The LiRo Group’s Award-Winning Virtual Design, Construction & Operations Team Opens Cutting-edge BIM and Visualization Studio/Laboratory in Lower Manhattan
By Peter Wilk
The LiRo Group’s renowned Virtual Design, Construction and Operations (VDCO) team has opened its new studio and laboratory dedicated exclusively to the development and implementation of rapidly evolving Building Information Modeling (BIM) and related technologies that are used to simulate myriad aspects of the planning, tracking, design, construction, operations, and maintenance phases of roadway, transportation, railroad, infrastructure, and commercial development projects and existing facilities.
The revolutionary work of VDCO enables clients to walk through near-photorealistic simulations and make decisions based on comprehensive, “already-built” information – even before construction begins. The flexible, state-of-the-art, fully equipped laboratory space is housed within LiRo’s new 13,500-square foot offices in Battery Park City, on the 28th floor of One State Street Plaza. Team members use reality capture, mixed reality, virtual reality, game-engine visualizations, and automation tools regularly, as they research, test, develop, and innovate tools and applications for their clients’ benefit, integrating these technologies into client workflows.
VDCO’s new studio and laboratory space is offset from the rest of the open office areas for functional reasons. The team of 11 specialists frequently works with various cutting-edge scanning technologies to create the virtual worlds that are best experienced in a suitable space using special goggles. To this end, the laboratory was designed to allow team members to change their workstation configuration in near-infinite ways, to accommodate a vast number of virtual worlds within it. It is not unusual to see VDCO team members getting up and being extremely physically active, walking through virtual “doorways” and inspecting “ductwork.” The design called for the use of various acoustical dampeners to provide the sound privacy VDCO required, while the power and data supply is augmented in the studio, to allow for the inevitable future expansions in information capabilities.
“We are a laboratory in terms of what we do – we create new and indispensable tools for our clients,” said Cheryle Cranbourne, VDCO Manager. “And we are a laboratory in terms of how the environment was designed – it helps foster teamwork and taking initiative. We have our virtual reality equipment here, we have our scanners, we have our photogrammetry tools and drones, our 3D printer, our flat-screens and projector – our equipment looks different from everybody else’s equipment and we have our own space where we bring together the different team members from different disciplines and work side by side to develop these tools and provide these services for our clients. It’s a flexible space we can adapt to our needs and that changes over time, just like the work we do for our clients.”
From the largest transportation construction project underway in the country to large and small residential projects, LiRo’s experienced VDCO team members are experts at developing and integrating BIM-related technology and processes into their clients’ existing workflows. The team can build a 3D virtual model – which they call a “digital twin” or a “virtual twin” of the project – from 2D reference documents. In this virtual twin, the team members simulate the processes, data, and geometry of a building or infrastructure, essentially creating a “virtual” project prior to actual construction. Their expertise with various cutting-edge software tools enables them to analyze, visualize, and communicate building information to the entire project team, empowering stakeholders to make better-informed decisions. This virtual version of the actual project can be used to simulate almost any aspect of the design, construction, and operations phases of a project. The team then links these to schedules (4D), and information-based cost estimation (5D).
The Virtual Design, Construction and Operations group began as an in-house services group supporting LiRo contracts, but the BIM work has been growing and taking on a life of its own ever since. These days, the VDCO team supports clients of its own. The group grew by reputation. Part of the success of the group is its diversity of expertise. While all the team members are dedicated to BIM and new technologies, the backgrounds range from architecture and engineering to construction management, high-end interior design, MEP engineering, and so on. Together, they are able to bring a precise mix of perspectives to benefit their clients, and at all stages, from planning through construction and operations.
“LiRo recognized the value of BIM and other technologies in streamlining and accelerating project delivery early on, and began the VDCO team nine years ago, initially by using BIM to model certain projects
and test it with scheduling and general coordination. Today, our firm’s technology services to both clients and other LiRo divisions are offered under the umbrella of LiRo Applied Technologies Division. In addition to VDCO, the group’s services include GIS, Surveys, and Information Technology,” said John McCaffrey, LiRo’s Chief Information Officer.
VDCO’s recent and current transportation and infrastructure projects include the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) $10.2 billion East Side Access railroad tunnel in Manhattan and Queens, NY; the rehabilitation of the 25-span, four-lane vertical lift Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge over Jamaica Bay between Brooklyn and Queens, NY for the MTA Tunnels and Bridges (MTA B&T); MTA B&T’s agency-wide BIM implementation consulting; and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority’s $210 million rehabilitation of the Robert F. Kennedy Bronx Toll Plaza and Manhattan Plaza on Randall’s Island, NY.
Since 2012, VDCO has been BIM Manager for the nearly $10.2 billion transportation project known as East Side Access, on behalf of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Capital Construction Division (MTACC). The project is bringing Long Island Rail Road service to eight new train platforms and a new eight-block-long, 350,000-square foot passenger concourse approximately 150 feet beneath Grand Central Terminal. The first expansion of the LIRR in over 100 years, East Side Access is to be completed in December of 2022. Work is taking place in multiple locations in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx, and includes the construction of new tunnels under Manhattan; the construction of five massive, 10-story-high ventilation buildings; the refurbishment of existing train tunnels under the East River; and major renovations to Harold Interlocking, an above-ground train yard and interlocking in Queens used 24/7, which is the busiest railway junction in the country. The project is currently the largest transportation construction undertaking in the United States, and one of the largest and most complex projects ever embarked upon in New York City.
VDCO has thus far modeled the project in its entirety, and is using the resulting BIM resources to create visualizations to coordinate and record laser scans for better as-built survey documentation, and to enhance construction tracking and logistics workflows as well as asset management processes. In addition, the VDCO team’s work has revolutionized the way the project’s stakeholders understand this massive undertaking, make decisions on its myriad interrelated components, and minimize risk, not to mention how VDCO’s efforts have greatly enhanced the level of collaboration among the numerous parties involved in East Side Access construction. The East Side Access visualization program’s 150-plus interconnected models spanning four-and-a-half miles is believed to be one of the largest – if not the largest – integrated project BIM in the world.
Peter Wilk is president and founder of Brooklyn, New York-based Wilk Marketing Communications, a national and international real estate and AEC marketing consultancy. He is a frequent contributor to architectural, construction, real estate, and business publications, both in the U.S. and overseas. Peter may be reached at email@example.com.