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Prepared Years Ago for Today’s Challenges, A Resilient Buro Happold Keeps Detroit Projects Moving

A vision for better collaboration

For more than two decades, Paul McGilly, Associate Principal of Digital Design at Buro Happold, has been keeping an eye out for “the next big thing” to help his engineering teams deliver best-in-class projects for their clients, faster. In the 2000s, for example, Paul was an early advocate of moving from 2D models to a data-rich 3D environment. And in the 2010s, he began a campaign to bring cloud collaboration to his team—a bold move for what was then an unproven technology.

Paul saw then what everyone knows today: connecting teams around the globe is a business imperative. Even before the pandemic, Paul’s U.S. team of nearly 300 engineers was collaborating frequently with Buro Happold offices in the U.K., Central Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. By 2019, Paul had migrated 40 percent of his team’s projects to Autodesk BIM 360 Design, soon to be known as Autodesk BIM Collaborate Pro. Now, his geographically diverse team was able to collaborate in real-time, anytime. Paul revolutionized the way his team delivered—and well ahead many of his competitors.

Paul McGilly moved Buro Happold’s engineers to Autodesk BIM 360 Design years ago, enabling simpler cloud collaboration among his global team and ensuring greater resiliency firm-wide. Courtesy of Buro Happold.

Real estate development firm, Bedrock, is undertaking some of the more transformational projects in downtown Detroit – and Buro Happold is a big part of the design team. Buro Happold and its design partners were able to support the restoration of some of Detroit’s iconic buildings such as the 38-story Italian Renaissance building, Book Tower, one of the city’s tallest and oldest skyscrapers, by utilizing BIM 360 Design.

Being able to host and manage complex 3D point cloud scans on the platform enabled Buro Happold and the extended design team to understand the complexity of these buildings and more efficiently exchange design ideas within a live virtual environment to deliver a better integrated design process.

Winners of Autodesk’s 2018 AEC Excellence Awards for building design, KieranTimberlake and BuroHappold used BIM 360 Design to simplify design, planning, and construction across an integrated project team at Brown University. Courtesy of KiernanTimberlake and Buro Happold.

Buro Happold also hosts a number of other major Bedrock developments in Detroit’s Central Business District on Autodesk’s construction cloud platform, including the Hudson’s Site Development, a new 1.4 million square foot mixed use tower, and one of the largest projects Buro Happold has worked on using BIM 360 Design as their collaboration platform. Buro Happold was able to leverage expertise around the global practice—namely New York, Chicago, Hong Kong, Warsaw, and Bath, England—to better host design workshops and deliver a superior integrated design for Bedrock and its architectural partners.

Is your team collaborating with the power of Morse code or the power of Autodesk BIM 360 Design backed by the Autodesk Construction Cloud?

Before the cloud, the traditional method of collaboration involved dozens of engineers trading hundreds of emails and drawings with architects and trade partners, requiring uploads and downloads of massive digital files for each version update. This process was fraught with error and time loss. Put simply, email and server-based collaboration is like communicating via Morse code, while cloud collaboration is an iPhone—light years faster, more intuitive, and flexible. According to Paul, transitioning to the cloud meant that teams were managing workflows and sharing data more efficiently, identifying clashes and errors earlier, and delivering projects on time—and in some cases, early.

“Every metric added up to savings in time and money and a vastly superior experience for our clients and architectural partners,” said Paul.

Prepared for the pandemic

Paul became convinced that all projects in the U.S. region should migrate to the cloud, and that Buro Happold should adopt a longer-term strategy of implementation across all 25 offices. He began leading a measured rollout of BIM 360 Design across the U.S., and then along came COVID-19 to give it a jolt.

“In the midst of what was becoming a global pandemic, our number one priority was the well-being of our employees, so we began planning immediately. Working closely with our IT team, we deployed laptops, screens, and chairs to all staff, put working-from-home protocols and guidelines in place, and moved to complete the process of migrating all our projects to the cloud.”

At the time, 52 projects had not yet been migrated to BIM 360 Design. Paul traveled between offices, and in a matter of weeks had transitioned every project and trained all relevant staff, finishing up just in time as most U.S. cities began mandating shutdowns and office closures. With migration complete, Paul began benchmarking BIM operational performance, intending to share the data with the rest of the global practice.

