Sometimes, working in construction can feel like you’re on a crowded dance floor—when too many people move in different directions, it’s challenging to stay in sync. This is why technology can be such a value add for construction teams. Tools that keep everyone aligned allow people—and projects—to move and flow smoothly.
Christian Waldo is highly adept at using technology to ensure stakeholders stay in sync. As the VDC Manager at Lydig Construction, Christian has worked on numerous complex jobs and effectively leveraged digital solutions to excite folks about projects and enable teams to execute efficiently.
We had a great conversation with Christian recently about how he got involved in VDC, his proudest accomplishment, and where he sees the role of VDC Manager going.
Let’s dive in.
Tell me a little bit about Lydig Construction and what you specialize in.
Lydig Construction is a general contractor in Washington State. Originally from Spokane, where they made a name for themselves as a General Contractor, and Concrete Subcontractor, they now have major offices in Bellevue and the Tri-Cities.
Lydig is one of the very few premier local Washington state builders, who complete construction projects throughout the entire state. We also build in Arizona and California, but most of our projects are focused in the Northwest.
They definitely specialize in community-driven projects. Often, when you’re going through job interviews or talking to other entities, they sell themselves as “community builders.” But I do genuinely feel that Lydig really means it.
We build a ton of K through 12 higher education and local government projects. That’s been the bulk of our work over the last few years.
Then we have a large focus and a special relationship with historical renovation and restorations, especially on the Seattle side, as we start running out of space to build new projects.
And on the community side, we’re working on the Rainier Beach High School project—the largest K through 12 that Washington state has ever built.
A big part of it is doing community outreach and engagement, especially with students. We also did this apprenticeship program with the high school students and presented it as, “Hey, there’s a lot of really viable paths into a good career in the construction world without college.” And it’s pretty cool because even some of those kids now who were seniors in high school when we first started in precon are now actually working for us.
Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming VDC Manager.
I went to school for architecture and then flipped it to architectural engineering. While in school, during my junior and senior years, I worked for a small engineering firm back in my hometown, originally from Omaha, Nebraska. And I was basically doing AutoCAD work for them.
I’d done some very light Revit work in my high school CAD classes because that was when Revit 1.0 came out. I tried to push them towards Revit and BIM as a whole. I was a little nervous about it, but they were very supportive.
I was initially put in charge of taking all of their standard 2D models, and their library of details, and turning them into 3D details. So it was like 250 standard CAD details that I spent the better part of two months turning into a 3D library. Then I sold them on, “Hey, you can just drag and drop these details anywhere now in your Revit drawings, and it’s a lot easier than the CAD blocks.”
Through that process, I found that I really enjoyed it, and I had a passion for making things a little bit easier and more accessible to more people using that stuff.
Then fast forward to moving out to the Seattle area. I worked for a private developer in downtown Bellevue as their BIM engineer, and I was the only BIM guy. So it was a crazy amount of work to do.
I only lasted there about two and a half years, but I would say I garnered six, or seven years of experience within that time frame.
After doing that, I decided to see what else was out there. I stumbled upon Lydig because they were so close to my offices. And then, throughout the process of getting to know the people who work there and what they work on, it ended up being honestly the perfect fit and the rest is history.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at Lydig Construction? Why?
If I had to narrow it down to a particular thing, it would be our Lodge at St. Edwards job.
It’s a historical restoration of a 100-year-old monastery, which sat abandoned for the better part of 40 years. Then it was bought up by a private developer and had plans to turn into a boutique hotel, but it sits on one of Washington’s state parks. So not only does it have incredible historical significance, but it’s also on public land.
And on top of that, the architects they hired wanted to hit those historical credits you can receive if you preserve as much as you possibly can.
Long story short, we were able to save all of the historical renovation credits to the architect by creating the models and then using them for clash coordination and building coordination throughout the two-and-a-half years we were up there.
So if I had to narrow it down to a project, it would be that one because of what it meant to Washington, the park system, and the people who worked on it.
