Real Profits Through Virtual Building
Jerry Laiserin

Stanford University's Center for Integrated Facility Engineering (CIFE) occupies an idyllic spot towards the western edge of the university's Palo Alto campus. CIFE also occupies a strategic spot towards the leading edge of construction industry efforts at process improvement through the application of information technology. Culminating several years of gestation, CIFE's June 28, 2002 Executive Seminar formally announced the birth of a Virtual Building Environments (VBE) initiative targeted at:

> Creating centers of knowledge worldwide to support and promote the processes of virtual building (VB)
> Supporting the development and use of VB tools for briefing/programming, design, construction, and operating phases of projects
> Developing international collaboration benchmarks, through collaborative virtual workspaces such as CIFE's iRooms—interactive rooms for viewing and manipulating large datasets across multiple locations
> Disseminating results, through workshops to educate/reeducate a new generation of industry consultants.

Subtitled "Manage Your Capital Assets Better with Modern IT," the June 28 seminar agenda was organized by representatives of: CIFE; the Building Technologies Department at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories; the National Technology Agency of Finland, TEKES; and VTT, one of the largest technical research institutes in Europe. Because all the seminar presentations will be available on CIFE's seminar site, there's no need to recap the details here. However, the overall outline is worth noting. The entire morning was devoted to front-line reports on virtual building practice and opportunities from the perspectives of:

Owners—Senate Properties, the largest building owner in Finland
Architects—Frank O. Gehry & Associates
General contractors—DPR Construction, Inc.
Software tool makers—Olof Granlund and Solibri

The morning presentations and the audience response/feedback (from a roomful of contractors, designers, researchers, and software developers) showed the rapidly maturing state of VB technology. Since some of the early "proof of concept" work in 4-D design during the mid-1990s, VB projects have moved out of the lab and into the field for pilot tests, and are now poised to move into more mainstream project production. Thus, the theme of the afternoon was the proposed VBE effort to create all necessary conditions for VB technology to cross the chasm from past and present pioneering and early adopter efforts to future mainstream usage.

Total committed and proposed grants/funding for the VBE effort will amount to US$30-million over 10 years, a sum that should be viewed in the context of TEKES' and the Finnish construction industry's investment of $40-million in construction IT R&D over the five years 1997-2002 (funding VBE at a proportionate level for ten years in the USA economy would translate to nearly $4.5-billion, 150 times greater than the modest $30-million proposed by CIFE, LBL, et al).

The next major VBE event will be CIFE's Virtual Design and Construction professional education program, September 8-12, 2002. In the meanwhile, I'll be visiting the Lawrence Berkeley Lab participants in VBE as you read this, and will report further details next week.

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