New Center for Building Innovation Transforms CAECM Education

By:    Brandon Pytel
Date: April 5, 2018

UC’s Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management (CAECM) recently unveiled the Center for Building Innovation, a visualization hub that advances modern practices in a rapidly changing industry.

Three students look at a visualization screen projecting the internal aspects of a building.

Students use the CBI to visualize components of a building. The visualization room teaches students the ins and outs of building information modeling. Photo courtesy of UC Photography.

Anton Harfmann points to a visualization screen projecting a building's internal structure.

Anton Harfmann, PhD, instructs his capstone design class using the CBI's visualization screen.

As a tier-one research institution, the University of Cincinnati (UC) is always looking for ways to drive innovation. The new Center for Building Innovation (CBI) is one way UC, and the College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS), is setting the course for the future.

The CBI is an innovation hub for students in the architecture, engineering and construction fields. Made possible by generous donations from Helix Electric and the Cincinnati Construction Education Fund, the CBI contains a visualization and training center that hosts nine 55-inch 4K monitors. Altogether, the screen spans 12 feet across a classroom wall.

This visualization room teaches students the ins and outs of building information modeling (BIM), a modern approach to construction that digitally transforms blueprints into four-dimensional models (three-dimensional isometric plans that evolve over time).

“BIM is sweeping through the industry and transforming work that gets done in the design office,” said Steven Buchberger, PhD, professor and head of the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management. “We developed this center to introduce students to new digital tools that are disrupting and revolutionizing the workplace.”

What once was a two-dimensional blueprint is now a four-dimensional model that can simulate constructions over time using the CBI. Professors and students can map out an entire construction project using BIM software, stripping a building down to its mechanical, electrical, plumbing or structural systems to observe the functionality of a new facility before it’s even built.

When applied to the industry, this means architects, engineers and contractors can all work together up front to deliver a final product at a lower cost.

CBI’s visualization room also places the student right on the construction site with a nearly full-scale representation of a construction project.

“We can take a class on a virtual field trip,” said Buchberger. “We can have someone on the construction site with a GoPro on their helmet, project real-time streaming images onto the video wall and give students in the classroom the feeling that they are also on the job site.”

Students at a table project work onto classroom's wall monitors.

Students use the visualization room's wall monitors to project group work. Photo courtesy of UC Photography.

True to UC’s commitment to professional experience through cooperative education (co-op), the center also prepares students to enter the field of engineering after graduation.

“The CBI provides students with the kind of engineering tools that are already being adopted by industry,” said Buchberger. “Students will have that skillset to hit the ground running and bring value on day one for their employer, whether they’re on co-op or starting a full-time position.”

On top of modernizing the academic experience, the CBI will create closer ties between UC, industry and research partnerships and the engineering field as a whole. By forming links between academia and industry, both sectors can benefit from access to these newer technologies. Rather than let a problem in the field fester, industry and academia can work together to address problems early on in the design and build process.

The university and its professional partners can also learn from each other through seminars and workshops. When guest speakers and experts at UC talk about problems of strategic or critical importance to industries, they can use the CBI to convey these ideas.

The visualization room is only the first step of a multi-phase initiative for the CBI. In the future, the department hopes to add more rooms with virtual reality capabilities that both students and industry professionals can use. The goal will always be to drive the industry forward.

“We want to be on the cutting edge, so students can have a smooth transition into the professional field,” said Buchberger. “This technology is the future of design for the 21st century.”