Autodesk® Revit® Architecture and Autodesk® Revit® Structure softwareGeneral Dynamics SATCOM
San Rafael, CA

NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, CA conducts critical research and development for the space agency, with a primary focus on supercomputing, networking, and intelligent systems. Recently, NASA Ames initiated work on the Sustainability Base, a $20.6-million facility designed to surpass standards for LEED Platinum™ sustainable design certification and approach net-zero energy consumption. When complete, it will be one of the federal system’s greenest buildings, and the first new NASA Ames facility in 20 years.

The NASA Sustainability Base at Ames Research Center.

NASA Ames selected William McDonough + Partners (WM+P) as design architect and AECOM as architect of record for the project. The WM+P and AECOM team provided a robust combination of programming, architecture, interior and landscape design, and LEED® consulting, as well as structural, civil, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering services.

The building’s design challenges included a complex radial geometry, an innovative steel-frame exoskeleton, and numerous eco-friendly features such as geothermal wells, natural ventilation, high-performance wastewater treatment, and a photovoltaic roof, which will provide 30 percent of the building’s power.

On this project, AECOM team members were based in San Francisco, Moffett Field, and Orange County, CA; Albuquerque, NM; and Phoenix, AZ. To connect the geographically dispersed team, AECOM relied upon Autodesk building information modeling (BIM) solutions, including Autodesk® Revit® Architecture software and Autodesk® Revit® Structure software, complemented by Autodesk® Navisworks® Manage software, Autodesk® Ecotect® Analysis software, and tools based on the AutoCAD® platform, such as AutoCAD® MEP software.

To better obtain the full benefits of the BIM approach, WM+P used Revit Architecture software to help develop the initial model and perform preliminary structural and mechanical studies before passing the model on to AECOM. That enabled the engineers to move forward, while design work continued on the exterior skin.

Revit Architecture was used for the building’s complex, radial geometry. Every potential design change had numerous implications. The BIM process, supported by Revit Architecture, helped the WM+P design team understand those implications, communicate them to the other team members, and make faster, more-informed decisions.

Revit Architecture also enabled AECOM to more quickly examine and evaluate multiple design scenarios. For example, at one point during the design process, rapidly rising material prices forced the team to change the design in order to stay within budget. The model enabled them to adjust the floor-to-floor heights more quickly so that they were able to save enough on material costs to help meet the budget requirements.

One of the most visible aspects of the new facility was its innovative steel-frame exoskeleton, which required close coordination between the architects and structural engineers. A common BIM software platform enabled the architects to avoid duplicating the engineers’ work. They could more quickly see how structural changes impacted the architecture.

The exoskeleton was an essential component of another design goal: an open, but narrow, column-free floor plan that will encourage flexibility and collaboration among the building’s end users. By putting the lateral resisting system on the outside of the building, the team was able to free up the entire floor plan. The exoskeleton also increased structural performance during seismic events, and served as an armature for modular shading devices.

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