Building Design

Smartgeometry Event Pushes Limits of Architectural Design

16 May, 2013 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

Professionals and students alike collaborate using advanced computational software and conventional tools.


Rogers concluded, "Technology refines but doesn't change our fundamental approach to design, and the whole team gets involved with the 3D modeling workflow."

Lars Hesselgren, director of research at PLP Architecture, SmartGeometry Group director, and visiting professor at Chalmars University, addressed the theme, "Design in Digital Machine Age." Referring to computational design technologies that help generate optimal design options, he said, "I believe optimization will be the next frontier when it comes to architectural design." Use genetic algorithms to generate and evaluate design options based on your design goals, he advised architects. Results are often unexpected, not necessarily progressions or evolutions from other options.

In a few years' time, he believes, clients will ask architects, "Why haven't you looked at a million alternatives?"

The intellectual effort of doing things will be partly mechanized, he forecast. "This is a radical revolution of how we're going to approach design in the future. … And we're beginning to get there." He cited the example of London's St. Pancras Station project, where his firm was brought in to help the architects use GenerativeComponents to diminish the visual impact of the large structure.

Vladimir Masinsky, building information modeling specialist and architect at the U.K. firm Dexter Moren Associates, offered insight into projects that tapped generative design when he was a computational designer at BDP. One of those was the IKEA shopping mall in Beijing, China.

"I was brought over [to that project] to use GC to assist with problems they were having integrating the roof with the rest of the design." The building owners wanted a sustainable design, but it had to be simple enough to easily translate to the Chinese building team.


"Everything you see is executed by planar elements," said architect Vladimir Masinsky of this shopping mall roof design. The 1.3-km-long structure shifts and varies, "but it's very, very simple."


"GC helped us generate a lot of drawings. Once you have the geometry, which is run by the script and variations are given, you work out the detailing, the connections; using experienced people in our office, you write a very simple script that reads all the different variations and produces all the drawings." The final design reflects all the varying conditions along the boundaries, such as reflections, loads, size of elements, and building codes, and also could be built in China because it's so simple, he said, adding, "We used GC and MicroStation to generate renderings and drawings for the client, and they were quite pleased."

Bentley Systems' Role

Huw Roberts, vice-president of core marketing at Bentley Systems, explained to the media why his company takes an active interest in an event such as Smartgeometry. How does this technology connect with the real world of architectural design? he asked rhetorically, and why is a company like Bentley so actively involved?

Smartgeometry clusters, he explained, often produce information that the company can apply in its development of software for building design, construction, and maintenance. He cited what has been learned when clusters have encountered circumstances and challenges related to software and hardware interoperability. "We learn from those," he said, and the company has applied that knowledge in areas such as point-cloud processing and mobile applications, including the mobile API for its i-model format for open information exchange.

"All of those ideas spawn from being involved in these research and exploratory activities," Roberts said. "Obviously, GenerativeComponents [was perhaps] the first child of our research activities decades ago. We're integrating that with optimization engines, such as our Darwin system," which uses genetic algorithms to predict where pipes might leak. Bentley is integrating Darwin with GenerativeComponents, Roberts explained, effectively taking a commercial product and bringing it back to research.

Roberts concluded, "Today we've looked at what has been realized using this technology — what is real. [What we learn here] gets applied. … What is real is founded in the ideas that come forth from SmartGeometry."

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