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Centerfold: Extreme Makeover: Virtual Building Edition

Here's the future of construction: Before a backhoe disturbs a single speck of dirt, a new office complex--from foundation to fixtures--has already been "built" on a server. Commercial contractor Webcor Builders is one of the first in its industry to implement virtual building technology, which improves efficiency by identifying potential trouble spots ahead of actual construction. Virtual building technology also bolsters Webcor's image as a tech-savvy company, a plus when scouting clients in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area. But Webcor had to undertake a major expansion of its WAN, backup, SAN and e-mail archiving infrastructures to support the heftier files generated by the new technology.


"Virtual building is a huge technical initiative this year for us," says Gregg Davis, vice president and CIO for Webcor Builders, one of the leading builders in the Bay Area, with more than $1.8 billion worth of construction contracts.

The contractor uses a commercial virtual building package called Graphisoft Constructor, which it helped develop with U.K.-based Graphisoft. The tool lets builders track expenses, as well as map out everything from lighting to emergency response planning. Builders can catch any potential conflicts and costly problems before the job gets under way.

The virtual building files are information-rich. They contain 3-D objects such as an office's interior wall, including characteristics such as the gypsum board, paint, studs, insulation and tile. The files also store information on how each element relates to others. Webcor can even determine the quantity and order in which each material is applied.

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