Leading architects test their mettle

23 Jun 2014

American architects lead the way in 3D technologies for construction & fabrication

Nothing implies cutting edge more than the sight of a metal-enveloped building contorted into a radical shape. Its use has gained projects around the world notoriety, but, more practically, metal’s endurance and mechanical capabilities make it an ideal material to express bold ideas that are quite literally out of the box. Such projects would not have been feasible or cost effective without advanced 3D technologies, a powerful tool for designers to explore how best metal panels can reflect their iconoclastic design.

Frank Gehry, known for his complex geometry was a pioneer at adapting 3D technologies to prove his designs were buildable.

Twenty five years ago, he developed a 3D modeling process inspired by the aerospace industry, which enabled contractors to build his Bilbao Guggenheim museum design. The process (which he still uses) is unique: Forms are explored over and over again using physical models, which increase in complexity as the design progresses. Then the chosen model would be point scanned using a highly sophisticated robotic arm to import the geometry into a computer. Using CATIA software, surfaces of the complex geometry are remodeled and refined to enable their fabrication while preserving as much of his design intent as possible. The 3D model - not the 2D drawings - is the reference for all geometry. It is a key component of construction, which Gehry uses extensively to assist builders in fabricating his design. 

Advanced 3D technology helped SHoP Architects fast track fabrication of the Barclay’s Center’s metal-paneled façade in Brooklyn, New York. SHoP first used 3D models developed in Rhinoceros to explore initial forms. When the firm identified the final form, it switched to CATIA to develop a 3D model that enabled the façade sub-contractor to fabricate the 12,000 uniquely shaped panels of Barclay’s Center’s distinct façade. They used the 3D model for constructability reviews and automated quantity takeoffs for exterior materials.

The firm used CATIA to ‘unfold’ the 12,000 panels of different shapes and sizes, followed by Sigma NEST’s CAD/CAM fabrication and cutting software to nest the panels based on the installation schedule. SHoP also developed a workflow that allowed for the automatic generation of the 12,000 fabrication tickets, which contained bending information for each panel.*

In Los Angeles, Morphosis used an open-source scripting software to design Emerson College’s dynamic aluminum-clad structure. The firm went through endless iterations before settling on the final form. This rapid prototyping process was made possible because of 3D technology. The building’s 3D-embossed façade comprises thousands of aluminum-clad panels, whose shape was driven by the big tree in the front court and the bridge at the center of the structure. The 3D model also enabled Morphosis to work closely with the façade fabricator in limiting material waste while preserving the overall shape of the design.

In recent years, advances in 3D design software are opening the door for designers to introduce truly inventive applications of metal panels into their designs. A tour of worldwide competitions showcases an impressive collection of ‘could be’ iconic buildings catered to cities and institutions striving to replicate the Bilbao effect. The key to realizing these original, revolutionary designs, while still respecting budgets and meeting tight construction schedules, is exploiting the potential of advanced 3D technologies with architects leading the process. Gone are the days when architects hand off 2D drawings to contractors and be done with it. With 3D technologies in hand, architects can be present even through construction and fabrication, ensuring their intent is reflected on the final, built project. 

Becher Neme is principal and lead consultant at Los Angeles-based Neme Design Solutions, a 3D integration consulting practice that works with designers and contractors on complex projects to improve efficiency during construction through the expert application of the 3D technologies. E-mail: becher@NemeDS.com I Web: www.NemeDs.com 

We want to hear about your experiences using 3D technologies to design with metal. Contact our News Editor Sian Disson for feature opportunities. The WAN Facade Award and WAN Metal in Architecture Award are open for entries until 30 June 2014. Click here for more information on how to enter.

*Source: ENR Magazine 07/16/2012, Complexity on the face of it, by Nadine Post 

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