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Talking to 2019 Autodesk Innovator of the Year—Amr Raafat of Windover Construction

Trained as an architect, Amr talks to us about Windover Construction’s award-winning project and the innovations at his company using VDC technologies like Hololens and drones.

ARCHITOSH GOT A CHANCE TO TALK TO AMR RAAFAT, Vice President of VDC and Technology at Massachusetts-based Windover Construction, and the first U.S. citizen to win the ‘Innovator of the Year’ award as part of the 2019 Autodesk AEC Excellence Awards. Below are segments of our conversation about how Windover Construction—which itself was an AEC Excellence Awards winner for Construction (under $100 million) category—is leading in digital innovation for its creative use of BIM, drones, laser scanning, and integration of modular technology.

On the Awards

Autodesk’s ‘Innovator of the Year’ award is an international award recognizing an individual that is leading, changing, and transforming the design and/or construction process in a positive way. It is a specialized award given out as part of the Autodesk AEC Excellence Awards, with the award ceremony happening concurrently with Autodesk University.

 

With these technologies that we have experimented with what we have learned is that designers can be much more flexible with their designs. Modular doesn’t have to be a shoebox.

 

Amr’s award was merited for his use of BIM, often meshed for the first time with drone mapping, laser scanning, virtual reality, mixed reality and other 3D technologies to solve some challenging problems in his company’s delivery of projects. He won out over 41 other global finalists.

Amr Raafat, Vice President VDC and Technology, Windover Construction, winner of the 2019 Autodesk of the Year award, part of Autodesk AEC Excellence Awards. (image: Autodesk / Architosh. All rights reserved.)

The AEC Excellent awards are described in detail on Architosh’s coverage. Windover Construction won for its groundbreaking combination of modular construction techniques and VDC (virtual design and construction) applications on CANVAS, an upscale, mixed-use, transit-oriented apartment community covering over 153,000 SF in Beverley, Massachusetts, a Boston-Metro community.

VDC at Windover Construction

Amr’s work at Windover entails pushing the envelope of what is possible in VDC workflows. Starting with the company a little over three years ago, Windover Construction hired him to lead a new position, VP of VDC and Technology. “At Windover what makes us a very different kind of construction company is the embracing of technology,” says Amr, who notes that the creation of his position is a sign of the company’s commitment to embracing and excelling at putting leading-edge technologies to work.

Amr Raafat, Vice President VDC and Technology and the company he work for, Windover Construction, were winners at last year’s Autodesk AEC Excellence Awards, from Autodesk University. (image: Windover Construction / Architosh. All rights reserved.)

Amr graduated with a Masters of Architecture from The Boston Architectural College and in his early career worked with world-renowned aquarium architect Peter Chermayeff on the programming, design, and BIM management of multiple international projects. Like more and more tech-forward construction companies, his leadership role in VDC (virtual design and construction) and technologies seems best served by those with architectural educations and backgrounds. His training in architecture school provides him years of working in advanced BIM and 3D software while that same training makes him the perfect liaison for a construction company to understand the needs, goals, and perspectives of the architects designing the buildings Windover Construction builds.

He characterized the VDC role between architecture and construction by saying that in the former the focus is on how to use VDC to “deliver drawings and models that focus on design intent in an efficient and accurate way” while communicating conceptual ideas to the client and all project stakeholders. From the architect’s side, VDC done well is “a very efficient pathway to design that would bring people together.”

On the construction side of VDC, he says, “my goal is to make sure I preserve the design intent,” saying the goal is to build to the building true to the architect’s vision while “eliminating or mitigating risks, increasing project safety, saving materials, staying on schedule and on budget.”

 

What I have noticed, in the last few years we are doing more collaborating with the architect—it is not the architect working in a final BIM model and the contractor waiting for that model, we work collaboratively.

 

It is interesting to hear from a trained architect now working in construction what the VDC process looks like—the architect’s side is about “communicating” that design intent while from the builder’s side it is about “preserving it” and delivering in actuality.

Amr notes that the preservation of design intent—which is so highly valued by architects—is fundamentally about coordination. “We fully coordinate the building elements and MEPs to fit within the original design geometries; through BIM we are not only meeting design expectations, but we are also accelerating building performance.”

Design, Build and VDC

Windover Construction is a mid-sized AEC company that both serves as a general contractor and in many cases delivers projects using a “design-build” process. This skillset means the company is naturally more adept at delivering BIM models into the project delivery process. Amr also delivers advanced renderings using Autodesk 3ds Max.

Amr Raafat on stage at Autodesk University 2019, talking about Windover and VDC technologies and their role on the CANVAS project, also an award winner at AU. (image: Architosh. All rights reserved.)

Working with architects they tend to integrate BIM models into the process at many different levels. “Sometimes we build them ourselves,” says Amr, “if the architect has only delivered 2D drawings.” Other times, “if we are heavily in the process we work side-by-side with the architect supporting the architect with BIM.”

