking LEED-CI requires creativity. “We didn’t have any control over the shell of the building,” Bernstein says, “but we had a lot of control over the interior design. We had to optimize things like daylighting, energy use and air quality.”

Working closely with the company, KlingStubbins and Tocci Building used several Autodesk products to make the space as sustainable as possible. Autodesk’s Revit Architecture tool was used to create a working model of the design, which could be easily linked with other software, such as Autodesk’s Ecotect, to run simulations and determine how daylighting and energy use would be distributed throughout the workspace, according to Scott Simpson, FAIA, LEED AP, senior director for KlingStubbins.

The process ultimately allowed the design team to illuminate more than 90 percent of the offices with natural daylight and install artificial light only where it was absolutely needed. The team first modeled the building as it existed to see where daylight naturally fell and then communicated that to the designers and company to ensure that most employees would be situated within those daylighting “zones.” Conference rooms and other areas that weren’t in regular use were placed farther inside the space. For the most part, partitions were kept at 42-inches (1067-mm) high to further facilitate light penetration.

The BIM system also allowed the team to implement a design-to-fabrication workflow, in which digitally designed features were seamlessly transmitted to millworkers and other subcontractors working on building elements, such as the HVAC system and decorative wooden ceiling, Simpson says.

In a traditional workflow, KlingStubbins would first have designed the ductwork distribution and then coordinated with the mechanical subcontractors later. Using the IPD process, the team brought in the mechanical, electrical and plumbing subcontractors early and worked out the design and coordination together. “For example, we were able to prefabricate certain bends in the sprinkler pipes ahead of time,” Simpson recalls, “because the BIM software tells us in advance where there are potential conflicts between systems.”

Similarly, after finishing the ceiling model in Revit Architecture, the architects sent the plans to Syracuse, N.Y.-based millwork fabricator, RB Woodcraft, to produce the actual pieces, sending the design straight into the machines with no need to redo drawings or specifications. “One of the benefits of using a digital design-to-fabrication process is that there’s a straight line of information flow from the designer through the builder to the subcontractors,” says Laura Handler, LEED AP, virtual construction manager for Tocci Building. “So there’s not a lot lost in translation.”

Without the digital-workflow capability, “we as designers might have been hesitant to put forth a design that complex and untested,” says Chris Leary, AIA, LEED AP, a principal with Kling-Stubbins, who served as project director. “Without BIM, we’d have spent a lot of time developing two-dimensional drawings and technical details. With it, we were able to proceed with some confidence, and we were able to look for ways to achieve the design with economy. And because of the IPD approach, we were able to engage that expertise [with the millworker] much more quickly.”

Leary adds that more contractors are likely to add virtual construction managers to their teams, like Tocci Building, so they can leverage BIM to construct buildings virtually first. “I think more contractors will see this as a competitive advantage and as a way to realize schedule efficiencies and improve the quality of construction,” he says. “I think owners are going to get wise to this, too.”

Integrated Delivery

Using BIM and IPD allowed the team to complete the Autodesk project on a fairly fast timetable; design work began in May 2008 and the building was occupied by January. Taken together, BIM and IPD have the potential to revolutionize the green-building industry, Simpson says. Although one can be used without the other, leveraging them together allows for a tremendous increase in efficiency and demonstrable reduction in waste, an inherently sustainable objective. Although the design team says it is difficult to determine how much longer the project would have taken without BIM and IPD, the team notes the project grew in scope by 20 percent with the addition of an atrium and employee cafeteria, yet it was still finished on time.

The goal of the atrium was twofold: to add drama and visual interest to the building and facilitate daylighting. When the designers first presented the atrium in a 2-D format, the Autodesk review team was not convinced that it was large or elegant enough to work in the space. During a meeting, however, the designers were able to open up the model in Revit and use its walk-through tool to better demonstrate how the completed atrium would look and feel. Because the integrated team was able to review the design together, it was quickly approved.

“With a combination of IPD with BIM, you’re going to get better quality construction with better quality design,” Simpson says. “The construction industry is going to have a lower level of waste and an elimination of shop drawings. I do believe it’s going to radicalize how design delivery is done.”