Exploring complex hotels, resorts, and casinos

Casinos and resorts are designed for fun and relaxation, but with such projects becoming increasingly complex and high-tech, engineers charged with tackling these structures have challenging work ahead of them.



Brant Dillon, Matt Dolan, Jeffrey S. Grove, Ronald R. Regan, Mark Richter, Gregory K. Shino, Toby WhiteBrant Dillon, Director of MEP, Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis
Matt Dolan, PE, LEED AP, Senior Design Engineer, Southland Industries, Las Vegas
Jeffrey S. Grove, PE, Director, JENSEN HUGHES, Las Vegas
Ronald R. Regan, PE, Principal, Triad Consulting Engineers Inc., Morris Plains, N.J.
Mark Richter, PE, LEED AP, Partner, National Residential & Hospitality Practice Leader, AKF Group LLC, New York City
Gregory K Shino, PE, Technical Director of Fire Protection Engineering, NV5, Las Vegas
Toby White, PE, LEED AP, Associate, Sr. Fire Engineer, Arup, Boston

CSE: What’s the biggest trend you see today in hotel, resort, and casino projects?

Brant Dillon: There has been a large increase in the amount of low- to midlevel hotels coming into the marketplace. These hotels are usually around 250 keys and have a very tight budget to meet the developer’s financial performance. As such, increased demand for an economical design that meets both performance and brand standards has made us look for new HVAC solutions.

Matt Dolan: Depending on the project location, there have been changes in space programming that move away from gaming as the main source of revenue and bring out more entertainment and dining opportunities, which widen guests’ options and improve their experience. These include nightclubs, restaurants, sporting-event and music venues, and conference spaces. For life safety system designs, we have seen a reduction in active smoke control designs/systems and the removal of hoistway venting for elevators in hotel towers. Prior to the 2012 International Building Code (IBC), pressurization-method active smoke control was common for guest room-tower corridors as defined under IBC Section 909. Section 403.4.7 of the IBC 2012 edition brought about the requirements and applications for post-fire salvage, which allowed the guest room-tower corridors to use this passive salvage method (after the fire is extinguished) in lieu of active methods. Post-fire salvage removes some of the testing and commissioning complexity found in active smoke control systems and associated pressure measurements at the zone boundaries. Several recent tower designs within the United States have used post-fire salvage, while towers in Macau maintain the active smoke control system designs and testing.

Jeffrey S. Grove: We see the audio/video (A/V) experience of these types of properties increasing to include large LED screens, music, virtual reality, and natural lighting to give the end user a unique experience for each new property. With these new experiences come fire protection challenges as various combustible materials (e.g., plastic, fabrics) are introduced.

Ronald R. Regan: We are seeing interest in and requirements for renewable, eco-friendly, and sustainable design and installations. These requests in the mainland United States tend to be more passive in requests—more electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, solar for incidental requirements, gardens, walkways, water features, etc. Offshore Caribbean sites, which are to be eco-friendly, also feature a major economic and resiliency aspect. We’re seeing larger solar content with storage, solar thermal systems, and in the past 18 months, more emphasis on gas-fired combined heat and power (CHP) for resiliency and to offset local-utility capacity deficiencies to ensure 24/7 power at any cost.

Mark Richter: From a design standpoint, the focus continues to be on the customer—enhancing the guest experience by increasing the availability of technology, data, and a level of connectivity to provide a unique, personalized, and memorable guest experience during their stay. This is especially important in catering to millennial travelers and to transcend growing competition among hotel chains. These conveniences enrich arrival, guest room, and amenity experiences by using smartphones, wireless connectivity, and the Internet of Things (IoT) in general.

Gregory K. Shino: Hotels and resorts are trying to use technology to their advantage as much as possible by making the guest experience with the resort as immersive and easy as possible. Technology is so ingrained in daily life that resort operators want their guests to have similar seamless integration with personal electronics and the guest experience.

