IPD in Education: Best Practices Whitepaper

This paper is for architecture and engineering faculty who are trying to teach integrated project delivery. It offers insight into the use of interdisciplinary collaboration studios and profiles best practice examples of the incorporation of IPD at several schools across the United States.

Revit, Navisworks Products, Revit MEP, Revit Structure

Building Design and Construction

Building Design Process, Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)

Integrated project delivery (IPD) is a new trend in the building industry that features the early and ongoing collaboration of cross-functional project teams including designers, builders, fabricators, and owners. A key feature of IPD is the use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) to support project collaboration and decision-making.

In response to the increasing use of this delivery method, universities with architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) management disciplines on campus and partnerships with schools that have these disciplines are incorporating interdisciplinary design studios to expose students to IPD concepts and enabling technology.

Figure 1. Autodesk office in Waltham, Massachusetts, built collaboratively using IPD and BIM. Image courtesy of Kling Stubbins.


About IPD

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) defines IPD as a project delivery approach that integrates people, systems, business structures, and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to optimize project results, increase value to the owner, reduce waste, and maximize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication, and construction.

IPD features collaborative, integrated teams composed of key project participants with shared risks and rewards. Building upon early contributions of their individual expertise, these teams are guided by principles of trust, transparent processes, effective collaboration, open information sharing, and utilization of full technological capabilities and support.

BIM is an important component of IPD as it is a core enabling process for the enhanced collaboration that IPD demands. Models stemming from BIM processes can combine design, fabrication, construction, and project schedule information in a single source—providing a platform for project collaboration.

IPD in Education

As the building industry’s trend towards IPD accelerates, universities are implementing curriculums that expose students to IPD concepts and enabling technology, providing hands-on experience with interdisciplinary design and collaboration using BIM software. These programs enable students to explore multidiscipline building design and construction while learning communication and team building skills that prepare them for future practice.

Many schools use a tiered approach to integrate and teach IPD principles, starting at the undergraduate level and culminating with final year or post-graduate design studios. A typical series of courses includes:

  • Undergraduate BIM technology training.  By developing digital building models, students learn the relationship between design and construction, as well as the use of software for improved collaboration, coordination, and communication.
  • Interdisciplinary building design courses. Students learn general principles of building design beyond their own academic domains, giving students an integrated understanding of building design. This helps the students communicate more effectively with the other building disciplines and prepares them to become part of a collaborative design team.
  • Integrated building design studios.  Students work in multidisciplinary teams and use BIM technology for multidiscipline building design in a studio setting. These studio teams help students enhance their collaboration and project management skills in a simulated IPD framework.

Approaches for Integrated Building Studios

Obviously, there is no “right way” to incorporate IPD into the education of architecture and engineering students. The inclusion of IPD within the post-secondary curriculum varies widely based on a school’s academic colleges and programs, its faculty and student body, and its existing curriculum. Integrated studio-based learning approaches in particular feature a spectrum of student teams and therefore project scopes. These approaches include:

  • Multidiscipline teams: This type of studio most faithfully matches industry practices. However, it requires the participation of students from the major building disciplines and therefore is not feasible for all schools. Even in schools that do have the requisite building disciplines, cross-departmental studios pose significant challenges. For example, who “owns” the studio administratively? From a logistics point of view, can all the participating colleges/department digitally share files and software? Do they operate on the same calendar or schedule? Do they share common academic values and learning objectives?
  • Limited disciplinary teams: This approach uses collaboration practices, but only across the building disciplines participating in the studio. Therefore, cross-discipline collaboration, as well as the scope of the student project, is limited. However, faculties sometimes invite industry professionals to represent and provide input from the missing disciplines.
  • Single expertise with simulated multidiscipline teams: This type of studio only includes students from a single discipline, but some of the students assume the roles and responsibilities of other building fields—enabling the group to understand the complexities of collaborative teams. This approach may be the only alternative for schools that do not offer multi-discipline degree programs. Like the limited teams above, faculty members may organize industry practitioners to represent other building disciplines. 

An emerging concept for integrated building studios is the inclusion of students from different building disciplines and different schools. Studios that span not only departments but also schools are perhaps the very best replicas of actual IPD teams, but are also understandably the most difficult studios to organize. The cross-departmental challenges posed above are still present and exacerbated by working across departments at different schools.

Best Practices

Below are four successful examples of integrated studios offered by the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), the University of Cincinnati, Kent State, and Yale University. Each case study includes lessons learned by the school’s faculty about the use of IPD in their integrated design studios and offers advice to schools incorporating IPD into the AEC curriculum.

Pennsylvania State University

Penn State offers undergraduate and graduate programs through its Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and its Department of Architectural Engineering (AE). Penn State stresses IPD concepts throughout its architecture and engineering curricula, training students to participate effectively in interdisciplinary design teams. In their final years, students participate in collaborative cross-departmental courses and studios, using BIM solutions to help develop, explore, and analyze building designs and experience first-hand the benefits of using an interdisciplinary IPD approach.

