Building Information Modeling

Computer Modeling changed the path of architecture

guggenheim_bilbao Gehry_Technologies“the computer is a tool, not a partner – an instrument for catching the curve, not for inventing it”  Frank Gehry

Computers are changing architecture – some believe it is for the worst, other for the better, either way the transformation is unfolding and modern and contemporary architecture is made of different materials, formed into new shapes and much more experimental than it has ever been.  This is an exciting time to be visiting new architecture; current architects are pushing the envelope – literally.

So how does computer software actually change the face of architecture?

The computer software that has allowed for these architectural opportunities is called Building Information Modeling more commonly referred to simply as BIM.  BIM is intelligent model-based digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of building elements.  The digital model becomes a shared wholistic and comprehensive information resource of the facility throughout its entire lifecycle – Yikes!  In short architects are now building complex building forms in 3-dimensions rather than only working in plan, section and elevation (essentially flattening the building like a cubist painting). The benefit is that the complexity is computed and rationalized by the computer and the complicated information can be sent directly to manufacturers and contractors for production.

Many people believe that this type of technology is very new however this technology dates back almost 30 years.  A Hungarian company, Graphisoft, launched a 3D CAD program for Mac in 1984, eventually recognized globally in 1987 under Graphisoft’s ‘Virtual Building’ concept, now known as ArchiCAD, almost simultaneously Autodesk released 2D AutoCAD, unfortunately the popularity of computer drafting grew – until now.  The term BIM was used loosely until Autodesk popularized it in more recent years.

We are reaching a tipping point in architecture similar to the renaissance when drawing perspective altered the way architecture was designed, created and perceived.  The future of architecture is entering a new chapter, an exciting chapter defying normal architectural rules and conventions are questioned re-examined and pushed to its limits.  BIM connects architects and projects from opposite sides of the world allowing amazingly complex projects to be built within a fraction of the time pre-computer architecture.  Think back not too long ago to the Sydney Opera House, the project was awarded to Jorn Utzon in 1957, the first of three back to back phases began in 1959 and finished in 1973.  The iconic architectural landmark took 16 years from conception to completion.  Compared to Bilbao Guggenheim which was awarded to Frank Gehry in 1992 began construction in 1993 and was complete in 1997 – 5 years later.

NRS12706, 2/8645A   Sydney Opera House Detail Drawing   Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House above, Bilbao Guggenheim below

Gehry Sketch - Guggenheim  Guggenheim Bilbao by Frank Gehry  guggenheim computer model

Have you ever wondered what the drawings for Bilbao Guggenheim by Frank Gehry look like?  In fact Gehry has invented his own software to accomplish his designs to get his projects realized

Complex connection, organic shapes, and playful forms are all possible architects have more freedom and we have more to be astonished by.  Some examples of contemporary architecture taking full advantage of what computer modeling can achieve.

The Beijing National Stadium (aka the bird’s nest) by Herzog & de Meuron was completed in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics, below.  A complex façade constructed of a double-curved roof of woven steel box beams sized at 1meter squared.  The geometries where multifaceted – an impossible design to achieve and construct within the five year time frame they had.

National Stadium  Bird's Nest

Jean Nouvel’s Louvre Abu Dhabi in Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE is still in construction however computer generated design was pivotal in creating the effect Nouvel was looking for, below.  The most notable architectural feature is the perforated dome roof with a pattern of shadows – more than 1000 tender drawings and datasheets were required to describe and analyze the lattice dome.  More than one hundred thousand structural and architectural members were rationalized and assembled using the computer model.

Louvre Museum Abi Dhabi

Riverside Museum in Glasgow by Zaha Hadid is a Museum of Transport.  The complex form was created, studied, and fabricated with the computer model. Most of Hadid’s work, if not all, uses the computer to achieve organic and unusual forms.  Her architecture is unlike any others and the experience within each building is unique and memorable.

Zaha Hadid Computer modeling      BIM zaha-hadid Riverside Museum Riverside Museum in Glasgow Riverside Museum in Glasgow Diagram Riverside Museum in Glasgow Construction

The discussion of computer modeling and its effect of contemporary architecture is overwhelming however the opportunities that have been created for more exciting and intriguing architecture is yet to be created.