Designing the Virtual Hotel

When the Boeing 777 took its first test flight in 1994, it not only marked a revolutionary change in the course of aircraft design, but it also presaged the future of building design. The first commercial aircraft to be designed and prototyped entirely on computer, this wide-body jet was designed using a 3-D information modeling system. The system allowed engineers to design, test and refine a virtual 777 digitally without manufacturing costly physical prototypes. Just one year after its historic test flight, United Airlines launched the 777 into commercial service.

The same concept is being implemented for building design and delivery. Known as building information modeling (BIM) this approach is the leading edge in computer-aided building design, and it is laying a new foundation for informed decision-making among hotel owners and developers. When their architects use building information modeling, owners and developers can visualize their facility fully, inside and out, down to the last detail. Working with architects, they can make design changes quickly, and analyze the cost and other implications of these decisions. They can use the system to streamline approvals by review agencies. Construction can be phased more efficiently and change orders minimized. At the same time, building information modeling establishes a digital platform for facility management upon completion of the project.

All of this is possible because building information modeling is a database-driven design and documentation system. As such, building information modeling allows architects to create a digital model of a building with all of its associated properties. Because all of the information is part of the database, the system can calculate areas, volumes, material quantities and cost estimates automatically. Moreover, the effects of any change to the building are coordinated and reflected throughout the building automatically. Finally, the output can be in any form, including a floor layout, photo-real perspective view, quantity take-off schedule, 3-D model — even a simulated video “walkthrough” of the building. In essence, the facility can be “built,” tested and revised digitally, all before a single piece of steel or concrete is erected.

Though this approach was used to develop the Boeing 777 over a decade ago, only recently has it been possible in the building delivery industry. Within the last few years, the rapid development and adoption of the Autodesk Revit platform for building information modeling has brought advanced building information modeling capabilities to the building design and delivery field.

For example, The Stubbins Associates used Autodesk Revit Building, the architecture-flavored version of Revit, to design the Renaissance Waterfront Hotel in Boston, a new prototype in Marriott's Renaissance brand. The 390,000-gross-square-foot, 21-story full-service facility has 471 guestrooms and suites, two ballrooms, 5,100 square feet of meeting rooms, a full-service restaurant, a business center, health spa, pool and fitness center.

Building information modeling lends itself well to lodging design because of the compartmentalized nature of this building type. Repetitive elements, such as guest-rooms, can be assembled quickly in a building-block manner. And, because of the properties associated with the database, a change made to one guestroom replicates to all. Moreover, the system manages drawing coordination, reducing the chance of costly errors.

This is not to say that the system leads to a simplistic approach to design. Quite the contrary is true. Because the system reduces the time spent by designers on the mechanical aspects of the drawing process, such as coordinating changes between drawings, architects are able to devote a larger proportion of the design phase to developing, testing and refining unique design solutions. Brand prototypes can be adapted and refined readily to meet the requirements of a specific site or market. Unique design features, such as variety in guestroom appointments, can be managed easily using this tool as a facility-management system.


Owners, developers and review agencies alike can make better decisions faster and more easily when they can view the building and all its internal spaces in three dimensions. Designers and clients are free to examine material or color options or see the façade under lighting conditions at various times of the day or year. These requests are accommodated with a BIM tool like Revit Building.

For example, in the case of the Waterfront Hotel, a review agency was concerned about the treatment of a prominent façade, which largely comprised flat precast concrete panels. It was similar to an adjacent building, and they wished to see greater interest and articulation of this elevation. The project team came back quickly with an alternate design, which was then approved. The building information system allowed the elevations to be rapidly updated. More than that, though, the related floor plans and all other views updated automatically. Completed in a matter of hours, this task could have taken the project team days using a conventional drafting system.

The building information model also allows the design team to extract quantities, analyze associated costs and quantify the impact of design options and changes early in the design process. For example, a quick cost estimate early in the design phase could determine that a concrete structural system would be more efficient than a steel system for a particular design or that a glass curtain-wall system would be more efficient than brick. Using a conventional computer-aided drafting system, design teams are not able to quickly create quantity-based cost estimates, when it is still easy to modify the design.


With Revit and BIM costly drawing coordination errors are easily avoided as well. In one instance, the Renaissance Waterfront Hotel project team noted late in the design process that there was not sufficient space for air ducts above the fourth-floor ballrooms. This necessitated raising the fifth floor and all floors above by one foot without increasing the overall height of the 21-story building. This change affected all elevations, exit stair calculations and details — even the 3D views. With Revit building information modeling the elevations were easy to update, and the egress stairs were automatically recalculated and updated. Every associated view automatically updated, even the photo-real 3D views. A task that could have taken weeks was reduced to a few days with Revit building information modeling. This change was made just one week before construction documents went out to bid, something that would not be attempted with conventional CAD.

Similarly, using a building information modeling system minimizes costly change orders by automatically managing coordination of the construction documents. For example, on another Stubbins project using Revit Building, the contractor estimated non-owner-directed change orders at just 0.03 percent attributable to the accuracy of the drawings.


Within the next five years, use of building information modeling is likely to become the standard operating system in the architectural and engineering professions. And it is little wonder. Using a building information modeling system to design the “virtual hotel” offers clear advantages for owners, developers, architects and all other members of the building delivery team. Thanks to this emerging technology, owners and developers can “see,” test, and change — even experience a walkthrough — of their new property before the first ceremonial shovelful of soil is turned. Their architects can use the system to streamline the mechanical aspects of design documentation, freeing time for design refinement, and at the same time avoiding coordination errors, accommodating changes, streamlining the review process and improving construction documents. Ultimately, use of building information modeling can help owners and developers improve quality and compress their time to market in this fiercely competitive industry.

The Stubbins Associates, Cambridge, MA, offers architecture, interiors, planning and landscape design services. Go to Roy Pedersen, AIA, associate principal, serves as senior project manager. He can be reached at 617-491-6450. Jeff Millett, AIA is director of information technology and a registered architect. He can be reached at 617-491-6450.

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