Stanford Center for Professional Development

Stanford’s Virtual Design and Construction Program Advances Knowledge and Practice


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Technological innovation is transforming the construction industry, with advances impacting the way builders design, build, and even operate buildings.

Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), which uses multidisciplinary digital models to create a virtual project prior to construction, facilitates better project planning and management, including improving scheduling, budget, and cost estimations. VDC was first introduced as a concept by Stanford Professor Martin Fischer, Director of the Center for Integrated Facility Engineering at Stanford, a part of the Stanford School of Engineering.

The School of Engineering, which has provided training on VDC practices for over a decade, recently made it possible to study the field entirely online. The Virtual Design and Construction program, offered through the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD) via Stanford Online, features both foundational and elective courses for working professionals. Learners can choose to earn either a graduate certificate or a professional record of completion, with courses taught by leaders in the field including Professor Fischer.

“Projects around the world are becoming increasingly complex, requiring more and more specialists,” says Fischer. “VDC is the holistic project management method that optimally integrates all the experts’ knowledge in a timely manner for a high-performing project.”

SCPD can customize lessons to a particular cohort, like the SCPD programs developed in collaboration with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), the University of Lima, and the Swiss University of Applied Sciences and Arts (FHNW). In aggregate these programs brought together 400 working professionals with varied industry experience and expertise and immersed them in VDC concepts over a period of 10 months through both online and in-person education. Participants learned how to design VDC workflows to increase efficiency, improve reliability, and avoid common pitfalls, and teams engaged in hands-on projects to apply techniques to the management of their own design, construction, and operation of constructed facilities. Mentors, like Johnny Rimestad Sætre, a structural engineer and VDC professional, helped guide professionals through the program.

Implementing VDC practices helps professionals move projects along faster and build greater trust with clients, shares Sætre. Integral to VDC is collecting data about actions and corresponding results  throughout a project and supporting people working together in integrated and simultaneous ways (a process referred to as ICE). For example, during a large hospital project, two buildings under development were tracked separately using Building Information Modeling (BIM), shares Sætre. For each building, the model maturity index (MMI) was tracked to determine readiness to build. One building used VDC methodology, including ICE, conducting interdisciplinary meetings and using modern visualization technologies. The other building used more traditional project management methods. The building that used VDC methodology required less than half the revisions needed to achieve construction-ready status compared to the building that did not use VDC. Fewer revisions advances the rate in which the project can move from design to build, saving client costs.

The programs have a significant impact on the number of industry professionals trained in VDC in a particular country or region, many of whom work on projects together and report how the sharing of VDC knowledge and concepts is transforming their local industry. The program has quadrupled the number of trained VDC professionals in Latin America and doubled the number of trained VDC professionals in Norway. These programs also help inform research, as participants share data quantifying the impact of VDC on their own construction projects. This in turn helps Stanford faculty and PhD students understand the leading edge of the industry globally and improve VDC methodology and its application to new kinds of projects and roles.

Over 400 industry professionals enroll annually in Professor Fischer’s professional education course. Fundamentally, VDC is about shifting your mindset, noted course member Ragnhild Nøstvold, who works for AFRY in Norway. “I saw a lot of potential in how we can use VDC to make projects better,” she reported, “ pushes you to learn by doing, and that has resulted in personal growth for me as well.” Sætre translated his participation in the Stanford program into a new job as a VDC consultant. “I have gained new insight and new tools to better define client needs and project objectives,” he says, which in turn helps influence clients to respect the recommendations of the project managers. “I haven't done any sales work for two or three years. They are calling us now. I think we will see big results from this.”

Organizations can learn more about SCPD custom programs.
Learn more about the Stanford Center for Integrated Facility Engineering.