Two studio courses in particular emphasize collaboration between students across disciplines. One is a BIM capstone project that focuses on integrating AE mechanical, structural, lighting, and construction engineering students. The other is an interdisciplinary collaborative BIM studio offered during a student’s fourth, fifth, or graduate year—depending on the academic program. Both studios rely upon BIM software for design development and information sharing.

In preparation for their capstone project, fourth-year students from the mechanical, structural, lighting/electrical, and construction engineering disciplines use a variety of BIM software solutions to visualize, develop, and analyze architectural form and space, and then integrate structural and building system frameworks in a 3D architectural design environment. In their fifth year, a small group of students comes together to form IPD teams as they participate in a year-long AE BIM capstone project. Each team includes one student from the four architectural engineering disciplines. The teams analyze a complex building and propose changes to the building’s design to improve sustainability, life-cycle cost, and constructability. At the end of the project, the teams present their work to an invited practitioner jury.

Figure 2. Penn State BIM Studio 2010, Atrium Coordination. Image courtesy of Pennsylvania State University.

In the collaborative BIM studio, graduate and undergraduate students from six different disciplines—architecture, landscape architecture, construction, structural, mechanical, and lighting/electrical engineering—are tasked with the design of a project using BIM software for data collection, analysis, design development, data coordination, and project presentations. Outside design professionals participate in work sessions and project reviews. By closely engaging students in each other’s work, the studio experience gives them insight into the technical, aesthetic, and social aspects of a collaborative design process. In 2011, this studio received an honorable mention in the NCARB Prize Program for Creative Integration of Practice and Education in the Academy.

Figure 3. Penn State BIM Studio 2010, Systems Integration. Image courtesy of Pennsylvania State University.

Autodesk BIM software used by Penn State includes:

  • Autodesk® Revit® Architecture
  • Autodesk® Revit® Structure
  • Autodesk® Revit® MEP
  • Autodesk® Project Vasari
  • AutoCAD® Civil 3D®
  • Autodesk® 3ds Max® Design
  • Autodesk® Ecotect® Analysis
  • Autodesk® Green Building Studio® software-as-a-service
  • Autodesk® Navisworks® software products
  • AutoCAD®

Lessons Learned

  • During the BIM and IPD studios, students gain skills in team building and communication, but this collaborative experience can also negatively influence the quality of the project if there is too much design by consensus. Faculty need to balance the need for practical compromises against students taking the path of least resistance.
  • Penn State’s collaborative studios can only accommodate a portion of its students based on the complexity of organizing and managing the logistics, educational schedules, student teams, and outside design professionals. As the studios and their pedagogical goals evolve, the faculty is constantly working to balance the goals against the required effort and results.
  • A collaborative team environment and design process can be frustrating for many students who typically work independently. Expectations for team behavior and goals are discussed early in the process, and monitored throughout the studio by the faculty.

IPD Advice from Penn State Faculty

  • Faculty champions are crucial for the success of a collaborative studio, including champions for each represented discipline. Faculty members must be willing to devote significant time developing and managing the studios.
  • It is important to consider the design and engineering scope of a prospective studio project. Although students might be more engaged when working on their own designs, the overall goals of the studio might be better achieved using professionally developed designs, and when possible the design professionals involved in those projects to augment faculty resources.
  • Foundational BIM instruction in early courses is critical, preparing students in the collaborative studios to be productive domain-focused participants.

University of Cincinnati

The University of Cincinnati offers a capstone design course for its structural engineering undergraduate students and first year operative-education-based Master of Architecture students. This capstone experience introduces the students to the concepts and applications of BIM and IPD, as well as fostering online collaboration between the students, preparing them for leadership and innovation in an increasingly globalized industry.

During the latest capstone project structural engineering students participated in the course for three quarters of their senior year, and the architecture students for two quarters. With this format, the teams developed a preliminary design during the first quarter of the course. The architecture students had early access to structural engineering expertise, helping them make design decisions based on constructability and cost. In the following quarters, the teams progressed into design development, with the structural engineering students finishing the course with more advanced structural design and analysis.

The capstone course featured a real building client and building project—a large multinational hotel chain expanding into the United States. The client is developing standardized hotel designs that will appeal to a “Generation Y” market from an aesthetic and functional point of view. In addition, the standardized design must be structurally suited for all areas of the United States, including earthquake, hurricane, and heavy snow zones.

Each team—which included both architectural and engineering students—tackled market research, design studies, program reviews, schematic design, design development, and structural analysis. The student teams interacted virtually with each other throughout the project as well as with the client, who provided input and feedback on the design development throughout the project.

Figure 4. University of Cincinnati 2010 student project (Design Team 3). The project illustrated is a workplace for the future, using technology of the future for an increasingly globalized business operation. [Note: The hotel capstone project is under nondisclosure, therefore no image is available.] Image courtesy of University of Cincinnati.

