Parametrics in Design

By Tim Dufault FAIA

Super Bowl Weekend is over, and the reviews are in – SoFi stadium was a hit. Across the board, the fans, media, players, and public were filled with awe and wonder at the amazing forms, spaces, and amenities of the largest stadium in American professional football. Congratulations to HKS on such an amazing accomplishment. We are proud to have HKS as a founding investor in Concert and that the precursor to the Concert platform was used in this amazing project.

While the finished stadium is amazing, the process of designing and building it is even more amazing. The complex geometries as well as the intricate structural measures that protect it from earthquakes make it a marvel of modern design. What most, if not all, of the fans who enjoyed the day on Sunday don’t realize is – SoFi stadium is four separate buildings (the stadium seating bowl, the support buildings around the perimeter, the main plaza, and the concert hall) all under one massive roof – each of them structurally independent of the other. There is also a massive system of underground earth anchors that tie back the large columns for the roof, helping them resist not only the movement of the earth in a quake, but also the forces of the massive tensile roof and the record-breaking video screen that hangs from it. SoFi is, by all accounts, a wonder of the modern world.

The calculations used to design and construct SoFi would have been possible, but not economically workable 15 years ago. To do it, HKS and its engineers used powerful parametric design programs to design, calculate, and document the unique aspects of the project. As an example, the massive roof that protects the stadium, plaza, and concert venue is made up of thousands of individual arcs and curves, each one dependent on the adjacent one. Without the help of modern computing, the design and construction of that roof would have taken years longer. Instead, it was designed, fabricated, and installed in less than two years. An awe-inspiring feat: yet design and construction today depend on the ability of computers to generate and calculate even the simplest of buildings we create.

Parametric design is not new. Plane, train, and automobile designers have used parametrics (or more broadly referred to as computational design) as part of their processes for decades, in the early years using powerful supercomputers to solve the equations. In its simplest definition, parametric design is a paradigm where the relationship between design elements is used to manipulate and inform the design of complex geometries and structures. However, in building design, its adoption is quite recent. While you can go back as far as the late 1800’s and find examples that have complex analogue geometries – Antonio Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (started in 1882 and still incomplete) and Le Corbusier’s Chapel Notre Dame Du Haute in Ronchamp France (circa 1955) are two examples – one of the first times computational design was extensively used in building design was in Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao completed in 1997 and the follow on project the Los Angeles Walt Disney Concert Hall, completed in 2003. The Disney Hall’s complex exterior geometric form was shaped by the interior acoustics of the hall and as the parameters for the acoustics changed, the exterior form also changed, in a different but related way. During construction, geospatial locating systems were embedded into the structural and envelope components to help find the exact placement – in three dimensions – of each piece. SoFi stadium used this same process for the installation of its roof.

The universal use of computers in design today makes computational design a part of everyday life. Design and Construction are rapidly embracing new techniques to develop and build the buildings of tomorrow. In the next five years, we expect to see an explosion of innovative technologies – AI based design tools, robotics and automation in construction, and integration of new operations tools that use digital infrastructure to create and build living buildings. Yet, for these technologies to fundamentally disrupt and improve the way we create, there must be a foundation of trust that the data we share is the right information, is relevant, and imparts value to the financial performance of the businesses and institutions that use them.

Concert is that foundation – the critical mechanism to document and securely share digital design and construction assets in a way that every member of the team has confidence they can interrogate and find the full set of data assets to prove what they are professionally responsible for providing. Without this trust mechanism, the full transformation will never occur. Therefore, we say, Concert is the Foundation to successful digital design and construction.