BIM Server Bridges Time Zones for Global Team’s Goal: Preserving the Mithoff Hotel

A historic hotel becomes the focal point for a revolutionary approach to global design.

The Mithoff Hotel, Post Civil War. Image from

Originally built in 1820 as a two-story brick building, what’s now known as the Mithoff Hotel was first called the Swan Hotel. In 1866, Theodore Mithoff, a local banker and entrepreneur,  purchased the hotel and undertook significant renovations, including the addition of a third story. With retail space on the ground floor and the hotel and a restaurant upstairs, the hotel – located in the heart of Lancaster, Ohio soon became an important part of the downtown business and social scene. In fact, throughout the next hundred plus years, the Mithoff Hotel is clearly visible on most postcards featuring that section of the city.

In spite of the building’s rich history, there’s been talk recently of tearing it down to make way for a new city building lot. Were this to happen, the Mithoff Hotel would be relegated to memories of older generations and restricted to the faded postcards of its façade.

Local architect, Michael Scarmack heard about the demolition plan and an idea began to form.

Inspired by a community movement to save the hotel and the 2030 Challenge, Scarmack initiated a unique project. He began gathering a group of individuals in the architecture field – across three time zones – for the purpose of employing ArchiCAD’s BIM Server™ technology on a hypothetical project – renovating the Mithoff Hotel. He offered the virtual assignment through industry forums and social networking – inviting professionals to participate in this voluntary endeavor. The idea was to work the project at will, for a minimum length of an hour per week, preferably during one’s down time. Scarmack quickly fulfilled his self-imposed requirement to compose his team of collaborators from at least two thirds of world’s existing time zones. And so, the work began.

Though experimental in nature, the project demonstrates how local landmarks, indeed even architecture as a profession must evolve to remain relevant and how ArchiCAD and Graphisoft BIM Server technology support that evolution.

Why did you start this project?

Scarmack:  I was initially motivated by seeking out new project opportunities outside of my regional area.  Some segments of our industry are very busy, others not so much. I knew about the Mithoff’s possible demolition fate and thought that with the BIM server, we had an opportunity to test out the feasibility of creating a global renovation project that would generate schematic documents that could potentially be used in reality. You could say I was prompted by a combo “see if it could be done” and “prove that it could be done” mentality. I am equipped with state of the art collaboration software that was not being used to the fullest at the time. My original email inquiry was indeed a solemn request for help, a special petition that goes along with work, an effort to make something happen.

The request was essentially to use the BIM Server  to collect, collaborate and design with ArchiCAD users around the globe, successfully.

To break down the three main goals:

  • Different time zones allow for 24 hour project team access
  • To meet the guidelines set forth in the 2030 challenge.  (The Mithoff renovation would achieve lower than 60% of the fossil fuel, GHG-emitting, energy consumption performance standard of the average building for the region or country.)
  • Explore how 24 hour collaboration via the internet would allow for firms to increase productivity and profitability that successful architects are adapting through the exchange of human resources

ArchiCAD firms participating in the project were earmarked to become the first choice of building owners and developers utilizing this accelerated, accurate, ecologically minded, project approach.

What was the first task in getting this project going?

The first step was setting up the user database, filling in statistics, and recording everyone’s time zones. All participants committed to spending at least one hour a week in the model.

I set a goal to create a team of 40 people. The project attracted a high percentage of students with an “edu” version of ArchiCAD. We set up ways to accommodate their desire to work on the project with limited tasks; thereby contributing to and learning from the project as it evolved.

We gave the project a name Virtual Visible Views “V V V” and announced it on Graphisoft’s LinkedIn group back in March.

When did the project officially begin?

The official start date was April 19th 2011. We did some minor housekeeping and administrative tasks to set up the BIM Server  as the design and communication hub for the model.

We know what type of building was chosen, was that purposeful?

The Mithoff Hotel has been vacant for years and the city is considering demolishing it. I thought what a better way to propose meeting the Architecture 2030 challenge than to help the local community save this building. With this BIM server project, we’re addressing renovation on a global scale. How else do our peers propose to meet the 2030 challenge? I wanted to help convince people that conservation of resources is possible, and as the “Mother Earth Statuary” in the inner Garden Court of the building suggests, most necessary. To accomplish this we set down minimal guidelines to update it, while keeping the historic facades intact – definitely a viable alternative to demolition. It absolutely makes common sense to take steps like these to reduce our carbon footprint.

What were some of the changes made to the structure?

We set up a program of requirements first. We planned a 2 story underground parking garage, updated the street level commercial outlets, designed an office complex on the second floor and revised the old hotel rooms into residential areas on the top three floors. We added a roof garden as well, to keep in line with the net zero energy goal. The structure is seven stories total. I really believe the model is fantastic, considering that it was pretty much self-directed. I sometimes still am blown away by the amazing collaborative effort.

