AEC Tech News #141

6 Apr, 2005 By: Michael Dakan

Cadalyst AEC Tech News

Form and Function

Gehry Technologies' Digital Project brings
those famous curves to the AEC desktop

Gehry Technologies, a spin-off from architect Frank Gehry's R&D department, was formed in 2002 to provide modeling tools for AEC. Gehry Technologies, in partnership with Dassault Systemes, recently released to the general public Digital Project, its first commercial suite of applications.

High-Tech Track Record
Architectural firm Gehry Partners has used 3D CAD and modeling for more than 10 years and pioneered the use of computer technologies that have evolved into what we know today as BIM (building information modeling). Early on, Gehry concentrated on using CATIA from Dassault Systemes and IBM to provide the types of 3D modeling the firm was interested in developing and using. Gehry has been using CATIA software for 15 years.

CATIA is a venerable, high-end CAD system that is well-known in the mechanical engineering and product design fields and is used extensively in areas such as automotive and aerospace design. It hasn't been at all well-known in the AEC arena and has never been positioned as an architectural tool — but it is well-suited to the kinds of curved planar forms and shell shapes that have become signatures of Frank Gehry in recent years. Gehry used CATIA on projects such as the new Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

The latest release, CATIA V5, is a PC-based system that is generically positioned as a set of tools for PLM (product lifecycle management). 3D modeling and simulation is much better developed for the product design and mechanical engineering fields and has been around longer than comparable applications for AEC. It could be said that PLM is a precursor to AEC's BIM. The complete suite of PLM solutions from Dassault/IBM includes CATIA, the modeling, simulation and visualization application; ENOVIA, for managing product data; and SMARTEAM, for providing product development collaboration tools for teams of designers and engineers. Dassault also develops DELMIA, a manufacturing process and simulation product.

Gehry Technologies
Gehry Technologies partnered with Dassault Systemes to adapt and provide CATIA-based tools for AEC design and construction. Jim Glymph, Gehry Technologies' CEO and a long-time member of Gehry Partners, has written a white paper that outlines the evolution of the architectural production process from the old hand-drawn documents on vellum and Mylar, through the development of pin-bar layered drafting techniques, to the current 2D CAD method that maintains a layered approach to developing and presenting information for building construction.

The layered 2D approach to presenting information created by a team of design professionals results in information fragmentation that is increasingly difficult to coordinate as projects become more complex and varied in form, and more subcontractors and specialists are engaged for small parts of the overall project. Using this approach, only the architect might have a grasp of the entire project scope, and less and less of a complete grasp of all project information as complexity increases and more people and organizations are involved.

The 3D Approach
A 3D model that contains all the project information for a building makes it possible for all members of a project team to better comprehend the complete project and see how their work must fit with the rest of the project.

Digital Project, the first product released by the Dassault-Gehry Technologies collaboration, adapts the complete suite of CATIA PLM tools for the architectural process and BIM. It uses the Dassault CAA V5 (Component Application Architecture V5) modeling engine, which is Dassault's development platform for CATIA third-party applications. A building's complete lifecycle, from design through operation and maintenance functions, can be contained in the building model.

Gehry Technologies is committed to developing and promoting the use of 3D modeling across the entire building lifecycle, including 3D modeling for construction and contracting. But the group knows this will be a slow process — it will take some time to get entire building teams up to speed with 3D models for construction documentation and to change the long-standing traditional methods and paper-based technologies of the building industry.

Digital Project will support file export to DWG and other 2D CAD formats and import of files from other modeling applications in use today. Costing $9,000-$14,000 per seat, Digital Project is probably not a product for casual use or everyday linear architectural modeling. But it does bring the shapes and forms that Frank Gehry has been exploring in his recent work within electronic reach of any architect who can afford and justify the entry costs.

Gehry Technologies
Dassault Systemes