The team at Trout Design Studio, a full- service Architectural and Interior Design firm and long-time ArchiCAD user, is successfully expanding the firm’s scope of work from high-end, single family residential projects to include condominiums and apartment buildings. As part of that expansion; Trout Design took on a renovation project with the Potomac Construction Group and Valor Development at the former Italian Embassy. Together, they’re transforming a historic landmark on 16th and Fuller St. NW in Washington DC into a luxury condominium project – called “Il Palazzo”.
The design creates a 110-115 condominium unit building with 75-100 parking spaces. There will be a semi-private outdoor pool and a residential tower on the corner of Mozart and Fuller that blends into its surrounding context. Trout Design has been working with the developer to preserve the exterior of the Italian Embassy as well as some of the more magnificent spaces inside: the grand foyer, monumental staircase, the ballroom, and the library.
Until today, the building had gone through many failed attempts at being developed. According to Trout Design owner Michael Beidler, they have managed to move more easily through the administrative process that goes along with working on a historical landmark and bring the project further than any of the three previous firms assigned.
I had a chance to speak with Trout Design owner, Michael Beidler and BIM manager on the project, Rob Robert, recently and find out what is the secret of their success on this project.
Given the historic nature of the Italian Embassy building; and the fact that the project had changed hands several times, what special considerations had to be made when designing the renovation?
Beidler: My colleague Rob Robert deserves a pat on the back for his role as problem solver on this project – I have to say that up front. Rob made it look easy every time he found a way to make things work and protect the client’s interest. He worked with Graphisoft closely and even found a way to make ArchiCAD and Revit work together.
You’re saying the project had Revit elements?
Beidler: The owner hired a Boston firm to create detailed drawings of the existing historic resource for us to as a basis for our work, with details that would have had to been entered manually. Because we received the existing resource from the owner’s sub-contractors, in a different file format, native to the Revit software, when we brought it in through the IFC exchange in ArchiCAD we were presented with an initial obstacle in that the parts and pieces of the existing building were created by the Revit software and some of them had a difficult time translating over, they were too detailed. That caused the file to have a hard time loading at the beginning.
Robert: We opted to remove about half a dozen or so pieces out of the initial file which allowed us to view the original, existing resource a lot better. We then took the pieces that got removed and re-created them in ArchiCAD – then the building started behaving correctly. The geometry of the objects was creating conflicts with the software. The sub had a technology where they scanned the element in three dimensions, which would slow us down going from one to another.
For example, when the ballestrate was drawn, a railing and vertical objects, the object’s detail components were in the 90 range. The consultant drew one and copied it 50 times. That made the file too large. So we needed to identify those objects and turn them off or remove them out of the library of parts.
How did Graphisoft assist during that process?
Robert: Technical support, hands down. Graphisoft’s technical assistance was light years ahead of our knowledge and what I used to use. I worked in autoCAD for 20 years before. When I made the switch, I found tremendous technical support. They were extremely helpful in the aforementioned IFC interchange issue. They either knew the answer immediately – or in situations when they couldn’t answer a problem immediately, they got in touch with us as soon as possible. We made back our investment on the software right there.
Beidler: Our responsibility to our clients is to solve their problems. Every project involves problem solving at some level – but our clients want us to make them money while we do that. We’ve come to rely on ArchiCAD to help us be successful doing that – it makes our relationship with ArchiCAD that much more beneficial. You make us look good.
What other advantages does working with BIM software by ArchiCAD provide to your firm?
Beidler: The fact that the entire database could be produced in 3D – the 3D modeling aspect of working with the BIM software in ArchiCAD 14 is a huge advantage. The BIM server allows a user, any user we authorize to tap into the database from anywhere in the world where there is an internet connection. That’s a huge help. Being able to access the drawings from anywhere facilitates our ability to network on projects. Currently, a drafting consultant of ours is located in Bogotá, Colombia. In spite of the distance, they are working simultaneously with us. We have them drafting and doing production with us in real time.
Robert: We have a much more efficient process now, compared to the old way of doing it – where a designer sets up floor plan, puts it on one file, emails it to a consultant. They may discuss the project over the phone and there’s a back and forth that must happen. The BIM server technology built in to the ArchiCAD software, allows us to designate the areas of the model to a specific person, assign their task, the consultant makes sure he’s tapped into the database through a log in, password and secure connection and he just updates his information a little bit at a time. It is a much more streamlined process since the person only gets to access the pieces that get revised and they’re always seeing the current and most updated model.
Beidler: It helps us be very efficient – we can create a Skype link, have “face to face” virtual meetings… make changes right away, all within a secure workspace. The beauty is that other parts of the drawing are inaccessible without prior access being granted. Limited access to specific sections doesn’t expose the project unnecessarily, even if we’re working with 8 different people at a time. And the obvious benefit is the telecommuting possibilities that allow our firm to be cognizant of family demands and schedules.
Given the historic nature of the building, did special considerations have to be made when designing the renovation? How did ArchiCAD BIM software assist, if so?
Robert: When a building is granted landmark status, the general public becomes part of the approval process for the renovation – but most can’t read architectural drawings. So where we used to make 3D models with construction paper cardboard – we now can model the plans virtually through BIM. In terms of presenting a holistic view of the project, BIM software by ArchiCAD blow away anything a cardboard model provides.
Beidler: That’s right. For example, let’s say a resident of the neighborhood wants to know what the building will look like from her apartment kitchen window, we can virtually “go inside” the apartment and view the new design- showing it from her perspective and help her really understand what it will look like. That’s why I believe we’ve succeeded where three other firms have tried and failed in getting the community’s support and moving through the administrative process – and in record time.
We presented our 3D model to the historic preservation review board, zoning commission, ANC council and other community groups who had vested interests in the project. They came away with a good understanding of the project. That part of project approval can sometimes takes upwards of a year. The financial savings that provided our client in the reduction of carry time, we consider significant.
Anything else you’d care to add?
Robert: I’ve never understood why architects would design interior and exterior space – with two-dimensional software. I found ArchiCAD – and using it came naturally to me – like breathing. ArchiCAD allows me to create a building that interacts with the outside and the inside and it works the way we think. Another nice by-product is the fact that the software has a built in database, when things are changed – everything is adjusted accordingly. Everything moves in line with what has been done. The interconnection and error prevention, works well, providing me with more time to focus on design. Allowing us to present it visually, including the way we organize data within the software to put project elements into “existing”, “demolition” and “new” – has had many advantages – and we’re looking forward to upgrading to ArchiCAD 15.
Beidler: About 15 years ago, I was in a partnership with an interior design firm. I learned that in Finland they were using ArchiCAD to build 3D models of their cruise ships, they could spin them around and show connection joints between modules and study the stresses on the ship. When I started this firm, 12 years ago, I was faced with the decision of which software to use, and I’ll admit it was the more expensive option. I’m glad to say it turned out to be a great investment. We were one of the first architectural design companies signed on in the United States.