Fun with Computer-Aided Modeling Clay
by B.J. Novitski
One hundred years ago, Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi was astonishing the world with sculpturally creative, irregular, organic forms. While others in the profession worked with straight edges, Gaudi invented his own methods for modeling parabolic arches from the catenary curve created by suspending a length of chain between two points.
Today, modern architects are rediscovering the joy of sculpting unusual geometries. But unlike Gaudi, they are benefiting from readily available tools. They are demonstrating that computer-aided design can do more than just speed up production work. When skillfully applied, 3D modeling supports design creativity in ways that traditional methods cannot.
Going for the Gold
One example of such modeling is the Guangdong Olympic Stadium in Guangzhou, China (also known as Canton), designed by the Kansas City, Missouri office of Ellerbe Becket in association with NEB Design Group, a consortium which also includes Oklahoma City-based Nixon and Nixon.
The distinctive roof form conceived by senior project designer Michael Sabatini of Ellerbe Becket consists of two irregularly undulating bands—one on each side of the stadium—symbolizing the movement of a finish-line ribbon when broken by a winning runner. Each 75-meter-long band, supported along one edge by concrete pylons, cantilevers 52 meters over the stadium seats. Communicating the shape of the ribbons within the design team and to the clients would have been virtually impossible without computer models.
At the first step, Sabatini used clay, chipboard, and even potato chips to convey his idea to project designer Thomas Proebstle, AIA, and intern Andrew Sturm, both of Ellerbe Becket, who were charged with creating the 3D computer model. Using 3D Studio Max from Autodesk, they drew two spline curves for each ribbon's two long edges. A spline is an irregular curve shaped by three or more control points. By adjusting the control points, the architects could tweak the curves until their shape matched the original design concept.
Guangdong Olympic Stadium in Guangzhou, China, designed by Ellerbe Becket and Nixon and Nixon, is roofed with two ribbon-shaped forms.
Image: Ellerbe Becket
The Guangdong Stadium would have been impossible to design, study, and document without solid modeling tools.
Image: Ellerbe Becket
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