Building Design

Bentley's GenerativeComponents Helps Architects Push the Limits of Building Design

15 Nov, 2012 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Be Inspired Awards finalists incorporate complex curtain walls and swooping ceiling forms that are made easier thanks to the software.


 This week at the historic Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky on Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam, 58 teams — all users of Bentley Systems software — gathered to vie for the top honor in their respective categories at Be Inspired, the company's Innovations in Infrastructure Conference.

At the conference, each Be Inspired Awards finalist (three in each of 20 categories) aimed to convince contest jurors that his or her project was the best of the best, representing "outstanding achievement and innovation in infrastructure design, construction, and operations," according to the contest description. Every contest category represents tremendous feats of design and engineering, but one — Innovations in Generative Design — stands out for the progressive efforts that it embodies.

Generative design is Bentley Systems' terminology for the process at the heart of its GenerativeComponents modeling software, which automates design processes and allows architects to quickly explore a broad range of design iterations for even the most complex buildings. Designs can be refined by either dynamically modeling and directly manipulating geometry, by applying rules and capturing relationships among building elements, or by defining complex building forms and systems through concisely expressed algorithms. The results are remarkable building designs that in many cases would not be possible without the unique software.

Following are the three projects that were finalists in the Be Inspired Awards category of Innovations in Generative Design.

Guardian Towers


A collaboration between LAB Architecture Studio and ERGA Progress, the Guardian Towers complex in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, comprises an 18-story residential tower, 18-story commercial office tower, and a two-level retail podium. LAB architecture studio used GenerativeComponents to develop block structures that are shifted, sliced, and slightly rotated and have offset footprints. The software also allowed for extensive testing and visualization of the double-skinned facades and fritted glazing.


Guardian Towers is a mixed-use project designed by LAB Architecture Studio of Melbourne, Australia, and ERGA Progress of Abu Dhabi.


"With GenerativeComponents, we can generate hundreds of design iterations," said Tim Fowler, architect, of LAB Architecture Studio. "We find a ‘branch' [of options] we like, then iterate down that branch." Previously, the firm called on interns and other staffers to create a few dozen physical prototypes for consideration.

Guardian Towers designers contended with time constraints, challenging site boundary conditions, and a project owner who changed the building setback and requested other significant changes after the initial design review. "This wouldn't have been possible without GenerativeComponents," Fowler said.

Fowler added that using GenerativeComponents resulted in four primary benefits to the project: reduced time to completion, reduced cost, a better design, and confidence that the unique and complex design was buildable. The project was completed two months ahead of schedule, three weeks of which was due to the rapid documentation process that allowed piling work to begin early. The final design of the 52,000 m2 project came within 30 m2 of the allowable floor space.

Atlanta History Center

The goal of the Stanley Beaman & Sears submission to the Atlanta History Center Design Competition was to reflect the energy coursing through Atlanta, Georgia. The existing space is a series of outdated, darkened galleries and undersized public areas. The proposed $8 million design is a light-filled space featuring a dynamic wing-like ceiling flanked by bright, freshly renovated galleries.


This redesign of the Atlanta History Center was proposed by Stanley Beaman & Sears.


The Atlanta History Center project goal is to make the center a primary destination in the city and "move the story of Atlanta's history link to the future." Jonathan Mickle, architectural designer, said the redesign "needed an iconic feature" to draw the attention of tourists. The interior design aimed to create a welcoming feeling for visitors and present an intuitive flow that promotes exploration, tells a story, and links exhibits, Mickle said.

That flow starts at the entrance, carries through the exhibits, and culminates at an overlook of a park at the opposite end of the structure. The facility features a double-height atrium, a large gathering space that can be rented for private functions, and the exhibit hall.

GenerativeComponents was called into service for designing ceiling panels as well as the continuous, swooping ceiling form that unites the spaces throughout the building and is reminiscent of the wings of a phoenix, a symbol of Atlanta. "With GenerativeComponents," Mickle said, "we were able to map a curve along an arching plane — like a sin curve, but it has more than one horizon along the curve." Three points along a simple plane were used to control the dynamic form.

MicroStation and Bentley Architecture were used to model the existing space as well as the proposed remodel, and everything was visualized using the Luxology render engine.

The Stanley Beaman & Sears design came in second of eight proposals submitted to the Atlanta History Center Design Competition.

Park House

There's nothing else like the new Park House in London's Mayfair neighborhood in terms of its upscale retail center and luxury apartment living. The 500,000-ft2 building occupies a one-acre city block and comprises three levels of retail space and seven floors of office space on the west end and 39 private residential apartments flats on the east end.


Robin Partington Architects designed Park House on London's Oxford Street so it appears to recede into its setting rather than dominate it.


Robin Partington Architects employed GenerativeComponents and building information modeling to execute its design vision while overcoming challenges that included unparallel adjacent streets, a misaligned townscape that had larger buildings at one end of the site and smaller buildings at the other, and all the obvious challenges that come with ensuring that a curtain wall design is buildable. Structural challenges included executing the building's unique façade design, accommodating mixed use, proximity to a London underground tunnel, and retail requirements of a world-renowned location.

The design challenges turned into opportunities as the architects created a building that appears smaller than it actually is and that has one larger end and one smaller end to better blend with the mismatched buildings that surround it and that create the illusion that it recedes into its environment. All told, the 645-meter-long building has a striking presence but does not dominate its setting.

GenerativeComponents enabled Robin Partington Architects to explore various iterations of glass technology and its abilities. Using the software and working in cooperation with the cladding system provider, the architects developed a curtain wall design that incorporates only 2% custom-formed panels. The remaining 98% were stock panels that were gripped at opposite corners and bent within the determined stress limits — thus saving a great deal of money.

The basement and cores of Park House are concrete; above that is steel. The west end of the building is steel, residences are concrete to damper sound, and the room is structural steel.

Paul Rogers, senior designer, said, "GenerativeComponents didn't give us the solution; we knew what the solution was and it helped us helped us refine it. It informs the design process." Having a viable 3D model of the structure gave the cladding system provider confidence that the ambitious design would be buildable.

The Park House project was selected as the winner of the Innovations in Generative Design category, and honored during the Be Inspired Awards ceremony, held November 14.


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