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3D Modeling Workflow Improves Communication for Smarter Project Delivery

January 11, 2021
3D modeling for design

The way we communicate on projects has changed dramatically over the years, thanks in large part to the progressive release of disruptive technology.

Virtual design software, specifically, has allowed us to quickly crystallize imagined concepts and give character to space throughout the design process. 3D design platforms empower interior designers to communicate the full breadth of a project to clients and bring a design to life.

For example:

  • Using 3D modeling supports design rigor and iteration, ensuring that the final design is ready for presentation and execution.
  • Designers can import pre-built models, speeding up the visual communication of how spaces could ultimately look.
  • With 3D models, designers can quickly spot compositional imbalance and take action to correct it.
  • Space planning helps save time and money when considering parameters and limitations.
  • Working with a scaled floor plan provides an accurate description of a space. It equips designers to create effective and creative layouts and propose smarter furniture and decor placement.
  • Elevation drawings enable designers to make informed decisions around the vertical placement of drapes, light fixtures and artwork, based on an accurate scale.

Ultimately, the ability for clients to visualize in 3D how the finished product will look gives them the confidence to commit to purchases before any building effort is exerted.

We see the benefits of 3D modeling in interior design throughout the work of M Moser Associates and the positive impact it has on clients. M Moser Associates is radical about change and constantly innovating its approach to commercial interior design.

Over the years, the global workplace design firm has expanded its use of 3D modeling beyond design and conceptualization to a vital communication tool throughout the project delivery process.

Unlike most firms that consider their work complete when they hand over the designs and completed documents, M Moser goes above and beyond to consider the contractors and the build in a collaborative process that incorporates 3D models.

Its method is known as Virtual Reality Building Information Modeling (VRBIM) and incorporates a 3D modeling workflow that makes it possible for any stakeholder to understand, visualize and participate in a project from start to finish.

M Moser offices
At M Moser Associates, projects are realized through discussion and brainstorming. By using a 3D model for communication, the firm avoids misinterpretations on the design intent and works much faster.
 

Using 3D Models to Drive Communication

Jason Li, senior associate at M Moser, shared with us how the firm’s 3D modeling workflow has changed collaboration and led to better, faster decision-making. “We can create a working virtual environment that makes everything clear to all project participants regardless of training or experience,” he shares. “Unlike a highly coded or flat and disassembled, abstract set of documents, a visual reference is universal. A desk looks like a desk and a wall looks like a wall. You don't have to be an expert interpreter of construction documents to understand the design and participate in the process.”

While many firms are steeped in more traditional documentation, M Moser strives to make any record of construction information a by-product of real collaboration and 3D work. “Instead of sending out stacks of documents and asking people to read them and get back to us with a price, we aim to involve them from the beginning. This means all trades, contractors, suppliers and the client work together in 3D, from the very beginning.”

Li acknowledges that M Moser is different from other design firms as it often undertakes both design and construction. “Not every designer has the experience to truly understand construction,” he says. “They tend to draw the design intent, then they have to work with others to discover what’s possible. That’s why 3D modeling and collaboration across project teams is so valuable.”

As an example, Li describes a recent team discussion about an intricate reception counter. The contractor pointed out that if the table were four inches shorter, they could use off-the-shelf components and wouldn’t have to manufacture custom pieces.

“The designer made the change immediately, rationalizing that it wouldn’t impact the overall aesthetic but offered a significant reduction in cost and lead-time,” he recalls. “Thousands of collaborative discussions like this occur constantly, many of which wouldn’t be possible in 2D.”

[Related: Cutting-Edge Digital Touch Signage Ups the Engagement Experience]

Faster, More Accurate Design

M Moser designs and builds all types of workplaces, from corporate offices and campuses to laboratories, private hospitals and private education facilities. Using the 3D model as a collaboration tool has been extremely important given the ever-changing nature of these projects.

M Moser offices
SketchUp was used throughout the design and build process for M Moser Associate’s new office in Vancouver, a healthy, flexible and resilient space that integrates physical, social and digital elements of the work environment, with bookable rooms and booths for heads-down work while breakout spaces are used for social gatherings and lounging.
 

