Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Collaboration: A Panel Discussion on Computational Design Technology

November 19, 2015

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NEW YORK CITY – On November 19, the CTBUH New York City Young Professionals Committee (YPC) and the Arup New York City office welcomed over 130 design professionals for a presentation and panel discussion focused on the current state of computer technology tools used in today’s architecture, and how these tools enhance collaboration and communication within the profession. CTBUH YPC member Charles Portelli, a Computational Designer Associate Principal at KPF, moderated the event, which incorporated speakers from architecture, engineering, and construction firms experienced in using advanced computational technologies to lead projects. Some of these speakers included: Structural Engineering Associate Georgi Petrov and Senior Architectural Designer Blake Altshuler of Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM); Director of Thornton Tomasetti’s (TT) CORE Studio Jonatan Schumacher; New York leader of Arup’s DESN, Zak Kostura; Associate and Computational Modeling Leader Gustav Fagerstrom of Buro Happold (BH); and Software Application Engineer Anthony Buckley-Thorp of Flux.

From left: Georgi Petrov (SOM), Gustav Fagerstrom (BuroHappold), Jonathan Schimacher (Thornton Tomasetti), Zak Kostura (Arup), Blake Altschuler (SOM), Anthony Buckley-Thorpe (Flux) and Charles Protelli (KPF).

Advanced computational modeling tools play an integral role in today’s architecture, making it possible to design structures consisting of more complex and unique geometries. As these intricate geometries are realized by their designers, the need for reliable and sophisticated computational software to analyze and relay information is vital. Today, these tools are used to improve the efficiency of communication between various parties involved in a project – from the initial conception, to fabrication, and finally to construction. Tools like Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Parametric Modeling Software are commonly used by design professionals. These systems are used to optimize various building elements such as structural parameters, environmental/sustainability components, building envelope and façades, and critical user experience parameters.

In their presentation, Petrov and Altshuler discussed the multi-disciplinary approach to design using examples from the earliest experiments in computing in the 1960s to contemporary digital tools. The speakers also showcased the importance of an integrated design approach at all stages of a project, enabled by utilizing commercially available software in combination with digital tools developed in-house to enhance the flow of data between all design disciplines. Emphasis was given to what has remained constant and what has changed as technology has developed over the decades, ending with an overview of the set of collaboration tools that are currently under development.

With the huge proliferation of design software in the past decade, Petrov describes SOM’s methods for managing the vast flow of data produced form these design softwares.
Altshuler shows a tapering form that was generated by bending the architecture and structure with different programatic elements of the Guiyang Cultural Plaza Tower.

Schumacher next presented two platforms created by the development team at TT’s CORE studio, which was created with the purpose of coordinating R&D, developing custom software and apps, designing workflows to optimize project realization, and developing computational models for complex geometry projects. His presentation showcased methods that strengthen the design process by using a multitude of programs needed in the different building design phases.

Following Schumacher’s lecture, Kostura presented an overview of Arup’s Fulton Center, where the relationships between the architecture, the sky, and the light were determinative factors in the geometry and the materials used for the cable net roof structure. His presentation included a case study of the Mexico City Airport’s long span roof. Its design team used optimization tools to compare the efficiency of different space frame configurations.

Schumacher showcases parametric tools used by TT to evaluate myriad design parameters.

Kostura describes the added value of generating a BIM model for the Fulton Center Subway Station in New York City.

In his presentation, Fagerstrom described the collaborative tools used with various geometrically complex projects. As a case study, he described the roof structure of the Changi Sky Gardens in Singapore, which used parametric tools to form-find and determine the most efficient shell curvature imposing the least bending moment and deflections. Other projects were also illustrated to describe the computational tools used to design complex facades.

Finally, Buckley-Thorpe presented a unique software developer’s perspective on collaboration and the use of advanced computation in the design field. He demonstrated how new technology is enabling a shift from traditional forms of information exchange to live and calibrated “design environments,” facilitating entirely new and powerful forms of collaboration.

Fagerstrom describes the long span roof design of Changi Sky Gardens. Based on the specific stress zones of the roof, sizes of the structural members were optimized and varied by specific thicknesses and depths. 
Buckley-Thorpe describes a few of the various aspects of design that require coordination. As the design progresses it demonstrates a greater need for collaboration between the various professions.

The nearly two-hour-long presentations were followed by 30 minutes of group discussion and questions from the audience.

The event was organized by YPC Co-Chairs Hardik Doshi, Structural Design Engineer, McNamara Salvia, and Ilkay Can-Standard, Architectural Designer, KPF, with assistance from YPC Steering Committee Members Michelle Roelofs, Senior Engineer, Arup; Matthew Streeter, Engineer, SOM; Billy Tse, Senior Associate, Thornton Tomasetti; Larry Giannechini, Senior Engineer, Thornton Tomasetti; Elizabeth Geldres, Architect, Rafael Viñoly Architects; and Darren Chang, Architect, KPF.