Precision and detail help us see the end game: Business comment

As we reach the end of 2020, I have taken time to reflect on the extraordinary experience we have all had to cope with in our lives.

Leo Shand is involved in the structural engineering to achieve the design intention for the Virgin Hotel in Edinburgh.
Leo Shand is involved in the structural engineering to achieve the design intention for the Virgin Hotel in Edinburgh.

It has been difficult in so many ways, but the discovery of a vaccine now gives us something positive to focus on for 2021. The comfort people are beginning to feel about an end to Covid-19 made me realise why I like being involved in creating buildings and structures. I like projects to have an end point and can do that by visualising a building complete.

My work at Will Rudd gives me the opportunity to see a model become a reality. As a structural technician specialising in building information modelling (BIM), the exactness and level of detail in a model allows me to navigate the route there, even if there are unforeseen challenges along the way. Our tagline is “realise what’s possible!” and creating a model can help do that, as it helps people visualise and appreciate a project as it takes shape on the ground.

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I am currently involved in the structural engineering to achieve the design intention for the Virgin Hotel in Edinburgh. This flagship project involves the redevelopment of three existing listed buildings and a new build to create a luxury hotel with 225 bedrooms. The project will transform the India Buildings on Victoria Street and create a modern building to enhance the streetscape of Cowgate in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

The design principle for the hotel is to blend the old and new and be true to Edinburgh’s historic heritage. I started a BIM modelling procedure at the site to design appropriate foundations and create a new service basement area. As surveying began underground, we realised we had discovered something unexpected. Archaeologists confirmed it was a Bronze Age site. The building we wanted to create had to take second place, and our role now included developing innovative solutions to allow archaeologists a safe space to work and minimise the risk of damage to artefacts during excavation.

Building works were halted but work could continue offsite on the model. Another challenging aspect of the design for this project is the geography of the site. Survey data was used to map out the varying levels and the slope. The 3D model of the design gave the design team the tool they needed to visualise the building and overcome the difficulties created by the different levels and access points.

One of the key features of the hotel’s design is the multiple pitches of the roofs of the buildings using steel frames. This style is sympathetic and reminiscent of the original skyline of the Edinburgh Old Town. The model allows everyone to see how the design will work alongside the original buildings and architecture.

Multi-level walkways are required to link and unify the hotel building and this is one of the striking elements of the project. A 3D representation allows for a full spatial coordination and understanding to aid the creative process. It also allows for integrated structural analysis and design to produce better outcomes.

A 3D model is essential in a project of the complexity of the new Virgin Hotel to understand and accurately survey the building geometry. It also allows a high level of detail in the construction design to allow fabricators to create the frameworks and determine the precise accuracy of the prefabricated elements.

The design team on this project is in constant contact to make sure all elements of the design are fit for purpose and structurally sound. The model provides the visual focus and allows the architects and other designers to identify issues before the construction phase. The 3D modelling interface allows for ‘clash’ detection at an early stage and this helps to minimise errors, reduce risk, and improve construction planning and design.

So, as we arrive at 2021, I look forward to admiring the incredible buildings and structures that determine the look and feel of our streets, cities and rural landscape. It reminds me of the collaboration and teamwork involved in their construction. I will relish the next opportunity to create a 3D model for my next project. And I hope the precision and detail of the model we created will allow us to get to the end game and I hope I will be able to enjoy a visit to the new flagship Virgin hotel.

- Leo Shand is senior BIM coordinator, Will Rudd (Glasgow)

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