A BIM inspired eco home

JRA's Earth Sheltered Eco Home was the runner up in the Construction Computing Awards BIM Project Of The Year category, proving BIM is not just a resource for large-scale public projects

The project categories of the 2020 Construction Computing Awards highlighted some interesting developments in the industry, particularly with regard to the slightly different focus on BIM and collaboration, which resulted in more construction projects being entered for the Collaboration Project of the Year category than the BIM Project of the Year. You might say that the essence of BIM is collaboration, but many of the entries submitted focused on the sharing of information between partners within a project, rather than using the information being created from the model to enhance the construction process itself - a fine distinction.

Submissions for the BIM Project of the Year category were also divided between large-scale projects and small-scale house designs. There is no reason why BIM should not be considered a factor in individual property development as well as public building projects (which BIM was initially conceptualised for). One of these was a delightful project currently in progress and designed by Jonathan Reeves of Jonathan Reeves Architects (JRA). Jonathan is a passionate Vectorworks user, and in addition to running his architectural studio in Loughborough he also teaches courses on Vectorworks Architect software and associated visualisation applications, such as Twinmotion and Enscape.

The project submitted by JRA for the awards is for a four-bedroom family home in Leicestershire on a rural plot of land that had been in the ownership of a family for over 20 years. His clients wanted to maximise their family space while creating a unique, low profile and ecologically advanced home, and being involved in the construction industry themselves, they were quite ambitious in their requirements.

JRA developed their ideas for the site, suggesting an Earth Sheltered Eco Home which the clients loved the idea of. The aim was to try and minimise the impact of the proposed building in the local landscape, to be environmentally friendly, but also to convince the planners that the house would not be visible from the nearby roads.

This was to be achieved by lowering the ground level by one metre and using the excavated earth to bank up to the front of the site, blending the building with the grounds so that it appears to grow out of the site. Parts of the perimeter are also to be surrounded by curved natural stone walls, giving an organic and rural feel to the whole property.

Towards the rear the property opens up onto sunken private gardens, accessible via a wall of sliding glass doors covering the bulk of the living space, and which maximise the amount of light entering the building. These are supplemented by large circular roof lights which will let in sunlight and ventilation into the bedrooms and the depth of the home. The building is to be highly insulated, and will rely on a ground source heat pump for central heating, and rainwater recycling to further minimise energy usage and running costs.

The building was designed using custom 3D BIM modelling, which proved to be very useful in exploring early-stage design options during meetings with the client and planners and relating the model to existing site survey data. Once it had been accurately modelled the initial massing studies of the proposed building within its setting were also produced.

Once a basic strategy had been agreed, detailed proposals were developed with parametric slabs, walls, doors, windows and roofs, allowing plans, elevations, sections and 3D perspectives to be produced directly from the BIM model. A full set of coordinated drawings and images were generated totally from the single BIM model.

When a few changes were required it was simple to update the model and regenerate the coordinated drawings and sections. This was much easier than if the project had been drawn in 2D using traditional means. Following the successful design the BIM model was developed to produce planning drawings, some schedules and information on quantities, and it is planned that .IFC model exchange will be used as the project develops.

The project was also exported to Twinmotion via the .C4D file format, enabling JRA to produce high quality animations and some virtual panoramic images for the client. Additionally, Twinmotion's Presenter mode was used with a VR headset to give the clients a truly immersive experience.

Overall, using a BIM workflow on this project from inception right through to its current stage of development presented some unique challenges, such as modelling some of the junctions between the roof and walls, and being able to design and use non-standard or bespoke windows and doors.

Jonathan has been a Vectorworks user since 1991 and has always been fascinated by the potential of 3D modelling, computer graphics and multimedia in architecture to develop and explain design ideas. The benefits of being able to communicate design ideas to clients clearly using 3D models with the quality of visuals that can be achieved today, or to create animations allowing them to explore projects themselves, has proved invaluable on all of his projects.

One might say that the use of BIM on these projects contributed no more than traditional workflows and 2D drawings would have. However, that is to miss the point entirely, argues Jonathan. BIM is all about setting standards and operating procedures that make not only design, but also collaboration much easier, simplifying the task of sharing data with other professionals who use different technologies, different file formats and different ideologies.

We all have a simple aim in mind: cutting waste in terms of time, money and effort and improving the architecture that emerges - while also enjoying the process!

Jonathan continues to promote the benefits of both Vectorworks Architect and BIM and looks forward to seeing more of the industry adopting BIM workflows, advocating for working on collaborative BIM projects with other architects and consultants. Hopefully, he says, this will include incorporating early-stage energy analysis with the integrated Energos module available in Vectorworks Architect 2021, and the virtual reality and BIM motion capabilities of Twinmotion 2020 with future Vectorworks BIM models.