Peter Aaron/OTTO

There's something about an intricate gothic structure that seems to defy technological approaches, but the history of Yale University's collegiate gothic residence halls are actually rife with innovative building practices. In the 1930s and 1940s, James Gamble Rogers—who started his career working on large contemporary commercial structures in Chicago—used steel framing and cast stone in his various contributions to the campus, which have been called, not always flatteringly, "girder gothic." So it is fitting that the 531,953-square foot Pauli Murray and Benjamin Franklin colleges—Yale University's newest collegiate gothic residential colleges—continue the tradition of bringing contemporary technology to bear: They mark the first large-scale project on which the team at New York–based Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA) used BIM.

View of the north façade of Pauli Murray College, with Yale's first covered loading dock, with Eero Saarinen's Ingalls Rink at right.
Peter Aaron/OTTO View of the north façade of Pauli Murray College, with Yale's first covered loading dock, with Eero Saarinen's Ingalls Rink at right.

Despite the project's 2017 completion date, the firm was actually on the forefront of using the technology for historicist buildings. In 2007, when the project started, Revit wasn’t yet sophisticated enough to handle the intricate geometries the project demanded, so the team worked with the technical team at Autodesk to find solutions. “When we started, it couldn’t model dormers,” says RAMSA associate partner Kurt Glauber, AIA. “Some architects might say, ‘Well, let’s just not do dormers.’ But we weren’t going to relent to the software."

The team started the design work with detailed hand sketches, and then brought those into Revit, a practice which continues on newer projects in the office. "When we started working on this project in BIM, we had just finished schematic design, and we had a lot of elevational ideas, but weren't sure yet how everything was going to come together," Glauber says. "Being able to visualize everything is, of course, extraordinarily helpful."

Peter Aaron/OTTO

Because of the limitations of all of the BIM offerings at the time, the team turned to multiple types of software to help manage the complex—and very intricate—project. "We hired Digital Project as a consultant, and they helped us with how to model these details," Glauber says. " 'Critical' is an understatement for the role of that software in managing the massive amounts of data we were dealing with. Even the windows and doors—there are 4,200 windows in this project."

The software also helps to manage a large drawing set that Glauber recalls as being "between 2,400 to 2,700 sheets, depending on how you count it. Our architectural set was somewhere around 1,000, which was mind-bogglingly large and complex." Those sheets, of course, required a large-scale effort to turn 3D data into 2D data, cleaning up linework and legibility along the way, so that the 2D drawings could be used by the contractors, subcontractors, and craftspeople undertaking the building effort.

Peter Aaron/OTTO

“Looking back, there’s really no way we could have gotten the level of detail and coordination without using BIM. It was a big challenge for us getting everything up to speed, and manage it. but we got a lot out of that model,” Glauber says. And now, several years on, BIM is part and parcel of RAMSA's design process, regardless of whether a building is contemporary or traditional in its style. "It's definitely more robust, and there's more we can do with it," Glauber says.

More about Autodesk
Find products, contact information and articles about Autodesk