HOK's Fifth Annual BIM Awards AECbytes Feature (January 29, 2015)

In my recent article on Autodesk University 2014, I described a presentation from HOK—one of the leading architectural firms in the world—at the Building Innovation Forum, where it showed how design tools and processes at the firm have evolved by contrasting three of its projects from different time periods. One of the projects presented in that session, the Golden Harbor Ecotourism Resort in the Jiangsu Province of China, was already familiar to me as it was a finalist in the recent HOK BIM Awards competition, an internal program that HOK runs annually to draw out and highlight projects from its offices all over the world that exhibit exemplary and innovative use of BIM and integrated design. I had the privilege of serving on the jury for these awards presented in December and got the opportunity to learn more about all the finalist projects and review their presentations. There were four categories of awards, with two to three projects selected as the finalists in each category. This article provides an overview of the winning projects in all the categories as well as some additional projects that I found very interesting.

LG Science Park in Seoul, Korea

The LG Science Park research campus in Seoul’s Magok district, implemented by HOK’s London office, was the winning project in the Conceptual Design category, which was looking at the application of BIM during the early design stages. While the Korean-based LG is best known worldwide for consumer electronics, it is actually a multinational conglomerate corporation that also makes chemicals and telecom products and operates several subsidiaries, with LG Electronics being one of them. The new LG facility will bring six LG affiliates together into one campus for collaborative, interdisciplinary research, providing spaces for individual work, conference rooms, laboratories, and industrial prototyping, as well as a hotel, support facilities, sports facilities and a food hall (Figure 1). Altogether, the campus can accommodate 15,000 staff and comprises 790,000m2 gross building area on a 133,000m2 urban site. It is planned for completion in 2015.

Figure 1. A rendered view of planned LG Science Park project in Seoul, Korea.

The project was conceptualized by HOK as a series of distinct but interconnected buildings, with each LG affiliate having its own main entrance and lobby while sharing a common drop-off area. There are also several additional laboratory buildings designed to be flexible so that they can be configured to accommodate any research function. The master plan includes parks that run across the site in both directions, providing greenery and encouraging public access (Figure 2). Several sustainable design strategies have been used including a bronze anodized façade, algae panels and footfall harvesting to generate power, flat roof surfaces to accommodate photovoltaic panels and vegetated roofs, and ground-source heat pumps to provide heating and cooling in the labs.

Figure 2. Another view of the LG Science Park project showing the master plan.

From a technology implementation perspective, the complexity of this project lies in its size as opposed to the geometry, which is relatively simple. The sheer scale of the project made it almost necessary to use model management and file sharing. To be able to complete the master plan, conceptual design, and schematic design in 6 months—the fast-track schedule was another major challenge—the project was divided into 25 Revit models with 38 designers working on it. A sophisticated model division structure was developed that allowed all 38 members of the project team to access the 2GB of BIM data spread across these 25 models coherently (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Division of the project and the model management plan.

Other key tools that were used were dRofus for program validation, Navisworks for 3D design coordination and sharing with consultants (Figure 4), and the use of the BIM model for sustainable design studies such as solar/thermal studies, daylight analysis, and calculation of window to wall ratios (Figure 5). For high-quality visualizations, the model views set from Revit (which were also used for internal and client reviews) were issued to an external visualization company for the final renderings (Figure 6).

Figure 4. The use of Navisworks for model sharing and design coordination.

Figure 5. Use of the BIM model for sustainable design studies.

Figure 6. Revit model views were re-used for creating high-quality visualizations.

Visitor Center at Wujiang Golden Bay Tourism Complex, Shanghai, China

While the Golden Harbor Ecotourism Resort in the Jiangsu Province of China was one of the three projects described in the HOK presentation at Autodesk University, it was the Visitor Center designed for this project that was a finalist in the Conceptual Design category of the HOK BIM Awards. The objective of the resort, located on Taihu Lake—the largest lake in eastern China—is to introduce ecotourism to China’s emerging international and domestic tourism sector. HOK won an international design competition for the master plan (Figure 7), and is now designing the buildings and public spaces of the resort.

Figure 7. HOK’s master plan for the Golden Harbor Ecotourism Resort.

While almost all the buildings have been conceptualized as organic forms, as shown in Figure 7, some of them have already been developed in more detail. One of these is the Visitor Center (Figure 8), which has an extremely complex form shaped by three boundary curves on the exterior façade and two boundary curves on the interior façade, and which touches the ground only at three points. Transforming this sculptural form (see the physical model shown in Figure 9) into an actual building that was structurally feasible and could satisfy the programmatic requirements of the Visitor Center was very challenging, and the HOK team drew on a variety of digital tools to accomplish it.

Figure 8. A rendered image of the Visitor Center for the Golden Harbor Ecotourism Resort.