“Because we are in New England and a large number of heritage structures are here, we sometimes laser scan the existing buildings and hand the architect a model from that data,” he adds. “What I have noticed,” he adds, “in the last few years we are doing more collaborating with the architect—it is not the architect working in a final BIM model and the contractor waiting for that model, we work collaboratively,” he says. Increasingly, Windover is delivering more laser scans to the design and engineering sides of the project delivery team.

CANVAS Modular Project

On the CANVAS project, the first two stories were erected traditionally with a steel frame, while the stories on top of the podium level were build using a modular unit construction by a company in Canada, RCM Modulaire.

An image of the CANVAS project which utilized modular construction on top of a conventionally constructed podium two-level structure with retail at the ground level. (image: Windover Construction / Architosh. All rights reserved.)

One of the fundamental challenges was coordinating the plumbing chases and aligning plumbing elements between “site-built” work and “off-site built” modular work. Amr, who is an FAA-certified drone pilot, flew the drone over the steel multiple times during site erection, using ground survey points to obtain a very high degree of accuracy. He then used ground-level laser scanning to capture 3D data that the drone may have missed.

This image from AU shows a color-coded image of the modular versus steel structure built conventionally for the CANVAS project. (image: Architosh. All rights reserved.)

Using Autodesk Construction Solutions Amr merged the separate point cloud data and then modeled both in Revit along with the plumbing on both the podium floors (2x) and the modular floors. The third-floor openings in the modular boxes were critical that they lined up. He used Autodesk Navisworks to review clash detections and Revit to coordinate all components. Using this approach Windover Construction was able to precisely align factory-built modular work and the chases therein with as-built steel framing chases.

As the scans were generated via drone and laser, Amr says, “we were able to coordinate all this data in real-time in coordination meetings with the factory. When the boxes arrived on-site,” he adds, “all the vertical chases aligned perfectly.” Amr also used the laser scanner for managing critical facade construction issues as well. But the other big notable digital innovation process implemented on the CANVAS project was the use of the Microsoft Hololens onsite.

By feeding Revit BIM models into the Microsoft Hololens AR device, Amr was able to conduct site walk-throughs, overlaying the third-floor modules above the existing second floor structural steel as a hologram. This gave the team an unprecedented visual representation of how building elements between floors came together, all within an immersive experience.

Safety and VR

While the Microsoft Hololens has been a critical piece of the Windover VDC story, the company also uses Oculus Rifts to enhance safety for the company’s employees. “We developed our in-house VR safety training using Autodesk Construction Solutions,” says Amr, “employees step into virtual environments of familiar job sites with Oculus Rifts, look and identify dozens of OSHA violations we have staged in the VR.”

Amr tapped the expertise of the company’s most senior field and safety experts to compile a list of violations, like the missing protection railing shown in the image below. (see image below) The virtual reality training enables their staff to test their OSHA safety knowledge and the company found that the VR training was quite effective compared to conventional safety training methods. “It provides a more memorable and impactful experience,” he adds.

Closing Thoughts: Future Construction

The award-winning CANVAS project furthers Windover’s expertise in modular construction. Asking him if these processes will become standard practice for his company he demurred and says, “every project has its own unique challenges. I study every project and look for the technologies available to best solve them.” These days the Windover Construction toolkit consists of numerous Autodesk software, including Autodesk Revit for their BIM modeling, Autodesk Navisworks for coordination of models, plus other Autodesk Construction Solutions, including a favorite of many of the company’s superintendents in the field: PlanGrid, an Autodesk subsidiary which works with Autodesk Construction Cloud.

Amr Raafat is using drones and VR (virtual reality) to improve safety at Windover Construction sites. Employees test their knowledge of OSHA safety violations stated in virtual construction projects. Using VR software staff can inhabit and walk around a virtual construction site and this leaves a more memorable experience of their learning. (image: Windover Construction / Architosh. All rights reserved.)

When speaking about a Common Data Environment (CDE) tool, Amr noted that while PlanGrid is highly used the company also uses Procore. For their laser scanning the company users Faro scanners. “They are some of the most accurate in the industry and can handle the cold New England weather,” he says, “I’ve worked with them in minus 10-degree weather.”

I asked if Windover is looking further downfield and thinking about doing the modular construction building itself. Amr says, “Windover is one of the very best construction companies that can manage the process of integrating modular construction. We have the in-house expertise in project managers and supers who have the experience to make modular work.”

And thanks to the company’s intensive and committed investment in leading-edge technologies like VDC, BIM, drones, laser scanners, and augmented reality with Hololens, this construction company is extremely well-positioned to deliver on both traditional, hybrid and modular construction projects. “With these technologies that we have experimented with,” he adds, “what we have learned is that designers can be much more flexible with their designs. Modular doesn’t have to be a shoebox.”


Image Credits

Format equates to “party with copyright” / “party with reserved rights of use.” (eg: image: Windover Construction / Architosh. All rights reserved.) 
Title image credit: Windover Construction / Architosh. All rights reserved.

 

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