Columbia University GSAPP (Dáve)



Feb '09 - Feb '09

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    By Dáve Kwon
    Feb 9, '09 2:45 AM EST

    Taught by David Benjamin

    A design studio sponsored by Robot Millennium, modeFrontier, CATIA, Buro Happold, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill


    Suppose by now we can all create parametric models. Suppose we all write scripts that generate complex and dazzling geometry. As architects in the digital age, no doubt we use software to simulate the performance of buildings in relation to safety, structure, environment, and flows of air and water. And, as second nature, we use digital fabrication to create precise full-scale constructions of all shapes imaginable.

    Now what?

    How do we design in this new post parametric era? Once we internalize these techniques and take them for granted, when exactly should we employ one of them or another, and what new design possibilities now arise? What about the broader implications? Will scripts democratize design? Will they expose values and criteria that are typically hidden? Will architects exchange them in a spirit of collaborative, open source idealism? Or will scripts become a secret code for technical and aesthetic specialists?

    This is the territory of Proof, a studio based on testing digital technologies. In our research, we will explore the wide design space opened up by the intersection of form-based algorithms and performance-based algorithms. We will search for innovative and unexpected results by using a new design methodology: creating architecture through design of experiments rather than design of complete solutions.

    In our experiments, we will learn and apply parametric modeling tools (CATIA) and advanced artificial intelligence methods (evolutionary computation). We will be among the first architects in the world to use new multi-objective optimization software (modeFrontier). We will test with digital simulations (FEA and CFD) and we will test with physical prototypes (digital fabrication and wind tunnel experiments).

    Yet, while we will employ serious tools of engineering and computer science, we will not limit our studies to technical performance. We will also value positions about culture and program that are difficult to quantify. Over the course of the semester, we will have an informed, critical, and open-ended discussion about the future and meaning of our post parametric era, and the future and meaning of architecture.


    Anyone who spent hours last fall checking and re-checking election polls might agree with writers Michael Blastland and Andrew Dilnot when they declare, “For good or ill, numbers are today’s preeminent public language—and those who speak it rule.”

    Today, numbers drive search engines, social networks, global positioning, global supply chains, and computer simulations of everything from airplane bird strikes to hurricane paths to crowd behavior. But what are the numbers of architecture? And what about architecture is beyond the reach of even the best numbers?


    In this studio, we will consider how architecture might be defined by an ecology of numbers—an ebb and flood of input numbers and output numbers. To start, we will engage input numbers as a technique to grow geometry. We will use parametric modeling software (CATIA) to create adaptive three-dimensional models that are defined by precise inputs. Then we will learn to write scripts that generate complex and unpredictable forms based on changes in the inputs. This general approach reflects a relatively new paradigm in research on artificial intelligence: rather than program machines to follow fixed and known rules, set up an emergent system to evolve new and unexpected results.

    But applying scripting to generate geometry is only the beginning. The heart of our research will involve the study of how specific input numbers correspond to specific output numbers. After a set of inputs generates a precise form, how do we measure its performance?


    Our main operational strategy will involve testing. In two complementary processes, we will test with computer simulations and we will test with physical prototypes.

    For our computer simulations, we will use finite element analysis software (Robot Millennium) and computational fluid dynamics software (Cosmos FloWorks) to test the performance of possible designs under various conditions. We will also consider how we might quantify objectives such as programmatic relationships and aesthetic value in order to measure each design.

    Then, we will be among the first architects in the world to use the multi-objective optimization software modeFrontier by Esteco. This software for automated testing will allow us to generate, evaluate, and evolve thousands of possible designs through the use of evolutionary computation and genetic algorithms.


    For testing with physical prototypes, we will use the Avery Digital Fabrication Lab—milling machines, waterjet cutter, and rapid prototyping machines—to create part-scale and full-scale prototypes.

    This is a digital fabrication studio with the premise that fabrication must be linked to testing. We will test our prototypes in a high-speed wind tunnel at the City College of New York, evaluating their performance in relation to lateral force, uplift, and vortex shedding.

    While computer simulation will be used to quickly explore a large field of possible design solutions, physical prototyping will be used to carefully study a small number of successful designs under conditions that are difficult to model in the computer.


