When Rodney Collins of EcoHouse Construction began work on a divided lot in Houston he was planning on a typical town house project. The design reflected a modern, edgy feel which created an architectural challenge right from the start.
“There were some really crazy angles involved. Drawing it on paper would have been impossible – it was way too complex,” explained Collins. “I know for certain there was no other way to make the project a success without having designed it in ArchiCAD.”
Unheard of for town houses at the time, the Enron-funded build was pushed to reach four floors. There was a desire to create a sculpture-like feel to the residence, keeping the dwellers comfortable and conveying a clean, modern feel. There were several shifts to the property lines. Floor plates had to change, which also affected staircases – so much so that there was a staff member assigned to tracking stairs and making sure all the landings were correct. Then the build began, concrete was poured and lumber was delivered. Little did Collins know that the challenges were just beginning, in fact they were far from over.
That’s because the day the lumber dropped was September 11, 2001. Everything stopped as the nation was frozen in panic, anger, uncertainty. The economic impact across the United States is well documented, so what happened next to the project was inevitable. Luxury town homes were no longer a priority for the Houston metro area. But still the team persisted. The top two floors were remodeled in an effort to make the townhomes more marketable in the post-911 economy. The engineer on the project was asked to work directly with an EcoHouse staff member on the computer model and on the 3D building model in real time with the architect.
“After we recovered from the shock, we shuffled things around to see if it was possible to continue. In the end we decided to go ahead and complete the project. Two stories were framed but the design wasn’t edgy enough to convince Enron executives as buyers. So we went in and re-designed the top two floors and the roof.”
By December, Enron had collapsed; filing the largest chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. history and funding on the project fell through. So the project’s future was again in question.
“When Enron crashed it, destroyed what was left of the luxury home market in Houston. We realized we couldn’t sell these as town homes, so now what do we do? Using ArchiCAD, we were able to redesign on the fly – provide job supervision in the field, at the site.”
And the team continued to test the ability of the software to adapt – allowing the building to warp and change as if it were a sculpture that somehow wanted to move. As the building was redesigned to convert the townhomes into “The Modern” a small hotel; Collins likened it to channeling a force that just had to be controlled in order to get where it needed to go. Literally – since property lines shifted during that change while the project was under construction.
“Think about it. What we’d really done was a virtual renovation. A re-design – but in this case we’d done it twice. When the property lines were moved, the software kept track of it, told us how the four floors and six unique staircases would be affected. No person could be held accountable for all that data – without BIM – you’d be guessing at what really was going on. Architects would normally shudder at the thought of that kind of change of occupancy and building type, especially during construction administration. However, the virtual model made that easy.”
Being situated in an area vulnerable to fierce weather, the building had to hold up to hurricane force winds. It also had to be constructed in a way that afternoon sun would not fry its occupants. Collins’ team changed the top two floors after testing sun settings and tracking, through ArchiCAD how the hot, humid, wet, Texas weather and strong sunshine impacted the building.
“We played with various angles of the dormers and permeability of the screen, using the element of ArchiCAD in the virtual model, to set latitude and longitude. By casting shadows and creating a sun study, we rendered a type of time-lapsed movie showing how the sun would shine on the building throughout the day. Those sun studies were crucial to creating a comfortable environment. The beauty was we were able to test it out and see what worked and what didn’t ahead of time.”
Despite the many obstacles the project faced, Collins knew he could rely on the GRAPHISOFT team and its software to achieve success. “I have to give credit to GRAPHISOFT for designing a software that could handle this project design – it isn’t obvious just looking at the photographs, but the rooms are pretty crazy, the roof is asymmetric. This was no simple project nor was it easily described to a contractor. Yet we were able to give dimensions and exact beam sections to the engineer, on the fly and keep building and not slow down even during construction.”