Page T1.2 . 19 November 2003                     
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    Discourse on Digital


    This kind of single-model process will enable engineers to optimize performance while architects use the same model to optimize function and appearance. Maher pointed out that this approach calls for the collaboration not only of structural engineers and architects but also of mathematicians and steel fabricators.

    Seeing Architecture like a Filmmaker

    One of the ACADIA presentations about computer-aided learning was made by Aron Temkin, from Florida Atlantic University. He teaches digital filmmaking as an architectural presentation medium.

    Temkin observes that filmmakers are generally better than architects in explaining space through motion-based presentations. So he asks his students to study movies to see how the viewer's perception of space is manipulated. He helps students to go beyond thinking of animation as a single camera path and see it instead as a sequence of vignettes, with elements of direction, structure, rhythm, and sound.

    He teaches students to develop storyboards, to know when to incorporate detailed still images, and to appreciate changes in the direction and color of light. Temkin concludes: "They evolve from composing a path to composing a procession. Moving through these virtual buildings, they become more sensitive to how the architecture defines a specific path through a space."

    A Knowledge-Rich CAD System

    A lot has been written about a hypothetical "building information model" which includes all the voluminous data needed to construct a building. Veteran researcher Charles Eastman — who has been observing this challenge for decades — and his colleagues Ghang Lee and Rafael Sacks at Georgia Institute of Technology are making progress in implementing it in one sector of the construction industry.

    They have been working with the Precast Concrete Software Consortium in developing 3D parametric modeling tools. Unlike the design professions, which typically do not profit directly from construction efficiencies, savvy subcontractors foresee direct, tangible benefits in coordinating documents, facilitating fabrication, and reducing errors.

    The consortium includes 23 precast concrete producers, representing a variety of business types, nationalities, building codes, and fabrication methods. Eastman and his group have identified common elements and specified a top-down system that begins with overall building assembly and follows with assembly detailing and structural analysis. The software is being built by Tekla Corporation, a large Finnish software firm already known for its parametric detailing applications for steel.

    Eastman explains that his team was very concerned with giving system users maximum design flexibility. He hopes that "new construction-level technologies, if strongly adopted by architects, provide the option for architects to regain an active role in downstream construction-level aspects of building."

    Exploring Unbuilt Architecture

    Digital tools can also be applied to more qualitative explorations of architectural ideas. Daniela Sirbu of the University of Lethbridge brought to the ACADIA conference her work in rendering and animating designs of 19th century French architect Henri Labrouste. His "Pont destiné à réunir la France à l'Italie" (1829) is known to the world only through a few drawings.

    Sirbu built a digital model by calculating the bridge's geometry from the perspective drawings and sampling textures from the architect's original brush strokes. After much manual manipulation to the material appearance and lighting, she created an animation of the bridge that shows views and angles not seen in the architect's original drawings.

    Her goal is to explore the architect's creative and thinking processes and to explore the possible sources of inspiration. She hopes this approach will open new avenues for investigating the conception of architecture and help students visualize and experience important unbuilt projects that have shaped the practice of architecture.

    Visualizing Rainfall through Particle Simulation

    Over the years, academics have developed imaginative ways to apply off-the-shelf software, in ways not anticipated by the inventors, to teach particular lessons to architecture students. For John Maze, Mark McGlothlin, and Kim Tanzer at the University of Florida, the needed lesson was in understanding rainfall and water flow in the design of roofs and landscaping.

    Despite the heavy rainfall in Florida, the flat-roofed modernist look is still much in vogue. However, if rainfall is not properly directed, it can cause flooding and other problems. To dramatize how their design projects react to heavy rain, the professors had the students create digital models and subject them to rain-like particle simulations within Maya. The resulting animated visualizations showed students how to reshape roofs, terraces, and landscapes so that they could more responsibly and poetically shed and redistribute water.

    A recurring theme at this year's conference was the growing practice of applying the architect's digital model directly to the fabrication process. This is resulting in renewed collaborations between the various design and construction disciplines. It is also encouraging the creation of more irregular ("blobby") structures. Missing is a discourse on whether it is resulting in good design.

    Before the profession is ready for that, there may need to be hundreds of foot soldiers laying the groundwork through countless experiments in applying digital technologies, one small step at a time. At ACADIA this year, we observed a few more steps.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    B.J. Novitski is managing editor of ArchitectureWeek and author of Rendering Real and Imagined Buildings.



    ArchWeek Image

    Sequence of stills from an animation of Exeter Library, one of the projects presented at the 2003 ACADIA conference.
    Image: Scott Maggart

    ArchWeek Image

    Process plan of a precast concrete design and engineering application in development at Georgia Tech.
    Image: Precast Concrete Software Consortium

    ArchWeek Image

    Precast facade panels and critical joints are described parametrically.
    Image: Precast Concrete Software Consortium

    ArchWeek Image

    Digital rendering based on a 19th century drawing by Henri Labrouste.
    Image: Daniela Sirbu

    ArchWeek Image

    After modeling, the Labrouste design can be viewed from angles not drawn by the architect.
    Image: Daniela Sirbu

    ArchWeek Image

    Particle simulation in Maya animation software demonstrates to architecture students how their designs behave in heavy rainstorms.
    Image: Jennifer Chue


    Click on thumbnail images
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