    Our experiments will involve pure research on new design techniques and applied research on buildings that address urgent urban issues. The goal of the studio is not simply to master the technical skills of scripting, optimization, fabrication, and testing. Instead, the goal is to test the techniques themselves, and to have an informed and critical discussion about their role in architecture.

    In the spirit of open source research, we will document our findings and share our files and code on a public wiki. Collectively, we will produce a body of research for future generations to build on, and individually we will create unique and innovative building designs.


    Association football (soccer) is the world’s sport. It is more popular than all United States major and minor league sports combined. FIFA, the international governing body of football, has more member countries than the United Nations. The game is played everywhere—over 240 million people in more than 200 countries regularly play it. And it is watched by all—the final match of the 2006 FIFA World Cup was viewed by 715 million, one ninth of the planet’s entire population. Football is accessible, universal, human.


    The football we dream about is shared with others and it is played in stadiums. Stadiums are the architecture of the beautiful game. More generally, stadiums are among the few places where we come together on a massive scale. They are flashpoints for our society, our culture, and out media. In the past 20 years in the United States, nearly every major city has replaced a sporting facility or planned to do so. As cities around the world compete to host sports tournaments like the Olympics and the World Cup, they build stadiums and infrastructure that change urban environments and global reputations. In this studio, we will apply our research to new possibilities in stadium design.


    In seventeen months, the world’s second largest continent will host the world’s largest football event for the first time. After South Africa won its bid to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, then President Thabo Mbeki stated, “We want to ensure that one day historians will reflect on the 2010 World Cup as a moment when Africa stood tall and resolutely turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict. We want to show that Africa’s time has come.” The games will demonstrate that Africa is thoroughly modern, confident, and worldly.

    South Africa is currently building and renovating ten stadiums for the World Cup. Our studio this semester will work closely with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and HOK Sport to redesign Soccer City Stadium, just outside of Soweto in Johannesburg. (HOK Sport is a major consultant for this real project.) The original stadium was the location of the first mass rally of Nelson Mandela after his release from prison in 1990. The new stadium, with a capacity of 95,000, will host the opening and final matches in 2010. Each student will explore forms and structural systems for the project, and each will address the social and cultural issues involved in the new development. We will begin with briefings by SOM and HOK Sport on the project requirements and constraints. Over the course of the semester, we will meet with partners, structural engineers, and stadium experts from both firms. We will conclude with a presentation of our own designs to the firm and the stadium developer.


    The Football for Hope Movement aims to harness the power of football and direct it toward fulfilling the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. As part of the upcoming World Cup, the Movement will bring together FIFA and streetfootballworld to launch “20 Centers for 2010.” This project will involve the funding and construction of social development centers, each with a mini-pitch, classrooms, and health care facilities. During the semester, we will explore the role of football and the role of architecture in development. We will work with FIFA and incorporate the design of one Center into the design of our stadium.


    The studio will work with several companies and organizations outside of the School. All of them are personally invested in the studio. Our collaborators will include:

    Yiannis Andreopoulos (Professor of Mechanical Engineering, City College of NY)
    Jonathan Colby (Hydrodynamic Engineer, Verdant Power)
    Roger Duffy (Design Partner, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)
    Nader Fateh (VP of Business Development, Esteco)
    Ian Keough (Senior Technical Designer, Buro Happold)
    Hod Lipson (Professor of Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University)
    Adam Modesitt (Technology and Software Expert, SHoP Architects)
    Chas Peppers (Project Manager, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill)
    Michael Reed (Designer, Blue Sky Studios, and Professor of CS, Columbia)
    Steve Sanderson (Partner, case)



      i don't understand...

      you're paying money to design a stadium, and HOK is having students design (cos it's cheaper than own staff) so they don't have to?

      Feb 9, 09 4:00 am  · 

      Interesting studio. I was engaged in something similar back in 2001 with a collaboration between RMIT Melbourne, SIAL, MIT and Gehry Partners. At that time we were using CATIA also and exploring parametric design. The key thing for me, now and then, and what I think you'll encounter is how do you account for meaning in what you produce?

      You can create structures with geometric and space constraints, but tying that to back to traditional architectural values is always a difficult thing to do - ie, space, place, form, experience. It is actually a reasonably difficult intellectual investigation. Something I am still working on...

      Feb 9, 09 9:28 pm  · 

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