Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 2 (Feb 2002)

Housing Project

By Karen Moltenbrey

When Architectural Design West was charged with transforming a historic army facility into living space for students at the Un i ver sity of Utah, the project wasn't as simple as designing a campus housing complex. Rather, it entailed creating a complex housing design for students and, temporarily, for athletes competing in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

"We had a number of unique issues to consider," says Bob Guyt, director of public and commercial design at Architectural Design West. "The site itself was extremely large, and a great deal of thought was given to ensuring that the new architecture blended with the historic flavor of the surrounding area. Furthermore, the new structures had to be easily converted from student rooms into temporary quarters for the athletes, then back again once the Olympics were over."
Image courtesy Evans & Sutherland.

Those needs and concerns came from four major entities with significant stakes in the project: the state, which had a financial investment as host of the Olympics; the university, whose students would be permanently housed there; the US government, which still owned a large portion of the fort complex; and the Olympic committee responsible for meeting the specific housing guidelines for the athletes.
Using 3D design and visualization software, architects transformed a portion of the historical Fort Douglas military complex, which borders the University of Utah, into student dormitories. The dorms would then be temporarily reconfigured into additional

By using 3D design, animation, and visualization software, the architects were able to communicate the evolving designs for this enormous site effectively to all parties. The tools also helped the team manage the project efficiently throughout the entire design process, which spanned nearly four years. "There was no room for mistakes; the project had to be done on time," says Guyt. "As one phase was completed, another would begin, so keeping everything organized became an important function."

Once Salt Lake City was selected to host the 2002 Winter Games, a search began for an ideal site to construct the Olympic Village, the living and activity center for the competitors during their stay. Situated adjacent to the university campus, the still-operational century-old Fort Douglas complex proved an excellent choice. The area is within walking distance of the university stadium, where the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies will be held. (Most of the athletic events will occur at venues within the city or in the surrounding mountains.) Also, the newly constructed complex would satisfy the university's immediate need for additional student housing. So, a 67-acre portion of the fort area was signed over to the university through a land transfer arrangement by the US and state governments for the multi-purpose housing project.

Working with design firm HENV of Norfolk, Virginia, the team at Architectural Design West used Autodesk's AutoCAD software running on Pentium III PCs to model 21 new buildings on the site, taking into consideration the visually sensitive context of dozens of existing historic buildings that remained within the donated land tract and the remaining fort area. To communicate the aesthetic impact of the new student-housing complex, the group modeled the entire fort area in 3D, and created an animated walkthrough using 3ds max software from Discreet. After the project was under way, the group used Evans & Sutherland's RapidSite software to create a photorealistic interactive visualization, giving the clients the ability to view in real time the proposed buildings within the context of their surroundings from any perspective.
The designers tried to maintain the historical appearance of the site by matching the brick colors on the new buildings to the existing architecture that remained on the site and by designing the new rooflines accordingly.

Photo courtesy Architectu

"It was a complex, time-consuming, and expensive project," notes Scott Olcott, project architect. "Any time you have a site this large with this many buildings, it really bogs down the computer. This is where RapidSite really helped us. The models are realistic yet lightweight, enabling us to navigate through the environment without a problem."

According to Guyt, the portion of land donated to the university contained a number of old structures, including warehouses, bakeries, and a variety of military housing units, that had to be considered in the overall design. "Our objective was to save as many of the historically significant buildings as possible, such as some interesting sandstone structures that were more than 100 years old," he says.

By incorporating these older buildings into the original design plans, the group was able to determine which structures would be demolished to make space for the new complexes, and which would be saved. The warehouses, which had little historical value, were torn down, while the smaller edifices, such as a former bakery, were either relocated elsewhere on the site or allowed to remain in their original location.
Whenever possible, the designers sited new buildings around existing historical structures. For instance, the new Heritage Center (above and below) is flanked by old brick officers' homes, which are now used as dorms for Fort Douglas military personnel. P

"When we designed the site, we realized that we could work around most of the smaller buildings," Guyt notes. "For instance, an old house sat in the middle of where we wanted to locate the new Heritage Center. There was a fair amount of debate between the university's School of Architecture and the historical society as to whether the house was worth saving. In the end, the school changed its position and decided it wanted to keep the structure, and money was raised to relocate the old brick house about 400 feet away to make room for the center."

To ensure that the new structures blended into the existing environment, the group harvested materials from some of the buildings that were destroyed. "In another area, we matched the brick colors to the existing architecture," says Guyt. "We carefully considered every aspect so the new structures would tie in as closely as possible to the historic portions of the fort." The architects also scaled the new buildings so the new two- and three-story dorms blended naturally with the low-rise historical structures, and designed the new rooflines accordingly.

During the initial planning stages, the team also utilized the digital model to design the directional flow of the site, which was influenced by pre-existing land features and natural geological formations. "The uppermost part of the site contains an ancient seabed, and the way the land curves through the area dictated how we situated the [new] buildings," says Guyt. "The site also contains numerous hills, which also affected the design."

The end result of all these design considerations is a village atmosphere, with freshmen/sophomore housing resembling Victorian-style homes situated in the middle of the site and residential-style structures for graduate students on the outskirts. Close to the village center are brick buildings that integrate with the historic brick structures, which now serve as dormitories for military personnel at Fort Douglas.

Although the housing complex has been occupied by students for a year now, the final phase of construction-the reconfiguration-commenced during the recent extended winter break at the university. For a six-week period beginning in mid-December, contractors were racing against the clock to retrofit the housing for the athletes, reconfiguring the $120 million, 2370-bed complex so it can accommodate 4000 Olympians. "As soon as the semester ended, the students and all the furniture were cleared out so they could add temporary walls here and there to create the extra rooms," says Olcott. A number of nonpermanent structures, planned into the original design, were also erected throughout the site.

"Using the 3D visualization software enabled us to view room layouts both before and after the configuration modifications to ensure that a [specified] quality of space was maintained," says Olcott. "The computer software also helped us to quickly determine if the proposed modifications met the requirements from both the building code and the Olympic Organizing Committee."

While Architectural De sign West has designed other large university housing projects in the past, none has com pared in scale and stature to this one. "From the onset we had to develop organizational strategies, and the computer tools we used helped us stay on track so we could achieve our goals," says Guyt.

Although the project has been long and arduous, the sacrifice will pay off this month as the designers get their moment in the spotlight. Even before the games began, they were receiving kudos for their work. Olcott, who is serving as a volunteer at the Olympic games, says the overall village design has been well received by the organizing committee. "People keep telling me that this is the nicest Olympic Village they've seen," he says. "The integration of the historic aspect and the newly constructed buildings will provide a nice atmosphere for the athletes when they arrive."

Karen Moltenbrey is a senior associate editor at Computer Graphics World.