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SmartGeometry Sydney Workshop

March 4, 2010

In the lead up to the SmartGeometry conference in Barcelona, Dominik Holzer reports on the recent parametric design workshop.

The SmartGeometry 2010 Sydney Workshop was held on 10-11 February at the University of NSW. The event was set up in collaboration with BVN Architecture and UNSW to provide training and to discuss Bentley’s parametric design tool ‘Generative Components’ (GC) in preparation for the upcoming Working Prototypes SmartGeometry conference in Barcelona (19-24 March). Due to strong interest, it was decided to complement the training with selected presentations from Australia’s top designers and researchers in the field of parametric design, scripting and rapid manufacture.

The amended program featured 14 presentations showcasing outstanding work of top Australian design firms and academic institutions. After a welcome from UNSW’s Head of School Jim Plume and a short introduction by Dominik Holzer (BVN Architecture/SmartGeometry), James Gardiner (Faan Studio/RMIT) spoke about additive manufacturing for construction. James presented his cutting edge approach to prototyping and ‘printing’ full-sized building components on a housing project in Italy.

Three lecturers from UNSW highlighted the diversity of parametric approaches to design we currently witness in architecture: Jeremy Harkins showcased a parametric system designed for a low cost development project on the Solomon Islands; while Tam Nguyen introduced the audience to results from a prototype course at UNSW that tested the bridging of multi-disciplinary software to construct a purely digital design process from concept to documentation.

Russell Lowe gave insights on an ARC Linkage project called “Real-Time Porosity”, which used ‘Games Engine’ technology to enable users to interact with a virtual model of clinical environments within the Gold Coast University Hospital. As well as providing a visual representation of the proposed development, the model can also be used to simulate and test various performance criteria that are crucial to the operation of the hospital.

Day one of the workshop concluded with an afternoon training session about the basics of parametric design and an exercise in GC in particular.
The second day commenced with a brief introduction from Royce Michael Lee (BVN Architecture), who provided his perspective on the relationship between the tools architects might use to explore design ideas and the tools commonly used for documentation. He observed that it is the linkages between these tools — the data and its connections — and the ideas contained within that are much more important than the specific brands of software. He further noted his appreciation for groups such as SmartGeometry who have shifted their focus to explore fabrication as a means to further unlock creative potential.

A provocative presentation by Anthony Burke from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) prompted architects to challenge overly parametrisised design approaches. Anthony highlighted the need for architects to confront the often isotropic design space that parametric systems can seduce us to, and argued in favour of more disruptive and emergent design that better reflects the nature of complex systems. Acknowledging the benefits of a well-integrated design process, he also highlighted that the process must remain disintegrated at times to allow for creative freedom and unconstrained exploration.

This was an approach supported by Rob Beson (UTS/Design to Production), who showcased work on a large-scale urban proposition using algorithmic design techniques, and a small-scale prototyping project with Richard Goodwin Architects.

Meanwhile, Ben Coorey (UTS/Woods Bagot) presented outcomes of a recent studio run as part of UTS’s ‘Masters of Digital Architecture’ program titled ‘Intensive Surfaces’. Algorithmic design helped students to inform surfaces with geometries of emergent behaviour.
The overarching discourse triggered by the UTS presentations seemed to raise questions about the designer’s approach to architectural composition. Whilst one aspect of parametric design allows us to introduce variation to repetition in a quasi automated way, such an approach can easily lead to a shortfall of differentiation and characteristics.

Arup’s presentation of projects undertaken in their office with the use of algorithmic and parametric modeling provided a solid contrast to the more abstract discourse before it. John Legge-Wilkinson reviewed parametric modeling for engineering on the basis of 4-5 high-profile buildings across the Australasian region. Whilst the Arup approach to parametrics may at first sight appear rather pragmatic, its full potential in the engineering context was highlighted by Steve Downing with his introduction to the conceptual design tool DesignLink. DesignLink is currently being tested and implemented at Arup to interconnect various analysis software applications through flexible geometry models and recipes for their creation. This will allow for easy negotiation of design intent across professional boundaries at the early stages of design.

The two day SmartGeometry workshop was rounded off by three highly informative talks by members from Sydney University (USYD):
Sarah Benton opened a discourse on making through conceptually rich architectural frameworks developed by means of virtual and physical experimentation. Sarah took the 70-strong audience through the process leading up to the installation of the UltraFAB Pavilion in Sydney by her and her students. Dirk Anderson (UTS/Urban Future Organization) showcased recent work of his team using parametric and scripting technologies in everyday architectural context. One notable example was the generation of a parametric pattern for the Veiled House façade in Surry Hills, Sydney. Damien Butler‘s talk touched on mass customisation within the built environment, focusing in particular on the use of digital fabrication technologies and their use in architecture.

The USYD presentations were a great match to the overarching topic of Working Prototypes with the backing of rule-based design. The talks raised questions about the scalability of new approaches to fabrication as explored in academia to then implement them on large scale building projects.

Overall the two-day workshop was a highly enjoyable event, demonstrating the sheer range, quality and diversity of work being undertaken in Australia in the context of rule-based design and fabrication. The scene in Australia is certainly strong and the positive response from the audience shows that there is substantial interest for similar events in the future.

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