Laser scanning for a BIM requires close collaboration among team members and an in-depth understanding of the client’s needs.

When the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) received $5.5 billion through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to spend on energy-efficiency upgrades and other improvements to properties owned by the federal government, the Minton-Capehart Federal Building in downtown Indianapolis was near the top of the list. Built in the 1970s and named for Indiana Senators Sherman Minton and Homer Capehart, the imposing concrete structure conceived by architect Evans Woollen is Brutalist in design--a term that reflects both its raw concrete construction and rough, blocky appearance. Featuring an inverted-ziggurat shape, with each of its six floors slightly larger than the one just below, the 661,667-square-foot building provides offices for a number of Federal agencies, including the GSA, the Internal Revenue Service, the Social Security Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Because of its design, the building is considered to have future potential for historic eligibility.

The building underwent an initial round of energy efficiency improvements in the late 90s and received an Energy Star label in 2000. But as technology advanced, GSA officials believed they could do better. Under the GSA’s National 3D-4D-BIM Program, established in 2003, the Minton-Capehart building was identified with a number of other federal buildings as a possible target for building information modeling (BIM) along with additional energy retrofits. The program was in line with Executive Order 13123, a national initiative issued by President Clinton in June 1999 that aims to reduce the average annual energy consumption of the GSA’s building inventory. The GSA recognized that information--the “I” in BIM--was critical to successfully integrating computer models into project coordination, simulation and optimization. By 2007, all major construction and renovation projects receiving design funding through GSA had to be submitted with BIMs that validated spatial program requirements (area/efficiency ratio, etc.).

In early 2008, GSA awarded a $35 million contract for a phased renovation of the building to Cincinnati-based Messer Construction Co., a commercial construction firm with offices in Indianapolis. Most of the work was planned to be funded in 2012. However, the 2009 stimulus package moved the project to the fast lane--adding more energy-saving items to the scope and increasing the budget.

A model of the third floor of the Minton-Capehart Federal Building developed from laser scans.

In May 2009, Messer was given the green light to move forward on a $43 million project that involved completely replacing the building’s mechanical and electrical systems and adding a new fire protection sprinkler system with an eye toward substantially increasing the building’s energy efficiency. Laser scans were also specified to provide valuable supplemental information to the design and construction teams as well as assist in facility management longer term. “New duct risers were being designed for the HVAC system, and we had to confirm that there was enough room within the existing north and south interior shafts for the additional duct risers,” explains Chad Lynch, project manager. “We needed a true as-built with enough detail that it could be incorporated into the existing 2D design drawings for the building while also creating a comprehensive BIM.”

Timing is everything, as the saying goes, and that certainly seemed to be the case with the Minton-Capehart project. G.J. Berding Surveying Inc., based in Milford, Ohio, a frequent subcontractor to Messer, had been eyeing the BIM market for several years, but by early 2009 the firm hadn’t yet taken the leap. “It was something we felt was probably a little too large for us to take on alone,” says Tim Schwoeppe, PS, project surveyor for Berding.

A point cloud generated from scans of the building's exterior.

As one of the early adopters of scanning technology (the firm purchased its first scanner, a Leica Cyrax, in 2001), Berding was highly skilled at combining its equipment and know-how to capture detailed 360-degree 3D datasets of structures with extreme accuracy. The firm was also well-connected in the scanning realm. In late 2008, through another laser scanning provider Berding had worked with in the past, the firm was introduced to Architectural Resource Consultants (ARC) based in Irvine, Calif. John Russo, AIA, president and CEO of ARC, was putting together a team of firms from around the nation to pursue GSA contracts for BIM-related scanning services. Russo invited Berding to join them, and Berding accepted.

Shortly thereafter, Messer contracted Berding to handle the scanning work for the Minton-Capehart project. For Berding, the project was an exciting move into the world of BIM. It was also a natural opportunity to get ARC involved. “Scanning for a BIM is a bit different from a typical as-built,” Schwoeppe says. “The scope of the project--how much detail the client wants to get out of the model--is important. We knew that ARC was skilled in creating Autodesk Revit models for BIM, so we decided to rely on their expertise.”

It was the perfect example of an ideal teaming arrangement. “When we first teamed up with Berding, we were hoping to bring work to them,” Russo says. “But this is one of those instances where a project came to us from their direction. Teaming really does benefit everyone involved.”

Close collaboration among the project partners from the very beginning was key to meeting the client’s needs. Both Berding and Messer were heavily involved in the planning process. “On our first site visit, we walked through the mechanical shaft and took a look at some of the plenum areas, as well. Then we sat down with the client and discussed what they needed to get out of the model, and what they could expect from us,” Schwoeppe says.

A point cloud of the top view of the north shaft.

A number of additional site visits ensued as the teams began developing a plan of action for meeting the project goals. Schwoeppe carefully conveyed all of the details to Russo at ARC, who helped Berding’s team understand what ARC would need from them to model the objects that were required. “You can always tell that a project is going to have a higher chance of success when the people you’re dealing with are responsive and open in communication,” Russo says. “Ultimately, we weren’t just involved in modeling but were an active participant through the entire project.”

Initially, the scanning and modeling work focused on the building’s existing north and south duct shafts. The six-story vertical structures presented more than a few challenges. “The shafts were very tight corridors, and we had to scan and survey in a method that would allow us to register all the data together into one point cloud,” Schwoeppe explains. “The client also wanted to see the relationship of the shafts with the exterior building shell. That produced another issue because the only access to the mechanical room was via elevators or stairwells, and neither of those options was very conducive to running survey control back to the building exterior.”

(This picture and the next) One requirement of the BIM was to show the relationship of the shafts with the exterior building shell. Both interior and exterior scans were needed, and all data had to be combined into a single dataset.