Toby White: While themed casinos have been around for a while, we’re continuing to see more “family” features or offerings well beyond gaming. Wynn Palace in Macau has a gondola ride into the building, and MGM Cotai has integrated a cutting-edge, state-of-the-art theater attraction to go along with the typical retail, dining, and spa/pool facilities that have been part of fully integrated resorts for some time.

CSE: What trends and technologies do you think are on the horizon for such projects?

Regan: We believe, based on need and economics, offshore leads the way in the storage sector: system storage from thermal hot water, chilled-water/ice storage, and energy storage via solar/wind charging or utility charging for continuance of power to guests. This is necessitating more development of prepackaged battery energy storage systems (BESS) for local plug-and-play connections.

Dillon: There has been an increase in using prefabrication for hotels, from prefabricated bathrooms all the way to a fully prefabricated hotel room. Prefabrication allows for a faster construction schedule, which results in earlier occupancy of the hotel. This can be disruptive to the design process because the prefabricated items need to have their design completed earlier in the design schedule to allow the construction team to use prefabrication to meet the construction schedule.

Richter: Just like many other industry sectors, the hospitality industry must continue to evolve its services and products to retain current customers and attract new ones. I believe that the goal of providing an escape from the guests’ everyday problems is a growing trend for hotels and resorts, one that will continue to develop as a key focus. State-of-the-art technology is a key driver that many travelers are looking for to create a memorable experience. For instance, investment in guest room technology has been important for many years—allowing guests easy access to customize their preferences in wireless technology with smart controls for HVAC, lighting, window drape/curtain controls, motion, and access control.

Shino: Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) will be developed much more in the future for even more immersive guest experiences. Imagine seeing the view from your room through a 360-deg AR screen before checking in. Hosts and hostesses can then try to upsell by offering better views or room amenities played through the AR screen.

Dolan: We’re noticing more frequent use of active air-cleaning systems for air handling units (AHUs) and other HVAC systems. These include ionization systems to treat the air within the AHU and within the space, or active filtration to capture contaminants as they pass through the AHU. These are used frequently in smoking spaces in Macau casinos, and they are becoming more widely adopted in the United States for gaming spaces that allow smoking. When these systems are used correctly, they allow the use of reduced outside-air quantities and recirculation of more return air by reclassifying the return air from the space and decreasing cooling/heating energy necessary to recondition the air within the AHU. This reduces the central plant requirements and overall energy consumption of the building while maintaining acceptable indoor air quality and code compliance.

CSE: What are engineers doing to ensure such structures—both new and in existing structures—meet the challenges associated with emerging technologies?

Shino: In new structures, engineers must plan for future building materials and technology. In existing buildings, there are different challenges depending on budget, the age of the building, and the level of technology that was originally implemented. However, at the end of the day, every building owner wants the most value at the least cost and balancing that is the responsibility of the entire design team.

Dolan: The air-cleaning devices are typically installed within the AHU or within the associated unit’s supply ductwork depending upon the technology used. A 30- to 36-in. blank AHU section installed downstream of the supply fan can be used as a placeholder for a future ionization system installation to allow the systems to be accessed and maintained easily, rather than having to modify the ductwork or other installed systems later. Installing these systems downstream of all rotating devices (fans) is recommended to allow them to operate optimally.

White: As a fire engineer, we are constantly using performance-based approaches as solutions to justify “equivalency” to the building code’s intent. The building code provisions are typically broad-brush and don’t necessarily provide clear guidance where the building design should push the envelope architecturally and programmatically.

Regan: To design efficiently and effectively, very detailed energy studies are being executed first to design systems for maximum design efficiency, since kilowatt-hour storage is still very expensive. A fine line of efficiency standards requires dispatching local generation for small periods to meet small annual seasonal peaks. Building automation systems (BAS) are being designed to go beyond redundant controls to include sensitive algorithmic controls that are regenerated constantly by real-time weather information.

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