Women in Construction Week: Ava Norton

Ava Norton
Ava Norton

Work hard and work with an open mind”, says Ava Norton, Manager of Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) for the Clark Construction Group. This small but mighty piece of advice is what she tells young women who are pursuing STEM-related careers.
With her own advice in mind, Norton successfully leads the implementation, employee training, and support of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and VDC nationally for Clark Construction Group. Her distinct experience as a registered architect and BIM expert has promoted problem solving and enhanced project delivery with VDC applications. Learn more about Norton and how she knows BIM holds particular value in a project lifecycle, and discover which project she believes stands out the most to her as a VDC Manager.

Your experience as both a licensed Architect and BIM expert has promoted problem solving and enhanced project delivery with Virtual Design & Construction applications. Tell us about how your background has shaped the role you play in construction technology today?

As an architect, I used computer modeling to facilitate building design and documentation. BIM helped me to me understand complex conditions and ensure that they worked. In construction, I work with a Virtual Design and Construction department. We help teams to understand how BIM can help them and we teach them how to use it. Clash detection resolves potential field installation issues, 4D simulations solidify construction sequences, etc. My favorite application, though, is more simple. Just looking at the model and making them available to teams. When at the drawing table on a site, I encourage the simultaneous use of the model with the drawings to help understand the building condition, identify challenges and potential missing information.

You are at a stage in your career where the next generation of girls in STEM are looking to you for professional guidance. What is a piece of advice you give to young women looking to get into the construction industry?

Work hard and work with an open mind. In my earlier architecture career, I had the task of dimensioning and annotating construction drawings – a seemingly mindless task. It’s not. A coworker of mine taught me that what I put on the paper will be what is constructed, and every line counts. With that advice, dimensions became a puzzle piece and annotating became an art. I made every line count and I advanced because I made sure every task I did mattered with the same importance.

I made every line count and I advanced because I made sure every task I did mattered with the same importance.

What do you see as some of the next trends hitting construction?

Integrated computational design and reality capture.

ava norton
Ava helping out at a job site

At Clark, you are working on a lot of BIM for FM efforts, and are also speaking on this topic at BIMForum in April in San Diego. What are your perspectives about the value of the BIM process throughout the project lifecycle for owners, and how can owners leverage the design & construction data for the facilities management purposes?

There is a reason architects and contractors go to BIM. It’s holistic. Why go through a plan, a section, a detail, and a schedule when you can have it all in one view? Similarly, when conducting preventative maintenance, would you not want the most efficient way to identify the pieces of equipment and their impact on the performance of a building? I’ve heard stories from clients where a maintenance technician has exercised preventative maintenance on the wrong piece of equipment, or maintenance was conducted on several pieces of equipment because the technician wasn’t sure which piece of equipment was tied to a work order. When the data and model are connected in a way that uncertainty is eliminated, there can be more efficiency, which translates to cost and energy savings.

Sheryl Sandberg said in her well-known book ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ that “careers are a jungle gym, not a ladder,” referencing the more atypical route most people’s career paths are taking. Looking at your experiences, tell me a little about how you got to this point in your career.

I was working as a construction administrator and participating in meetings with the MEP contractors. I loved the interaction of looking through the model and real-time problem solving with the larger team. I had been doing it on a smaller scale, and the larger contracting team had a level of energy that provided a new type of excitement for me. Soon after I landed a job as a VDC specialist with Clark Construction and have since became a VDC manager.

At Clark, you work on some of the nation’s largest and most complex projects. We would love to hear about a project that stands out to you and how you implemented VDC on the project.

There are many, but if I have to narrow down to one, I’d pick Midtown Center. It’s a trophy class office building in the middle of downtown, currently under construction. Two challenges that the VDC department is currently assisting with are the Lobby MEP and finishes, and the pedestrian bridge construction. The tiled ceiling in the lobbies is supported by a unistrut system, which will be sequenced in simultaneous to or after MEP rough-in. We are working with the project team to help model and coordinate the unistrut with the MEP models. This project also has three pedestrian bridges that connect the east and west towers. Our VDC department is helping to create a 4D simulation to help understand the sequencing challenges and ensure a safe and smooth construction up to the top.

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