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Rebuilding Architecture

Software is allowing architects to design buildings in radically new ways.
December 21, 2010
Frank Gehry, whose firm designed the 2004 Stata Center at MIT (above), was an early pioneer in software that went beyond conventional computer-¬aided design (CAD). Unlike earlier CAD programs, parametric design programs calculate changes to the entire structure necessitated by, for example, changing the slope of a wall.
Architects are now using software not just to help realize designs they have in mind but to create new ideas. The pattern of the walls in Toyo Ito’s 2002 Serpentine Pavilion in London (above) came from a computer program.
Builders also use parametric software to help figure out how to construct complex curved forms such as those that architects designed for the Beijing National Stadium (above and next image), which was showcased in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
The Beijing National Stadium (above and previous image) was showcased in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
The engineering firm Arup Sport used such a program to calculate the specifications that workers followed when they cut curved steel branches like those in the picture above, which was taken from inside the stadium during construction.
Parametric design could change construction methods even more radically in the future. Once software lays out the detailed designs, robotics, three-dimensional printers, and other computerized technologies can be used to execute them. The façade of the Gantenbein Vineyard in Fläsch, Switzerland, is an intricate brick pattern that looks from a distance like a basket (above).
The design required bricks to be placed at precise angles that would have been impossible for a human mason.
The firm Gramazio & Kohler built the façade with a robot repurposed from the automotive industry.
The rendering above is a whimsical project by François Roche that suggests future directions for structures built almost entirely by machines. Gigantic three-dimensional printers could fashion intricate biomimetic skyscrapers modeled on coral skeletons.

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