Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Working Prototypes in AEC

I recently attended the SmartGeometry conference in Barcelona. For those unfamiliar with the SmartGeometry Group, it is a partnership between practice, research and academia formed in 2001, including leading industry firms [Foster+Partners, PLP Architecture, Arup, Buro Happold] and educational institutions [Architectural Association, MIT, Delft Technical University, University of Bath]. The activities of the SmartGeometry Group promote the emergence of a new generation of digital designers and craftsmen, who are able to exploit the combination of digital and physical media. The group’s interests range from parametric design and scripting to digital manufacturing. The SmartGeometry Group is dedicated to educating building professionals in the application of advanced 3D design tools and computational design.

Here is their description of this year’s conference (

“An Exceptional Event Focusing on Innovative Architectural and Engineering Design … Hosted by the SmartGeometry Group this event focuses on innovative design tools, technologies, and methodologies that allow and encourage new forms of architectural and structural expression – forms that are radically changing the built environment.

The SmartGeometry 2010 theme “Working Prototypes” focused on functioning prototypes developed to prove and test concept and design. The Conference itself was preceded by a 4-day Workshop where participants (selected from the best and brightest professionals and students) were organized around 10 “Clusters” which were hubs of expertise. For example, one cluster was entitled “Nonlinear Systems Biology and Design.” Check out this description … “This workshop situates itself at the nexus between architecture and systems biology to gain insight into dynamic living systems for the development of novel computational design tools and material systems that are at once natural and artificial. Generative design techniques emerge with references to natural systems, not as mimicry but as trans-disciplinary translation of flexibility, adaptation and complexity into realms of architectural manifestation.” You can see this ‘manifestation’ in progress in the photos in the following link:

Definitely not your father’s architecture class!

Again, in the words of SmartGeometry, “working prototypes are functioning prototypes developed for the purpose of proving and testing a concept and design. This puts fabrication and the physical at center stage in challenging participants to design, assemble and test working prototypes.”

In an industry where most of the marketing messages are centered on virtual modeling, simulation, and BIM, it was refreshing to see this group put such a strong emphasis on fabrication and working prototype models. These cluster groups worked into the wee hours of the morning to complete their challenges (some things never change), and everybody seemed energized and pleased with the final results.

Of course, a visit to Barcelona would not be complete without a tour of the Sagrada Familia temple (the ultimate ‘working prototype’ building project). Count me among the fortunate to get an inside tour, complete with hard hat, from the project team working to complete a critical phase of this 130 year old construction project. We took the construction elevator to the top of the dome to snap these photos:

A complete story and video about Antoni Gaudi and La Sagrada Familia are available here -