Figure 9. Early stage physical models of the design for the Visitor Center, showing its sculptural form.

Rhino and its Grasshopper module were used for conceptualizing the form; in particular, the algorithmic design capabilities of Grasshopper helped to rationalize and speed up the final massing of the building as well as the panelization of the facade. Some additional Rhino plug‐ins such as Elefront and Lunchbox were also used for optimizing the model. The conceptual model developed in Rhino was then exported to Revit using Chameleon (a dedicated plug-in for transferring geometric data from Rhino to Revit), where a massing model was created from the form (Figure 10) and developed further into a detailed building model (Figure 11). This Rhino-Revit process was continued iteratively until a satisfactory solution had been achieved.

Figure 10. Developing the conceptual form into a massing model.

Figure 11. Further development of the Visitor Center design into a detailed building model with documentation.

To me, what was most impressive about this project was how a BIM tool like Revit—with, of course, a lot of help from a freeform modeling tool like Rhino—was used to design and model such a complex shaped building, strongly belying the popularly held notion that BIM constrains the creativity of architects, reins in their imagination, and discourages them from conceptualizing unusual forms for the buildings they design. It didn’t seem like the HOK designers were constrained in any way by the fact that they eventually had to produce a BIM model of the design; in fact, it’s possible that the use of digital tools actually enabled them to create a feasible building from what may have seemed like an “unbuildable” conceptual form.

Vaikunth Residential Development, Mumbai, India

The Vaikunth Residential development located within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region in India was the winning project in the Delivery category, which was looking at the use of BIM to achieve a high level of the design and delivery process as well as design and construction integration. HOK’s Chicago office worked on the project in collaboration with a local architect and the Mumbai office of Buro Happold Engineers. The total area of the site is 32 acres and the project, which is being planned in two phases, will consist of 14 residential towers with 1,500 units, two commercial office buildings, a temple, a parking podium, and a community center (Figure 12). The development will also include multi-purpose courts, squash courts, fitness areas, game rooms, a ballroom, a library, and a café. Overall, it is a very ambitious project that, when completed in 2018, should be a “signature” residential development in India, given the fact that it also being designed by one of the leading architectural firms in the world.

Figure 12. Renderings of the planned Vaikunth Residential development in Mumbai, India. The lower image shows the design of the community center.

While some of the individual buildings in the development are striking and could have been nominated in the Design category—see, for example, the residential tower shown in Figure 13 and the use of Rhino in its design development, or the use of Grasshopper in designing the curved roof form of the community center, as shown in Figure 14—what really set this project apart for HOK and led it to be nominated in the Delivery category was the use of model groups in Revit for a much more efficient and accurate design and delivery process. The team created a model group of any repeating unit (such as an apartment) and used that as many times as was needed in the project (Figure 15). This allowed the team to be able to quickly modify a single model group, even in response to last minute changes requested by the client, and have that modification be applied immediately to all instances of that model group used in the project. Not only did this save on countless hours of tedious labor, it also helped to ensure the accuracy of plans, elevations, presentations, and other documents generated from the model.

Figure 13. Use of Rhino in designing one of the individual towers of the Vaikunth Residential development project.

Figure 14. The use of Grasshopper in designing the curved roof form of the community center.

Figure 15. The use of model groups in Revit to model repeating units in the residential buildings.

WUMC (Washington University Medical Center) Campus Renewal, St. Louis, US

This medical center campus renewal project encompassing a number of affiliated healthcare facilities in St. Louis, Missouri, won the HOK BIM Award in the Collaboration category, which was looking at the integrated use of BIM for collaboration with internal or extended design teams. The goal of the renewal, planned over the next 10 years in two phases, is to increase the number of private inpatient rooms, enlarge diagnostics and treatment spaces, expand critical care capabilities, consolidate services, and improve parking, traffic flow, and wayfinding at these facilities (Figure 16). The long-term objective of the campus renewal is to create environments that transform the delivery of care, teaching, and research, while enhancing the bond between the facilities and the community they serve.

Figure 16. he WUMC campus renewal project in St Louis.

This project is described as a case study in collaboration, so critical was it to the success of the project. Interestingly, the team stressed the importance of both digital as well as physical collaboration for the execution of the project. While a variety of tools were used for individual design disciplines such as architecture and engineering (Figure 17), they were overshadowed by the myriad tools, processes, and methods being used for inter-disciplinary collaboration and coordination. Also, in many cases, the tool deployed for a disciplinary task was also being used for a larger collaborative process. For example, the tool dRofus is not only being used extensively for programming and validation, it is also being used to track all interior design finishes on five different buildings being done by four different design firms, enabling all of them to see each other’s work in real‐time and stay coordinated. Likewise, Bluebeam Revu is being used not just to generate PDFs but also to collaborate on markups, file revision history and submittal review though the Bluebeam Studio extension.

