Ivanka Iordanova connects academic research to real-world construction as Pomerleau’s BIM-VDC director

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GTA Construction Report Special Feature

Ivanka Iordanova immigrated to Canada 19 years ago from Bulgaria as an architect and a mother. Today she is Pomerleau’s Building Information Modeling – Virtual Design and Construction (BIM-VDC) director.

Iordanova says she had always had an interest in architecture. She was fascinated by her grandfather working on the construction of Bulgaria’s highest chimney (325m) on the largest energy complex in Eastern Europe.

In Canada, she returned to university to “connect to the context of the AEC architectural engineering construction (AEC) industry in my new country and to specialize in digital architecture.”

While studying and raising her children, she also worked full-time at a variety of positions including developing architecture and design software, teaching design studios and lecturing at the University of Montreal. There she defended her Ph.D. thesis and published more than 20 scholarly articles as a member of the university’s CAD Research Group (GRCAO). At this point she understood that the construction industry needed a technological change.

“In 2009 I became a researcher and lecturer at ETS (a university-level engineering school associated with the University of Quebec).” She says she got closer to the construction industry while working on integrated design, multidisciplinary collaboration and sustainable construction and as a member of GRIDD, an ETS research group. Pomerleau later established an industrial research chair there.

In her role today with Pomerleau, Iordanova leads a team of about 15 BIM-VDC specialists across the country. “I dare say that we are on the cutting edge of BIM-VDC in terms of versatility of use. We do not rely only on software as it comes out of the box, but we develop new features which we need for Pomerleau.” The ‘BIM team’ spreads this new collaborative and technological culture to everybody in the company.

She says her biggest challenge along the way has been transforming her rich academic experience into practical approaches that work in the field. “I think this might be an easier thing for men. For me, working on a busy site with all of the people and equipment, working with the soil and rough materials, was an adjustment.” She says though that in construction everybody needs to see and touch and feel to really understand what they are working with, to talk with people on job sites and to gain insights from hands-on experience.

She says she still has much to learn after four years with Pomerleau. “I am lucky though because there are great people here who are willing to share. Everyone I ask a question is very supportive and collaborative.”

Iordanova says she has not had many opportunities to work with or be mentored by women in her profession, and that often she is the only woman present in meetings or at conferences. “I would like to see more women in the field. They tend to bring different sensibilities and are often less competitive but more collaborative; more flexible and adaptive to changes.”

She says Pomerleau has been “wonderful about providing me the opportunities I need and is supportive of me, both in its willingness to be innovative, in helping me develop my practical skills and in promoting the technological change to every project and activity.”

Iordanova says she enjoys the construction industry’s challenges and her role in making a difference in bringing BIM to the forefront. She says the process can save clients an average of seven per cent in design and schedule optimization, better execution quality, and promotes a better working atmosphere on Pomerleau’s job sites.

She says there is still a lot to do in the AECO (Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Operation) industry in terms of technology adoption. “The use of data acquiring techniques, fluid data transfer throughout all phases of project, automatically guided machines, Lean Construction, IPD modes; use of the robots for construction…(the) sky is the limit.”

Iordanova maintains her ties to ETS as research co-ordinator for the Pomerleau Industrial Research Chair. She still instructs and works closely with students interested in BIM, VDC and Lean Construction.

In her teaching role, she says she is seeing architecture classes dominated by women but that on the engineering side, it is still very much a male-dominated field. Given the chance, she would recommend more women consider construction industry careers.

One of her favourite quotes comes from Lise Watier. “Girls and women, take place around the table, not on the benches behind.”

Her advice: “Be prepared, well informed and have logical arguments. Have confidence and dare to propose change. Be patient and understanding because some people take longer to adapt to change and even longer to adopt an idea from someone else.”

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