Autodesk BIM software used by the University of Cincinnati includes:

  • Autodesk® Revit® Architecture
  • Autodesk® Revit® Structure
  • Autodesk® 3ds Max® Design

Lessons Learned

  • For students to master the basics of the BIM software and use it productively on their capstone project, software self-training needs to be paired with external expert training.
  • The students immediately embraced the interactive, online collaboration aspects of the course. In addition, the online collaboration forced them to plan for their virtual meetings and communicate—both verbally and digitally—more precisely. However, coordinating the schedules and computing platforms of students from two colleges (architecture and engineering) was challenging. In such an interactive course, both students and faculty must be flexible with their schedules, as project dialog and critiques can occur at various times—including weekends and evenings—via both scheduled and spontaneous review sessions.
  • Charging the students with producing designs that were both innovative (architecturally) and practical (structurally) in the course timeframe was sometimes challenging for the students and reduced the quality of the student projects.

IPD Advice from University of Cincinnati Faculty

  • The student teams should have a critical mass to challenge each other and promote a healthy level of competition between the teams.
  • Administrative commitment and support is crucial for a success due to the additional resources (faculty and infrastructure) required for the course.
  • The use of a real project and a real client greatly enhance the student’s learning and whenever possible should be incorporated into the collaborative studio experience.

Kent State

Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) offers degree programs in architecture, interior design, urban design, and architectural studies. In their undergraduate years, CAED students receive BIM training in computing classes and use computer applications in their coursework, including classes in digital fabrication.

In their senior year, students participate in an integrated design studio. This integrated design studio has been a mainstay of the professional program in architecture at the Kent State for more than 30 years and is the culminating class of a CAED student’s education. Using the knowledge gained throughout their undergraduate experience, students develop a capstone project that includes architectural, structural, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) design disciplines. The school reaches out to the commercial sector to represent the structural and MEP disciplines.

The course objective is for students to formulate well-conceived design solutions by integrating base knowledge from their prior coursework, including the interrelationship of building systems. In addition, a significant aspect of the learning experience is the teamwork necessary to successfully complete the project. The students work primarily in teams of two or three people (not including the outside structural and MEP consultants).

Figure 5. Kent State student project. Designed and created by Zachary Hoyt and Andrew Wehler. Image courtesy of University of Kent State.

Figure 6. Kent State student project. Designed and created by Zachary Hoyt and Andrew Wehler.

Autodesk BIM software used by Kent State includes:

  • Autodesk® Revit® Architecture
  • Autodesk® Revit® Structure
  • Autodesk® Revit® MEP
  • Autodesk® 3ds Max® Design
  • Autodesk® Ecotect® Analysis

Lessons Learned

  • The major challenges of using IPD in an educational curriculum relate to the students’ knowledge of the interrelationship of building systems. It is important to address a student’s knowledge of integrated design earlier in their education, optimizing the value of collaborative teams and decision-making in their culminating studio experience. In prior classes and studios, architectural students should go beyond conceptual design to confront detailed design and the integration of building systems—proving the constructability of radical forms when appropriate.
  • The use of building simulation software and multidiscipline design solutions in lower grades helps students explore the relationship between design and construction. This enables them to integrate their conceptual design thinking with building methods and materials, and better understand how a range of factors including aesthetics, cost, and environmental impact can influence design decisions.

IPD Advice from Kent State Faculty

  • Work closely with other faculty members to produce studios that meet the needs of the students and different educational program, building support for the studio amongst the faculty and administration.
  • Due to the additional faculty and resources required to manage collaborative studios, administrative support and enthusiasm is essential for the studio’s success.

Yale University

Yale University’s School of Architecture offers a collaborative design course to its second year graduate students. The course is an integrated workshop and lecture series in which students use BIM software to develop the technical systems of preliminary design proposals from their earlier studio work. Coursework includes the advancement of structural form and detail, environmental systems, and envelope design, as well as an understanding of the constructive processes from which a building emerges.

In this course, the student architectural teams are challenged with the task of turning an architectural design into a building design and address issues of constructability and the integration of building systems. During their classwork, the teams are shepherded by architects, structural engineers, and MEP engineers—generally outside design professionals—to simulate a multidiscipline environment.

Figure 7. Yale University student project. Created by Avram Forman, Diana Nee, and Stephen Gage. Image courtesy of University of Yale University.

Autodesk BIM software used by Yale University includes:

  • Autodesk® Revit® Architecture
  • Autodesk® Ecotect® Analysis
  • AutoCAD®

Lessons Learned

  • At the beginning of the studio, some architectural students are uncomfortable working outside their own academic discipline and are reluctant to embrace the collaborative experience. The faculty must impress upon the students that design development is a continuation of the design process and that building systems can be used as tools to advance their design.
  • Students should receive training in the BIM software earlier in the curriculum, enabling them to focus on the collaborative design goals of the studio without the distraction of learning new software.

IPD Advice from Yale University Faculty

  • To prevent unbalanced student teams, the faculty should be closely involved in the formation of the studio teams.
  • In schools without construction disciplines, collaborative classes and design studios should include outside construction professionals who can provide real-world input and experience.


Autodesk would like to thank the following faculty for their input regarding the incorporation of IPD within the educational curriculum:

  • Martin Finio, Yale University
  • Barry Stedman, University of Cincinnati
  • Jonathan Fleming, Kent State
  • John Messner, Penn State
  • Bob Holland, Penn State
  • Ute Poerschke, Penn State

Links and References