The results were nothing short of exceptional. Depending on file size and complexity, BIM models were opening between 10-20 times faster. As an example, a typical mid-size 200,000 square-foot project at the construction documentation stage that was taking 29 minutes to open using a virtual private network (VPN) setup could be accessed and opened in about one minute using BIM 360 Design.

Depending on the size and scope of the project, the time savings could be measured in hours—each time. Using the Hudson’s Site Development project late in the documentation stage as an example, an end-user could wait anywhere between three and four hours for a single model to open through a VPN. With the cloud, they had access in only a few minutes.

New name, same power. Connect teams in the cloud anytime and anywhere. Learn more about what’s coming.

“These improvements were as much about work-life balance as they were about time savings and radically increasing our collaborative data sharing,” said Paul. “Everyone was adjusting to a new way of working and accessing large BIM files on the Autodesk cloud meant that our engineers were not working late into the evening due to the poor latency associated with VPN. The completion of the migration process meant an opportunity to free our design teams for even faster and more fluid collaboration.”

Paul has data to support that claim, too. In a survey of his engineers using BIM 360 Design, 82 percent said the platform helped their performance and productivity while working from home, and 99 percent—all but one engineer—said they want to continue using the platform in the future.

Positioned for long-term growth and resilience

Paul had an inkling in the early days of cloud collaboration that the benefits would go beyond improving productivity and creating a competitive advantage. Paul knew moving his teams to the cloud also positioned Buro Happold to be more resilient. And, as COVID-19 began to circle the globe, Paul’s instinct was proven correct. While other firms stumbled to keep projects moving during the transition to remote working, Buro Happold experienced a more seamless transition. And there’s no chance of turning back. With the benefits of cloud collaboration proven by the U.S. team, Buro Happold successfully migrated all 25 offices around the world to BIM 360 Design.

The U.S. region is also eyeing expansion, says Paul. Without the need for additional office space, the goal is to continue to grow the U.S. team in ways that will evolve differently post-COVID-19; most notably that top-tier talent can be recruited from anywhere without an absolute requirement to relocate. Paul envisions the modern post-COVID office becoming a flexible collaboration space, where team members can share ideas, develop client relationships, and continue to be creative.

Currently, Buro Happold is cautiously making plans to reopen offices, following local requirements and guidance. Offices will function at reduced in-person headcounts in parallel with remote working to adhere to social distancing protocols, with staff using an app to reserve a desk. This approach offers staff the option to work from home or come to the office. Their wellness is a top priority, and this flexibility ensures a healthy and happy team.

Cloud collaboration kept Buro Happold’s engineering team on track. See how Arcadis fared against tight deadlines during a global pandemic when Toledo residents needed new drinking water infrastructure?

“Technology supports the personal connections we establish with our clients and partners,” says Paul. “We see it as a way of working more closely with them, to build and nurture those connections, and delivering an experience that makes them choose us time and again.”

“And we’re still looking ahead to ‘the next big thing,’” he adds. “Right now we are identifying opportunities for further integration of our open-source Buildings and Habitats object Model coding platform with Autodesk’s technology, which will enable us to mine project data from a central source more efficiently.” For Paul’s team and Buro Happold, BIM is more than a means for drawing delivery and coordination.  Paul notes, “Our engineers regularly utilize their model data with BHoM to do everything from analysis of their embodied carbon using our Life Cycle Assessment Toolkit, to pushing their Revit model geometry to IES for the creation of energy analysis models. Thanks to this increase in participation with the wider design team we had the opportunity to explore more expeditious cloud-based solutions for data storage.”

Working in the cloud has helped Buro Happold to be more flexible, resilient, and competitive in an era of speed and disruption, and the firm is now well-positioned to keep growing and adapt to future challenges, whether it’s another wave of the pandemic or any other unforeseen local or global emergencies. Meanwhile, Paul continues looking ahead to the next big technological shift, always with an eye to improving the ways Buro Happold team members collaborate, solve problems, build resilient teams and projects—and of course, leverage data to support the innovations and solutions that deliver satisfaction to Buro Happold’s clients.