Bold Design vs. Field Constructability: Closing the Gap

Case Study: Nashville Hotel Renovation

image of hand drawn design sketchA boldly designed space helps to differentiate a brand from its competition, but some of these designs can unknowingly create installation issues, because gaps may exist in drawing specifications or perhaps the feature hasn’t been thoroughly planned. When that bold design reaches the construction stage, innumerable practical challenges can threaten the schedule and budget. A good contractor will use creative thinking to solve constructability issues when there are gaps between design and construction.

Constructability challenges can arise when project designs call for custom-made materials or special fixtures. Custom-made materials are more expensive to manufacture and install; thus, if they are damaged during installation, the process of replacement could not only be costly due to replacement material lead-time but also financially costly.

Unique Problem Solving

Winter personnel installing light fixtures

Winter’s custom-made platform for installing fixtures in the hotel atrium.

In one of Winter’s recent hospitality project renovations, plans included the installation of a chandelier to fill the immense open space of a 200-foot-high lobby atrium. The lighting design called for custom-made pendant glass globes that were roughly 20 times the size of an ordinary light bulb and that were to be suspended from long wires attached to the framed skylight, reaching down to the second-floor terrace level.

skylight support system

Skylight roof support system, designed and installed by Winter.

The existing site conditions of the roof and balcony structures made accomplishing this delicate installation challenging, but Winter’s field team devised a custom-made, motorized platform to gain access to the upper atrium space, since traditional scaffolding and other methods were not feasible. The motorized platform enabled the installation crew to safely reach every point in the atrium with a stable floor that protected the delicate glass globes as

they were put into place. The motorized platform itself required a crane drop materials on the roof in order to build a proper support structure through the skylight, where the suspension cables were attached for the motorized platform. Additionally, the platform had to be carefully designed to protect the safety of the crew as well as the hotel’s staff and guests.

Harmonious Form and Function

Staircase and safety wall in progress.

Feature safety wall installation and grand staircase renovation underway in the occupied hotel.

Another feature in this project included the reconstruction of a grand staircase with a walnut veneer. The former staircase design included an enclosure at the staircase’s base that housed extensive fire suppression equipment, but the new staircase design eliminated that base
enclosure to achieve a sleeker look. In order to preserve that location for the fire suppression system, Winter’s field team worked collaboratively with the trades; coordinating the fire sprinkler subcontractor, carpenters, and electrical subcontractor to route the fire suppression pipe through the new staircase’s steel and wood framing. In the end, the team was able to maintain the integrity of the original grand staircase design, while retaining its needed safety function.

Rendering to Reality

SketchUp 3D model and final product

SketchUp model in comparison with the finished product.

An additional constructability issue in the project was the redesign of the landing area of the hotel’s 1970s-era elevator system, which consisted of exposed glass elevator pods. When the existing elevators landed in the lobby, they presented a potential hazard to pedestrians. To remedy this, the project’s interior designers designed a 3D topographical wall that would not only separate pedestrians from the elevator landing area, but would also aesthetically modernize the look and feel of the lobby. The interior designers provided Winter with only a rendering of the proposed safety wall, composed of large, three-dimensional, geometric plaster pieces, that transformed it from a functional safety feature to a stunning and iconic modern sculpture.

During preconstruction, Winter collaborated with the designer, plaster manufacturer and drywall subcontractor using SketchUp, a 3D design software, to recommend appropriate materials, determine fit and installation sequencing, and build a schematic. Winter built mock-ups of the wall to scale, made additional aesthetic finish recommendations, and provided precise specifications to the manufacturer, leading to a quick, cost-effective and successful installation.

Working Around Site Conditions

Site conditions are another factor that can impose constructability challenges for bold designs. In a hotel renovation in which the designer called for tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring, including in some heavily trafficked areas, the specification stated site-finished hardwood in walnut. However, Winter’s project team found that the existing flooring was thinner than the new material, and installing the specified thicker flooring would create trip-hazards at room and elevator transitions.

Renovated hotel atrium

The renovated atrium with new light fixtures and safety wall, successfully completed due to Winter’s creativity and planning.

Before offering a solution, Winter conducted extensive research of commercial-grade flooring products. The project team ultimately recommended a thinner, pre-engineered, commercial-grade product that provided the client with a commercial warranty. Once approved and installed, it was clear that the team’s effort had preserved the walnut aesthetic while also offering a solution that harmonized with existing conditions and offered greater durability.

Good Experience and Creative Determination

The use of technology in construction has greatly reduced many field challenges, but it’s not possible to foresee and solve every field obstacle encountered in bringing a unique design to fruition. Good contractors have creative, willing field teams that can rapidly problem-solve to achieve the Architect’s and Owner’s vision. It pays to have that kind of contractor on board early in preconstruction and design stages to avoid delays and scope creep during construction. Proven experience and creative determination are required to realize bold designs in renovation and construction work.

2017-06-28T18:33:02+00:00 By |Hospitality, Renovation|

About the Author:

Tom Nichols
Tom Nichols is the President of Winter Construction and oversees the entire commercial construction group. In this capacity, he is always looking for innovative approaches to better serve Winter Construction’s clients.