Computing The Building, Digitally Remastered In this era, the rectilinear glass box has become a quaint relic of the predigital past. by Michael Patrick Gibson December 18, 2007 Sponsored by Phaeno ScienceZaha Hadid ArchitectsWolfsburg, Germany2005 Fifteen years ago, it would have been difficult–and in some cases impossible–to engineer the buildings in these pages. Now powerful computer-assisted design and manufacturing techniques let architects build according to wholly new geometries. In this era, the rectilinear glass box has become a quaint relic of the predigital past. Phaeno Science Zaha Hadid ArchitectsWolfsburg, Germany2005Most of the Phaeno Science Center’s weight rests on a series of scattered concrete cones that seamlessly taper down from the building’s underbelly. But the cones are not only structural supports: they also house a bookstore, a theater, and the museum’s entrance. Computers configured the exact cone placement necessary for the curvaceous design to work, and a new material called self-compacting concrete filled it out. It is the only concrete capable of sustaining a structure with such sweeping curves and tight angles. Hearst TowerFoster + PartnersNew York, NY2006 The Hearst Tower’s triangular frames, known as diagrids, eliminate the need for any vertical steel columns around the building’s perimeter. It is the first building in North America to feature this gravity-defying technique. Hearst TowerFoster + PartnersNew York, NY2006So efficient is Foster’s design that the building uses 20 percent less steel tonnage than a conventional building of its size. Turning TorsoSantiago CalatravaMalmö, Sweden2005From top to bottom, Calatrava’s anthropomorphic apartment tower twists 90º. The building was constructed by stacking nine warped cubes, each five stories high, on top of each other; each cube rotates about 11º from the one below it. An external spine buttresses the twist, mimicking a human spinal column, while an exoskeleton sprouts from the spine to provide wind resistance and damp the building’s vibrations. 30 St. Mary Axe, “The Gherkin” Foster + PartnersLondon, England2004 The pickle-shaped 30 St. Mary Axe owes its bulging and tapering structure to a diagrid steel framework like that of the Hearst Tower, which allows the perimeter to remain column-free. 30 St. Mary Axe, “The Gherkin” Foster + PartnersLondon, England2004 Its aerodynamic profile reduces wind load and creates a difference in air pressure between the inside and outside that draws cooler outdoor air in through panels in the façade. Thanks to this and other features, like abundant natural light, the building consumes as little as half as much energy as other office buildings its size. Chesa FuturaFoster + PartnersSt. Moritz, Switzerland2002 From digital design specs, the timbers for this pumpkinlike apartment building were cut and carved by a fully automated “computer numerical-control” machine called a Lignamatic, which may have been the first timber-processing unit of its kind. Chesa FuturaFoster + PartnersSt. Moritz, Switzerland2002 Twenty tools descended from racks in a prescribed order to cut, drill, rout, or bore pieces of timber up to 40 meters long, at any angle and with any curvature. The National Assembly for WalesRichard RogersCardiff, Wales2005 Undulating like a shaken carpet, the curvilinear red-cedar underside of the Assembly’s roof is so geometrically complex and delicate that it could be realized only with 3-D modeling and visualization techniques. The National Assembly for WalesRichard RogersCardiff, Wales2005 From the front of the building, the roof appears to float upon a single slate plinth, an illusion made possible by thin steel mullions in the façade, minimal steel columns around the perimeter, and tensioned stability ties from the ground to the roof. Tenerife Opera HouseSantiago Calatrava Tenerife, Canary Islands2006 Computer-assisted 3-D modeling translated Calatrava’s drawings for the 50-meter-high cantilevered wave and perfected the acoustics for the performance space within. Dancing House Frank GehryPrague, Czech Republic1996 With hourglass bends and tapering profiles, each of the two towers–dubbed Fred and Ginger–displays the computer-generated irregular geometry that has become Gehry’s signature. Hydra-Pier AsymptoteHaarlemmermeer, The Netherlands2002 Designed with the help of software used in aeronautics, Hydra-Pier features two “wings” that slope downward. Water cascades over them and runs off the sides as it descends, creating a watery alleyway through which visitors enter.