Figure 17. Detailed BIM models of the individual building designs in the campus renewal project.

Other inter-disciplinary collaboration strategies that are being used include RTV Xporter Pro for weekly PDF exports from Revit for in‐house review; daily NWC/IFC exports from the model for use in Navisworks; and the use of several shared design and construction tools including Navisworks Manage for clash detection and coordination (Figure 18), Plangrid for a real-time set of current drawings hyperlinked to RFI's, SDS/2 structural steel construction team tools, BIM 360 Glue for mobile/tablet model viewing (Figure 19), and Prolog and Vico for model based cost estimation. The digital structural model is being used for 3D shop drawing review with the fabrication team and a common project repository ensures that team members in the field always have the most up to date drawings. Physical collaboration, considered critical to the project, was enabled by setting up a shared collaboration project office on the site, which includes the client as well as the architecture, engineering, and construction teams. This shared facility includes a “BIM Room” for quantity take-off reconciliation using the design teams’ BIM model, the construction teams’ VDC models, and any subcontractor models. Since up to 50% of the project team is located away from the co‐located site, extensive use is being made of Citrix by the distributed team to access the models and project data.

Figure 18. Use of Navisworks for multi-disciplinary design coordination.

Figure 19. Use of BIM 360 Glue for real-time mobile access to project information.

Arnold and Porter Roof Terrace, Washington DC, US

In addition to the categories of Design, Delivery, and Collaboration, all of which are primarily applicable to traditional design projects, there is one final category in the HOK BIM Awards called “Special Project Type” which is for the use of BIM on a project type other than a new building, such as urban design, interiors, or master planning. This year, this winner for this award was the roof terrace designed on the 10th floor of a prestigious law firm, Arnold and Porter, in Washington DC (Figure 20). This was a Landscape Architecture project, a design genre that, to date, hasn’t seen much application of intelligent modeling technologies like BIM. It was therefore even more commendable to see the use of Revit on this project, and not just in its architectural elements but in the core planting elements as well. 

Figure 20. The roof terrace design which won the HOK BIM Award in the “Special Project Type” category .

The motivation for using BIM for this project came from the fact that the base building and its interiors were developed in Revit. This made the HOK design team decide that the easiest way to coordinate the landscape architecture of the roof terrace with other disciplines was to develop the roof design in Revit. It also wanted to achieve the many other well-known benefits of BIM including working more efficiently, closing the decision-making loop faster, coordinating in real time, and design while documenting. The team created families for many custom site elements that were not available in Revit format such as planters, screens, trellises, pavers, and so, which will be submitted for use on future HOK landscape projects. To model some elements, Revit’s architectural commands were used in innovative ways, for example, warping was applied to floors to create green roof topography (Figure 21) and curtain wall tools were used to create guardrails.

Figure 21. Using the floor warping command in Revit to create undulating terrain for the roof terrace.

Also, in what seems to be a first, Revit was also used to fully document planting plans, modeling different planting types and create planting schedules (by customizing area plan schedules and tags), as shown in Figure 22. The model was used for client presentations as well as documentation, and since the design and documentation were completed in the same step, the client was able to provide timely feedback on the current design ideas for the project. At the end of the project, the Revit model of the terrace was able to nicely “fit into” the architectural Revit model of the base building.

Figure 22. Using Revit’s area plan schedules and tags to create planting schedules for the roof terrace landscape.


HOK’s annual BIM Awards, despite being an internal competition to the company, provides us with the opportunity to learn more about the state of the art of its BIM implementation in its many diverse projects from around the world. Given that HOK ranks so high among global architectural firms, the level of its technology implementation is a good reflection of BIM implementation in the architectural profession as a whole, a measure of how far along we have come.

While the individual projects described in this article were all fascinating to learn about, I was somewhat disappointed by the overall progress that HOK seems to have made in its BIM implementation since the last time I had the opportunity to review and deliberate upon the finalist projects, which was three years ago (see the article on HOK’s 2nd Annual BIM Awards). I did not find the BIM implementation on this year’s nominated projects substantially more advanced and sophisticated than I found it three years ago, as I had expected—it seemed to be the more or less the same, pointing to a troubling sign that the technology has become static and is no longer advancing. Is this the end of the road? Is there not much more than we can do with BIM? Have we reached some sort of ceiling beyond which additional benefits cannot be derived? Have we maxed out the use of BIM?

The AEC technology industry—vendors and users alike—need to do some serious soul-searching and ponder over these questions. While the implementation of BIM may take years to become ubiquitous in the AEC industry, is it time for the technology enthusiasts and innovators to be looking for the next big thing after BIM?


I would like to thank HOK for inviting me to serve on the jury of its 5th annual BIM Awards and for sharing the finalists’ presentations with me, which provided the basis for the project descriptions and images used in this article.

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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