What’s more, the south shaft did not have enough access for the scanning equipment, much less a scan crew. The project team decided that Messer staff would manually create as built-drawings of the south shaft by field measuring the shaft and all the systems it housed, and that they would also model this portion of the project. Berding and ARC would handle the north shaft.

The Berding crew set up 20 scan targets in specific locations that were visible from each level of the shaft. Each was affixed to the block wall of the shaft with epoxy. Using a Leica HDS3000 scanner, the crew carefully overlapped their scans as they worked their way up the shaft. “We would scan from, say, floor number two and collect a certain number of targets, then go up to floor number four and collect the same targets that we had collected from scan world two. We also modeled physical features, such as piping, to help constrain the registration and check for alignment issues,” Schwoeppe says.

The crew also took numerous photographs of existing features inside the shaft; these would be used to help Berding register the data and would also assist ARC in the modeling process. For the exterior scans, the Berding crew ran their survey control through ventilation vents on the building’s exterior that were also accessible from the mechanical room.

Using both target registration and cloud-to-cloud registration in Leica’s Cyclone software, Berding pulled all of the point cloud data from the interior and exterior scans into a single dataset. Schwoeppe notes that a little extra time was needed to check the registration and ensure that it met the accuracy requirements for the project, but that overall the registration process went according to plan.

From there, the data was transferred to ARC to create the Revit models. This work, too, presented challenges. “Whenever we’re dealing with BIM--going from a point cloud to BIM, basically--there’s always a challenge because of the limitations of the BIM operating tools,” Russo explains. “Most clients want to work in an ortho fashion, and point clouds are real-world--they show all the nuances of what’s there. If you’re going to model a pipe, for example, and that pipe has sag or deflection or is at a weird angle, it’s very difficult to model it exactly as it is in the point cloud using the Revit tools. So there is some custom work involved. Some of that work has been reduced or eliminated with the 2011 version of the software, but that obviously wasn’t available for this project.”

Working through Berding, Russo and ARC’s lead modeler, Jason Cisneros, made sure they understood the level of accuracy required for each model. High accuracy requirements, which were plentiful, dictated a substantial amount of custom work. For less-critical items, such as catwalk grills, ladders and light fixtures, ARC was able to streamline its processes to save time while still providing a correct representation of the shaft. The finished Revit models were provided to Berding, who forwarded them to Messer to be incorporated into the project drawings. Models of the south shaft created by Messer’s team were merged with the models of the north shaft and building exterior provided by Berding to create the final deliverables for the architectural and engineering teams.

The entire process went smoothly--so smoothly, in fact, that Messer again asked Berding and ARC to provide their services when the construction team needed as-builts of the building’s third-floor plenum area a bit later on in the project. “I was really impressed with the level of detail that was provided from the scans,” Lynch says. “Once the model of the shaft was created, it looked just like the duct shaft and was able to be seamlessly incorporated into the final documents.”

With the help of the Recovery Act, the GSA nearly quadrupled its active construction projects in 2009. Although the Minton-Capehart Federal Building renovation was just one of many projects funded through the initiative, the positive impact of the retrofits will likely be felt far into the future through substantial energy savings. GSA is also looking into ways to use the BIM data to continuously optimize building systems for more-sustainable operation. The renovation work is expected to be completed in 2012.

A point cloud of the north shaft.

For ARC and Berding, the project has provided the credentials to compete for additional BIM work. In September 2009, ARC and its team of subcontractors were awarded a five-year Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract worth up to $30 million to provide the GSA with nationwide laser scanning services in support of the National 3D-4D-BIM Program.

For everyone involved, the project has underscored the importance of working with strong partners who understand the need for good communication. “There are just so many aspects with BIM that you need to have people from different disciplines and with different areas of expertise involved to pull it all together,” Schwoeppe says. “By working with ARC, we were able to focus our efforts on the performing the scan and allow ARC, who had the software and experience with creating a BIM model, to create the deliverables. The collaboration was an asset to us and our clients. Also imperative was early and open communication on what the client’s expectations were for the model and how they were going to use it.”

Russo agrees. “A true collaboration effort, where everyone is open with their team members really increases a project’s odds for success,” he says. “Being transparent, not trying to control everything yourself, relying on your consultants as experts in what they do, and removing barriers for them so that they can do what they need to do--these are all key.”

Sidebar: Laser Scanning, BIM and the GSA

The primary goal of the GSA’s National 3D-4D-BIM Program is to promote value-added digital visualization, simulation and optimization technologies to increase quality and efficiency throughout GSA project lifecycles and beyond. The long-term objective is to use innovative 3D, 4D and building information modeling (BIM) technologies to complement, leverage, and improve existing technologies to achieve major quality and productivity improvements.

There is a progression from 2D to 3D, 4D, and BIM. While 3D models make valuable contributions to communications, not all 3D models qualify as BIM models since a 3D geometric representation is only part of the BIM concept.

Critical to successful integration of computer models into project coordination, simulation and optimization is the inclusion of information--the “I” in BIM--to generate feedback. As a shared knowledge resource, BIM can serve as a reliable basis for decision making and reduce the need for regathering or reformatting information. GSA is currently exploring the use of BIM technology throughout a project’s lifecycle in the following areas: spatial program validation, 4D phasing, laser scanning, energy and sustainability, circulation and security validation, building elements, and facility management.

Laser scanning is seen as a valuable technology because of its ability to acquire building spatial data in three dimensions with high fidelity and low processing time. In addition to BIM development, the rapid collection of 3D information is being applied to historical documentation, facility condition documentation and construction as-built development. GSA's BIM Guide 03 can be found

Source: U.S. General Services Administration. For more information, visit