In the days before computers, geometry dictated what architects could design and build.

Some exceptionally talented individuals such as Frank Lloyd Wright were ahead of their time in terms of creating building designs with unusual shapes and patterns, but for the most part building design was constrained to relatively simple shapes and patterns.

However, in recent years, the advent of Computer Aided Design (CAD), and more recently, Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, have given designers more powerful tools with which to render complex designs.

Below we look at new technologies and examples of construction that help architects and designers continue to push the envelope of what is possible in building design.

Computer Algorithms that Define Project Geometry

New programs like Autodesk’s Project Abaka make it possible for architects to go beyond the rules of geometry and instead tell a computer the requirements of a design they want to produce using a concept referred to as generative architecture.

For example, assume that a client has a specific idea for how he or she wants a project built with respect to the building size, natural lighting, energy use, etc.

After entering the criteria the client desires, within the span of a few seconds, the computer provides a multitude of project design solutions and geometric configurations that would have taken a person infinitely longer to manually create.

Buildings Made from Computer Printouts: Digital Fabrication at its Finest

How Digital Architecture Software is Transforming Modern Design -Landesgartenschau Exhibition Hall

Photo: ICD/ITKE/IIGS University of Stuttgart

In an amazing feat of architectural science, the Landesgartenschau Exhibition Hall in Germany was built using a combination of digital architecture software, robotically prefabricated beech plywood plates, and elements of biomimicry (the exterior design is modelled on the skeletons of sea urchins).

A sophisticated digital program was used to not only draft the requirements and plans for each individual panel, but it also then directed the CNC (computer numerical control milling) machinery that cut each piece and guided the robotic arm that joined them together.

The innovative building design, located in Stuttgart, Germany, state that the Landesgartenschau Exhibition Hall is the only commercial building in existence to have been made from prefabricated plywood beech plates made by a robot.

Expanding the Possibilities for Building Skins

How Digital Architecture Software is Transforming Modern Design -Federal Court building in Bellinzona, Switzerland

Photo: Tonatiuh Ambrosetti © Bundesamt für Bauten und Logistik BBL

Gramazio & Kohler Architects is at the forefront of digital fabrication, using a combination of hand-drawn conceptual mock-ups, 3-D-modeling software, and CNC milling to finalize projects such as the ceilings of the Federal Court building in Bellinzona, Switzerland.

As described in a recent issue of Architectural Record, “The ceiling panels, which include perforations and a swirling pattern, perform both aesthetic and acoustical functions: they reflect light from a central skylight above the rooms and help ensure that the court proceedings are audible.”

Only a generation or two ago, these building designs and fabrication techniques featuring such complex patterns and architectural requirements would have been more likely to take place in a science fiction novel than in reality.

Thanks to the continued innovation in the field of digital architecture software and fabrication techniques, before long, they may be commonplace.