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A while back, I mentioned our desire to explore Building Information Modeling (BIM), a database which catalogs a structure throughout its life cycle in real time 3D. We felt the system would provide a value-add large enough to merit hiring someone to manage our efforts. I’m pleased to say we found the right fit.

William Byrd, a graduate of Auburn University’s Building Science program, has a long history with modeling technology. His father, the manager of a steel manufacturing company, brought home drawings of machine parts that his shop was building.

William learned the basics on their home computer, and found a passion that led him to complete his senior thesis in Construction Information Technology using BIM.

I asked him to put together a list of what BIM can do for a construction company in terms of customer benefits. Here are the areas he thinks will be most useful:

Presentation. Owners, investors and contractors can see their building taken from a 2-dimensional plane to a model. They can now “walk through” a structure that has yet to be built.

Collaboration. For architects, general contractors and owners, working together on a model gets a conversation flowing. Through BIM, all parties can begin their partnership earlier. This saves time in the long run by avoiding costly changes or mistakes.

Forecasting problems. Constructing the building virtually can aid in finding problems in the design or the constructability of a project.

Record Keeping. With a complete model, an owner can see what exactly is hidden behind a wall or a concrete slab. In renovations or repairs, this can be invaluable.

It is our belief that BIM will drive efficiency in the construction industry in the same way that AutoCAD (and equivalents) revolutionized how drawings are completed by architects and engineers.  We’re confident it will give us the edge in both negotiated and hard bid work. We’re pleased to be early adopters.

I will ask William to check in occasionally, sharing thoughts on BIM upgrades and tips from along the trail. We look forward to sharing our experience.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

In my travels I get to experience some cool things and this recent experience reminded me of things that many us take for granted. This recently happened to me during my last visit to the Dakota’s this fall.  After arriving, we gathered in a small bar and were approached by a young man who had overheard us when the discussions turned to football…particularly the Auburn and Alabama rivalries.

Serving as a weapons officer, Capt. Pat Helton is with the 37th Bomber Squadron that is based at Ellsworth Air Force Base. This historic squadron has served in many missions including Doolittle’s Raid during WWII. The 37th Tigers have also flown in Operation Desert Fox, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Capt. Helton had dinner with us that evening and afterwards asked if we would like to come over and see the plane that he flies based in Ellsworth. But this wasn’t any plane, this was the B1 Bomber. The supersonic bomber that was first developed in the mid-70s, but wasn’t actually put into duty until circa mid ‘80’s. Most recently, it has served during our mission in Afghanistan.

We met Capt. Helton on Sunday morning and after going through security clearance. We were shown the flight lines and how the B1 approaches its missions.  We learned that at any given time, there are at least two B1s flying over Afghanistan providing support to ground troops.

We also learned that they spend an average of 15 hours in the air with a 24 hour service cycle;  flying in cramped quarters like an angel out over the countryside protecting their fellow soldiers. When called into action, Capt. Helton has direct communications with the ground troops deciding which type of ordinance to use.

After we wrapped up the tour of the 37th Squadron and saw the B1 bomber on the flight lines. It made me thankful that I was able to visit with Capt. Helton, learn about his duty and in addition, very thankful for the role our military is playing keeping peace in the world.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.


We’ve all heard the saying, “everything old is new again.” At our place, we’ve challenged ourselves to find inventive ways to repurpose materials that might have otherwise left behind. As a result, our ceilings, parts of our deck and even our conference table are crafted from wood that would have otherwise been left at our Florida projects.

Never have I seen a truer personal example than in Sam Mockbee, a pioneer in pragmatic design whose biography I recently received. He made turning old things into something unique and usable his life’s passionate work.

Sam or “Sambo” as he was known to his friends, understood the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” concept long before it became a slogan for sustainability and doing things right. He created the Rural Studio Program at the Auburn University School of Architecture, where students repurpose ordinary and recycled materials into houses and useful buildings for the residents of Hale County, Alabama. His creations take care of basic needs and in the process provide rays of hope.

Sam would tell his students that the places they create have got to be warm, dry and noble. He spent the last 10 years of his life building those spaces for many and that legacy continues. Using salvaged materials like lumber, bricks, discarded tires and hay bales, the Rural Studio produces inexpensive structures in a style that Mockbee described as “contemporary modernism grounded in southern culture.” As noted in this Metropolitan Magazine article, the process gives students hands-on experience in designing and building something real, extending their education beyond paper architecture.

Our Stewart Perry headquarters have always reminded me of Sam Mockbee’s work and about half way through the building process I found out why. I learned that Tommy Goodman, who designed our place and is now a professor or architecture at Mississippi State University, was Sambo’s business partner. The influence of the Rural Studio is woven all through our campus. We removed coal tailings from the lake and used them to repave parking area for a neighborhood church. Our hardwood floors are refurbished from a tobacco plant in Virginia. I feel our folks are always thinking of ways they can lower our environmental impact.

Are there opportunities to do similar things around your office, home or construction site?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

Ireland7_acornsEvery once in a while someone comes along in my life so inspiring and benevolent that it makes me ask the great introspective questions about who I am and what the real purposes of life are. The person motivates me to be a better individual, and when faced with a dilemma, I ask myself, “what would he do?”

This spring we lost one of the great sportsmen in the country, Mr. William R. Ireland, a long time friend and neighbor, at the age of 85. Born in Birmingham, he attended Auburn University and fought in World War II as a Navy man before returning home to work at Vulcan Materials, the family company, for 30 years.

He was president of the Alabama Wildlife Federation, and helped create and pass the Alabama Forever Wild constitutional amendment, legislature that set up a state-funded program to buy and set aside land for wildlife protection. He also supported Ducks Unlimited, the American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts of America, the Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, the Nature Conservancy, Freshwater Land Trust, and the Big Brothers of Greater Birmingham.

In his later years he founded a 5,000-acre hunting preserve in Alexander City, AL called Five Star Plantation,Ireland_acorns a site that is frequently visited by the Boy Scouts and other local youth organizations. He was a true friend of mine and he will be severely missed. My son and I had the pleasure of joining Mr. Ireland in the inaugural duck hunt on the William R. Ireland Wildlife Preserve on the banks of Tennessee River in Scottsboro, AL in 1997. His dedication to community service, philanthropy and nature continue to serve as inspiration for me.

I’m forever searching for the ways to live up to the example Mr. Ireland gave me, hoping I might open a door for others to join me in continuing his work. What can you do to inspire someone?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

Blog-#6---Quilt-by-Bettye-Kimbrell2While traveling to project sites, I like to take the side roads “the roads less traveled” instead of the interstate, so I can get a better feel for the communities we are impacting. Along the way, I have come to know and support many local craftsmen and artists. Their unique pieces give me a chance to talk about where we have worked, who we have met and what we stand for.

It seemed natural to integrate those treasures into our new corporate campus. Inside, there is a prominent alcove that sat empty for a long time because we could not find just the right piece of art to occupy the space. We thought a quilt might work, so we engaged the Birmingham Museum of Art, which has one of the largest collections of quilts in the U.S. The quilt needed to look nice, and speak to both the homegrown nature of our business and the environmentally friendly overtones of the new office. The quilt that is presently hanging was sewn by Mrs. Bettye Kimbrell who was a 2008 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.

We have two of Ms. Kimbrell’s quilts and another quilt from Mozell Benson who was also an NEA fellow as well, and the recipient of a home from the Rural Studio art/architecture program at Auburn University.

Our goal is to have 5-6 quilts in the collection and rotate them periodically. The quilts better the lives of the people in the building and also help support the our artists.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.</h6