What was it like to manage such a large and diverse project team?

Attentive oversight was mission critical, to maintain the model’s integrity and guard against unplanned manipulations of the BIM. One lesson learned from our experiment is unwanted manipulations can occur within the model if vigilant oversight is omitted. Blanket changes to the model need to be performed with care. This was simple as the software (ArchiCAD) provides for matrix of user responsibilities allows the lead architect to assign tasks, layers, stories, elements, schedules and the like to be edited within the BIM.  The allows for the customizable management of user access to prevent from unwanted manipulations.

Please understand this experiment was a research procedure to determine if this type of project workflow was at all possible, and if so, was it potentially profitable. In this workflow, participants would be able to interact on the project without the need for in-person meetings or speaking over the phone, which – as you know – can prove difficult across time zones and language barriers. Most of the communication was done right inside the ArchiCAD model. All in all this experimental process was successful for this phase of the project.

So there’s a real possibility of the project going live. Any idea of budget requirements? What does this mean for the future of projects like this?

We hope to take this all the way to the city leaders and present it so they’d be willing to seek a developer that could take on the project. In this area of the United States, in a cultural context, if we continue to demolish buildings without a long term plan of protected cultural heritage, one day in the not so distant future we will look around and ask, ‘Where are all the 19th century buildings’? I already find myself looking around now and asking, ‘How far must I travel to see an 18th century building, or even one dating back to the 17th century?’

I answer your question with some questions.

  • Will strategic options, economic alternatives, cultural choices, and a Plan B (or in our case Project V V V) be allowed as a different solution available to the current stakeholders – the local, regional and future community?
    • Will Lancaster take a different direction for this early 19th century hotel located in the middle of downtown Lancaster, OH, USA, on Main Street? This building’s heritage could see its two hundredth birthday if current sentiments are expanded to allow for facade element restoration to remain and partake in the historical dialog of the centuries.

Our Project V V V active participants and network of consultants offer to the community a complete schematic set of drawings to act as talking points about the potentials for conservation and preservation for the Mithoff Hotel.

Costs for the project may range from 4 million to 12 million USD; depending of course on how much of the project is realized. A round number for a budget would 8 million – if you’re thinking in pretty standard terms. Sustaining architecture is crucial to any project, of any size or scale built today. It is certainly more than first costs and fourth quarter profitability, though equally important, each design decision requires scrutiny. Because we know how to accomplish this performance criteria and because we are enabled with the software, hardware, and firmware, we must.

Can you comment on this Graphisoft BIM Server™ workflow?

The future for the architecture industry is collaboration and interoperability. I definitely want to see this project spawn thousands like it. We can do work like across 18 time zones. We’ve proven that teamwork made possible via the BIM Server™  can help us be very efficient.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, considering that we accomplished a fairly substantial amount of work in a limited amount of time – roughly 150 hours over 8 weeks – all on a volunteer basis.  We were able to access a rich diversity of participants, with multiple skill levels, different nationalities, and different sized firms. While there were a good number of participants in the US, across four time zones. I learned about different countries I have to admit, I didn’t even know existed.

This type of multi-national project collaboration excels in Graphisoft’s BIM Server™ state of the art process, and has superior capabilities, I can attest. I am unaware of any other software that will allow us to work together the way Graphisoft’s BIM Server™ allows us to work and interplay. I love that this tool is available – it provides a way for the design professional to reinvent oneself, be it as a sole proprietor or even a business. In this economy, that can create opportunities that did exist before. Case in point, I can now put myself out there with a proven track record of being a project manager of a global initiative.

Can you comment on the business opportunity the Graphisoft BIM Server™ presents to anyone who may be using this technology?

A business ought to consider adopting a plan with the BIM Server™ central to its operations. We are eager to put the BIM Server™ into place as soon as opportune commissions materialize. All legal concerns, currency exchange rates, and Architect of Record issues are not diminished, yet a significant paradigm is upon us, and it is good for Architecture, firms, and people all around the globe.

There is a better way to design and collaborate. The earliest railway was known as a wagon way, now some travelers are on rails traveling at high speeds in bullet trains. Twelve seconds of flight in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, NC, USA led the way to 135 space shuttle flights. The BIM Server™ will finally bring the building design community into the 21st century and I am onboard for this ride.



The experimental Mithoff Hotel project represents a desire to bring back or preserve what may be lost. Instead of tearing down and starting over, doing away with historic buildings, architects can extend their life. Project V V V employed Graphisoft BIM Server™ technology to successfully span 18 time zones, efficiently process some 150 hours of work renovating a potential $8 million project, while promoting sustainability and focusing on reinvention and preservation  of a local landmark.

Images courtesy of Save the Mithoff Hotel, at



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