And the even more honest answer is I liked getting everyone here at Lydig excited and bought into the prospect of introducing new technology to jobs that we start up.
I think everybody here was already bought into the whole BIM process in the VDC world, but it wasn’t until I got here and started showing them the more intricate ways you can use it that they really bought in.
As construction evolves, how do you see the role of the VDC Manager changing?
The biggest shift that’s happening in the construction industry as a whole is a shift towards progressive design-build or integrated project delivery contracts. There are a lot of owners out there who are starting to see the value of having a general contractor on their building design team much earlier in the process than the typical one.
Typically, there’d be a very distinct separation between the BIM responsibilities for the architects and the VDC responsibilities for the general contractor. As those teams are formed and working together so much earlier, there’s a focus on the VDC department being able to do much more for their clients in the pre-construction phase.
So definitely, the role of the VDC manager will become much broader. You’re going to have to be able to continue to grow and evolve and be good at the core tools, but then be a bit of a jack of all because the requests and the integrations that we’re getting are so much more varied than they were even five years ago.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?
The biggest challenge we face in the built world is ensuring everyone’s on the same page. Even on a relatively small job, I think people underestimate how many different entities have to work together to achieve the outcome of a finished product.
It’s incredibly difficult to ensure everyone has the most up-to-date and reliable information. So having everything centralized in the cloud is a technology benefit that speaks for itself.
It’s the BIM and VDC manager’s job to point out to everyone in the industry that the models are the source of truth. Almost all questions can be answered in the model. That’s because you’re all working off that most up-to-date information versus having 50 different versions or hundreds of PDFs floating around.
What is your favorite feature in Autodesk Build?
The simple and obvious one is being able to put that model in front of more people. The fact that I can either bridge it over with our clients’ hubs or put it on our own hub—and make it available company-wide—is pretty spectacular.
I also appreciate the Issues functionality. It allows everyone—whether it’s someone doing carpentry or a company executive— to be unified on one Issues platform.
It’s great that a superintendent can find something wrong in the field and then just pull out their phone to take a photo and create a new issue. Then depending on who they assign it to, it can go straight to my desk as something I need to resolve in the model quickly.
In addition, we’ve used Issues for clash resolution, punch list items, quality control… everything.
What made you want to partner with Autodesk on your projects?
Any BIM and VDC manager has lived in the Autodesk world for so long. But what really sold it was that we wanted to live in that same ecosystem as our clients.
Then there’s the fact that the functionality continues to expand. It would be pretty easy for Autodesk to rest on their laurels, but I genuinely feel that when I get the newsletters about new or upcoming functionality, there’s some real time spent thinking about them.
I think those two things coupled together made it a no-brainer.
When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at Lydig Construction?
First, it’s about always looking five years down the road and trying to predict the next “it” technology. Once it becomes popular enough that clients, owners, and architects are requesting it in their RFPs and contracts, you don’t want to be the firm learning how to do it for the first time on that job. You want to be the one leading the way.
That’s what we try to do. It’s what has paid huge dividends for us in the reality capture world. That was considered space age technology not that many years ago, but we invested in it about eight years ago and became good at it and quick at it, and now it’s something we are known for
The second part is getting what I’m working on into the hands of more people on the individual projects. When more people know how to use this stuff and use it well… it’s only going to benefit the jobs, the product, and honestly the people who work for us.
What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry?
Don’t be afraid of a career change. I think if something doesn’t seem right with your initial choice, there’s nothing wrong with saying that you can make that choice because we all kind of live in that same built environment world, and there’s always going to be that welcoming of people from the same world with open arms. Don’t be afraid of that.
Also, learn how things are built before focusing on any single piece of technology. Don’t go out there and set yourself out to be the Revit or Navisworks master. Recognize that learning how things are built is so much more important than that. You need to know that and then build your skills.
This ties into the career change bit. We have people who work in the office now who started as apprentice carpenters, and they were just out on jobs, physically seeing how jobs were built, and then came in and just crushed it in the office because they knew what we were looking for.