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BIM and ARCHICAD combine a passion for science in an inspiring high school design

BOSTON, June 7, 2010 – Unroll building plans onto a conference table, and suddenly you can have five or six different conversations under way – and as many misunderstandings. That’s why a Phoenix architecture firm opted for open collaboration around 3D digital ARCHICAD software models, projected on screen, throughout the design and construction of a revolutionary new high school.

“The development of Phoenix Union Bioscience High School was as much an experience in sociology as architecture,” said Orcutt Winslow architect Russ Sanders, AIA. ”Bringing the building information model (BIM) from the back office to the conference table helped educators, school administrators, architects, engineers, building supervisors, contractors and others get on the same page and stay there. The result is happy clients and a wonderful school where, by every measure, students are excelling.”

The three-story, $11.4 million Phoenix Union Bioscience High School is a 400-student math-and-science-focused institution located in the state’s most ethnically diverse district. Using GRAPHISOFT’s ARCHICAD building information modeling (BIM) software, Orcutt Winslow created a design that complements the student’s love of science with a facility to channel that passion in a no-less-rigorous academic setting.

Phoenix Union Bioscience High School

The entire building is optimized for learning. Classrooms are designed to expand and shrink to facilitate team teaching. Building systems are exposed and used to highlight practical examples of good science, and there is a roomy town hall area to encourage community and openness. A central, monolithic staircase evokes the school’s high standards. Walls open to an outside courtyard and amphitheater, echoing the absence of limits on academic curiosity.

The building also reflects its location at the intersection of the city’s biotech and art districts. The east and west facades are dotted with architectural fossils – hollowed-out negative spaces depicting trilobites, birds and fish in the order they evolved. The firm designed the shapes in ARCHICAD, routed them in hard foam, sunk them into wet concrete, then carefully drilled them out of the building’s walls.

ARCHICAD helped the firm and the school district save money, evaluate myriad options and streamline regulatory approvals. For example, when the city required the high school to provide 40 additional parking places late in the design process, Orcutt Winslow quickly modified the BIM model. The firm displayed two options – underground and surface parking, each of which triggered automatic design changes throughout the rest of the structure. ARCHICAD helped stakeholders evaluate the options and compare the cost impact, leading to a choice of at-grade parking. ARCHICAD also helped the firm show a city preservation panel how the design would spare, and even spotlight, a 100-year-old schoolhouse at the center of the property.

Phoenix Union Bioscience High School

In the design review and regulatory meetings, the firm supplemented projected models with high-resolution animations produced in Cinema 4D software. The open collaboration generated enough enthusiasm to prompt city leaders to accelerate project funding, minimizing the impact of noisy construction activity on learning. Orcutt Winslow also used ARCHICAD 3D models to coordinate decisions and activities among the school district, its representatives, its contractors and subcontractors, helping achieve ultra efficient integrated project delivery.

“Communicating in the visual language of 3D and ARCHICAD helps to clarify so many otherwise nebulous points of information,” said Sanders. “You can see the design, comprehend it and discuss it much more easily than with the traditional practice of sketching a note on trace paper. This collaboration made for an extremely positive project from start to finish. BIM essentially has given us a new model for transforming how architects, clients and other stakeholders interact and execute their vision. Everybody felt, and still feels, like they own this.”