In contrast to more traditional building projects that require designers to nail things down well before construction for permitting, structural calculations and ordering materials, workplace design is fluid. For example, the size of the premises can change considerably as departments move around or mergers and acquisitions alter the entire landscape of the office. Working in SketchUp, Trimble’s 3D modeling tool, helps M Moser and other project participants keep up with these changes and stay on track. “The flexibility of SketchUp allows the entire team, including clients, specialists and contractors to stay on track,” Li notes.

M Moser’s team collaborates with other project participants daily. “Our approach is not like a factory in which I do my job and pass the work along to the next person,” Li explains. “Projects are realized through discussion and brainstorming. Everyone has a different background or point of view that can bring value to a project, and by using a 3D model for communication, we can truly avoid misinterpretations on the design intent and work much faster.”

We asked Li to give us an example of how this works. “In our meetings, you would see a group of people from different professions, such as designers, architects, engineers, estimators, sustainability and wellness advisers, looking at a model on a large screen,” he explains. “The person leading the meeting is not coming up with all the answers. They’re the chief question-asker, and the team addresses the issues together, marking the live model and taking screen captures as they go. They talk about what needs to change and sometimes make those changes on-the-fly. It’s very much a team activity.”

“Those objectives blend and form the definition of a successful project,” says Li. “With VRBIM, we can ensure designers, engineers, professionals, specialists and the client communicate on an equal platform. Our goal is that everybody understands the project objectives to achieve the best possible results.”

While some would say they can work faster or more easily in AutoCAD than in a tool like SketchUp, Li disagrees. “There is often a false understanding of time efficiency. If you hand a project to a couple of draftsmen, they may spend hundreds of hours doing the drawings without taking the time to understand the construction. A senior stakeholder would then go through and check each page of the drawings and apply the required 20 years of experience to effectively decipher them.”

Li also explains that visualizers can spend an inordinate amount of time setting up beautiful, but limited in number, renders. “Those hours really add up, while VRBIM forces the people who are doing the drawings to think about what they’re building instead of just drawing lines,” he shares. “With our methodology, the modeler creates everything in SketchUp and then splits the model into different viewpoints to see right away if something isn’t working so we can get buy-in faster and communicate the angles, details and context in one place. With this approach, errors are glaring, and less time is spent on visualizations.”


Bonus:

Creating a Blended Workspace in 3D

In 2019, M Moser began the design process for its new office in Vancouver, British Columbia. Based on team personas and behaviors, the design was intended to help the team do its best work and at the same time, support M Moser’s distributed work style. At 1,140 square feet, the space accommodates 20 employees, working two to three days a week in the office.

This “blended” workplace integrates the physical, social and digital elements of the work environment into a healthy, flexible and resilient space. Bookable rooms and booths are available for heads-down or collaborative work while breakout spaces are provided for social gatherings and lounging. The modest and economically driven space is uniquely suited to match the needs of a workforce and workplace emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. The flexibility of the space makes social distancing practices easy as teams return to the office.

SketchUp was used throughout the design and build process, enabling M Moser to test-fit multiple space scenarios on-the-go, integrating in-situ engineering services to gain valuable insights and make informed decisions.

With the adoption of SketchUp Viewer to view the model on tablets and mobile devices, not a single sheet was printed for the contractor. Construction become fully digitalized and communication was optimized. The integrated SketchUp model on Trimble Connect, an open collaboration platform that provides up-to-the-minute project information for informed decision making, was accessible from anywhere with internet connection.

The space was designed with people and the environment at its heart, meeting both LEED and WELL standards. Located in a historic building with limited HVAC infrastructure, M Moser used SketchUp’s Sefaira for early-stage building performance analysis to conduct annual sunlight exposure and spatial daylight autonomy studies/simulations to ensure the layout allowed for adequate lighting levels throughout.

Read next: How Automated Floor Plan Detection Supports Historical Analysis of Interiors


About the Author: Peter Saal is product manager at Trimble, Inc., the developer of SketchUp. SketchUp 3D Warehouse is the world's largest repository of 3D models for architecture and design, serving millions of users all over the world.