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Experiencing construction before building

When Building Information Modeling (BIM) was introduced in the 1980s, it was a game changer. Generating digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a building allowed contractors the ability to better visualize a project. With continued advancements in Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), owners could also gain a better understanding of their project. Better understanding led to better efficiencies — issues rose to the surface sooner and changes could be made at an early stage, saving time and money. 

Over time, both VDC and BIM have improved. In addition, the construction industry has explored other ways to help bring projects to life. The creation of full-size representations of a construction project have taken the owner experience to the next level. These mock-ups allow owners to fully visualize a space, and make changes at an earlier stage when it’s more cost effective. 

“Most people can’t see 3D on a 2D piece of paper,” said Mitch Bernard, project executive at the PENTA Building Group. “Mock-ups give us the opportunity to share the plans for a project in a way that clients can actually visualize it.”



The ultimate goal of any project is to build it right the first time. While many factors go into this, mock-ups play an important role in achieving it. 

“Creating a mock-up helps us plan and have a clear definition of what a client wants,” said Tyler Bonwell, operations manager at the MMC Contractors Las Vegas office. “It forces both the client and our team to really think through a project and takes a lot of that gray area out.”

Not only does it alleviate many unknowns, it also brings up other opportunities for value engineering. Whether that’s determining what elements can be prefabricated or shedding light on a better approach to building, those improvements add up for the owner. Even little changes can have a big impact. For example, on hospitality projects, a simple $200 savings in a hotel room can add up when it’s applied to every room. 

“We build our mock-ups in a controlled environment, which gives us insight on how we want to approach construction when it’s time start the final project,” said Bernard. “Everything is built down to the final details — speakers, grills, lighting, etc. It gives the owner an inclusive look at the entire project and they can make those necessary changes.”

Another major benefit of mock-ups is that it allows the construction team better insight from the operations side of the business. Nurses can wheel a wheelchair around a hospital room and provide feedback on the elements that impact them. That valuable input can be overlooked on projects when the operations team isn’t involved. 



The future is digital. Many industry partners are already utilizing technology like augmented reality to provide owners with an early, inclusive view of a project. Switching to walking an owner through a digital space can have a number of benefits. 

While the cost of physical mock-ups only makes up a small percentage of an overall budget, moving to a digital mock-up removes most of those material costs. Changes can be made quickly, which helps keep projects on schedule. In addition, digital mock-ups can be utilized even earlier in the project — as early as the pre-award interview stage.

“We help potential partners visualize our project proposal at our initial presentation,” said Bernard. “We take interior elevations and build them in the computer locating all the items — doors, windows, fire-alarm, wall sconces, diffusers, millwork, and more. Once we have reviewed this with the designers, we take their color pallet and make it look as real as possible. We’ve seen success using this method to win projects.”

Bonwell embraces the changes on the horizon when it comes to incorporating more digital practices in the design process. “The BIM process is great on a computer, but as augmented reality becomes more common, it will be a game changer. This is what’s next for lean construction.”