Commercial buildings use a tremendous amount of materials, both in their construction and in their ongoing operation. Traditionally, the latter impact was only realized once construction was complete and the building occupied. If you saw your cooling bills are sky-high because of inappropriate materials or orientation, you pretty much have to suck up the financial impact to your bottom line and accept the environmental impact of your error.
Now advances in AEC software and GPU hardware are enabling the realization of pre-visualization and simulation with Building Information Models. This software allows full tracking and analysis of materials, construction, design, and operation, with the benefit of being able to modify any of these properties during design and see the resultant affect in simulation.
BIM can be used to demonstrate the entire building lifecycle including the processes of construction and facility operation. Quantities and shared properties of materials can easily be extracted. Scopes of work can be isolated and defined. Systems, assemblies, and sequences are able to be shown in a relative scale with the entire facility or group of facilities.
More interesting and pertinent to the steady-but-staggering evolution towards a sustainable 1st world culture, BIM analysis can be used to predict the energy usage and environmental impact (and, hence, the overall cost of operation) of a building well before construction.
From CAD User Online:
It means optimising buildings to reduce consumption and energy use (in fabrication and operation). The use of locally-sourced renewable materials, improved insulation and energy-optimised buildings are all part of this effort. It means reducing reliance on fossil fuel for heating, cooling and lighting by optimising the choice of site, building orientation and design in order to maximise solar gains and daylight factors.
It means reducing the impact of storm-water discharges on the watershed by reducing rainfall runoff with green roof and water recycling methods. It means promoting the clustering of industrial parks, the use of public transportation and car pooling. With this in mind, designers can achieve better designs through managing change more effectively.
The take-home point and the thing that makes this actually quite interesting to more than just engineers and businesscritters, is that it’s easier for developers to understand and control for the environmental impact of construction before the ground is even broken. The best way to affect ecological sustainability is to make it easy and cost-effective.