GenerativeComponents Almost Ready for Primetime

March 18, 2008

By Joann Gonchar, AIA

Photo © Joann Gonchar
  The interior of Coop Himmelb(l)au’s BMW Welt. A footbridge, visible at left, doubles as a viewing platform.

With the official release of GenerativeComponents (GC) as part of Bentley Systems’ MicroStation platform late last year, this parametric design tool could be poised to move beyond its traditional base of users in academia and at technologically advanced design firms. The move from long-gestating research project to commercial product seems not to have diminished the enthusiasm for GC, or parametric design tools in general, if this year’s Bentley-sponsored Smart Geometry Conference is any indication. Roughly 400 people attended the March 5 conference held in Munich, at Coop Himmelb(l)au’s BMW Welt, where designers from Grimshaw, Schlaich Bergermann, Zaha Hadid Architects, and other firms presented computationally driven work.

Manfred Grohmann, a partner of Frankfurt-based Bollinger + Grohmann and structural consultant on the BMW project, explained the design process for building’s cloud-like roof form, which involved applying virtual forces to its space frame structure. Grohmann has been criticized by some of his peers for designing an interior foot bridge that snakes above the Welt’s main level because part of this element pulls away from the load-bearing girder that makes up its structure. Though it may seem “absurd” from a structural standpoint, Grohmann said, the bridge “achieves an optimization for the whole building” since it acts as a viewing platform where visitors can take in the vast main hall.


Image courtesy Designtoproduction
Fabian Scheurer’s diagram showing how information flows between designers and fabricators.


Though computational tools promise someday to make fabrication almost automatic for formally complicated projects like the BMW Welt, the construction industry hasn’t quite reached that point. “The decision about how to fabricate [now] comes at the end of the process,” said Fabian Scheurer, a founder of Designtoproduction, a Zurich-based consulting firm that helps design teams realize geometrically complex projects. Scheurer’s firm worked on Zaha Hadid’s Nordpark funicular stations in Innsbruck, preparing data for the computer-controlled machines that manufactured the 2,500 different polyethylene profiles that connect the stations’ doubly curved glass cladding to the steel sub-structures. “There is not enough research,” Scheurer said. “Designers should understand manufacturing, but manufacturers should also understand the design process in order to exploit new markets.”


Images courtesy Aedas
Aedas’s model of super-tall towers in an urban environment without a well-developed public transit system illustrates the need for a high level of supporting services such as roads and parking (shown in light purple,left). Aedas’s model of super-tall towers in an urban environment with a well-developed public transit system (right).


Though most of the conference presentations focused on individual components or buildings, a few speakers discussed the use of parametric tools for urban-scale design and analysis. London-based Judit Kimpian, head of sustainability and advanced modeling at the multi-disciplinary design firm Aedas, presented a dynamic model it has developed in collaboration with the construction management and cost consulting firm Davis Langdon. The model can be used to explore the impact of tall buildings on their environments. It shows, for example, that if mass transit infrastructure is not developed in tandem with a super-tall building, much of the surrounding space must be devoted to parking. Aedas hopes that the tool will help it work with clients to make critical early design decisions. Said Kimpian: “The decisions that most effect sustainability are typically made in the first one percent of the project schedule.”

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