April 06, 2009
SmartGeometry 2009 Report
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

SmartGeometry 2009 Report

By Susan Smith

The SmartGeometry 2009 conference held in San Francisco this past week attracted a broad spectrum of users with its rich offering of courses taught by tutors who are themselves prestigious researchers, architects, and designers.

The SmartGeometry Group is an independent nonprofit based in the UK, headed up by Lars Hesselgren, Hugh Whitehead and J Parrish. The group formed as a result of the need to find a way to answer the question, “how can computers rationalize design intent?” Through a relationship with Bentley Systems, the ensuing research and development and resultant product, GenerativeComponents (GC), was born.

GenerativeComponents has been a commercial product since December 2008 and has expanded throughout the world.

The SmartGeometry Conference, devoted to GC, attracts those who want to further their understanding of cutting edge architectural technology. This event is sponsored by Bentley, and the company provides software and trainers. The event featured a “Fab Lab” equipped with laser cutters, 3D printers and wide format printers to enable attendees to create physical representations and paper representations of their work.

Huw Roberts, Bentley global marketing director, said that the Alumni Summit, a one day feast of presentations of work during SmartGeometry Conference, is attended by people who have attended past workshops and are demonstrating practice of concepts. Last year was the first year they offered this type of format. Some of the presenters were in the midst of a project or had barely completed designs before showing them off to an audience of over 100 attendees. One had the sense of industry, of excitement, among the designers who, right here at the conference, may be burning the midnight oil in a great rush to finish something they find truly remarkable.

click to enlarge [

Aortic heart
While this may seem a rarified environment in which to study and present work, it is an environment which fosters and encourages openness to ideas, an “anything is possible” view. One colleague who had attended SmartGeometry several years ago commented that the technology has definitely “come a long way.”

Where once we may have defined GenerativeComponents as a research project strictly for architects building Frank Gehry-like structures, GC now is used beyond the specialized building to encompass urban design, sustainable design, bridges, cell biology and much more. It is used in conjunction with tools from other vendors such as Form Z and Rhino 3D to exact different results.

As Roberts said, the most demanding environment is the curvy, funky, swoopy building, and GC is a design environment capable of handling this yet is fully applicable to square buildings plus is not limited to architectural design. Bottom line: GC looks at relationships, and relationships are the heart of existence, so the tool’s reach could be fathomless.

Sales on GC have been promising, with some customers elevating from MicroStation to embrace the product as well as some new customers coming in. All the new functionality in MicroStation is reflected in GC as well.

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Lars Hesselgren, KPF
Directors of SmartGeometry, Lars Hesselgren of KPF, Hugh Whitehead, Foster + Partners, and J Parrish of ArupSport, thanked people and noted that in the six years of running the SmartGeometry group, they have changed their obsession with the tool to the obsession with the product they can make with the tool. GC product manager Makai Smith said that the V8i version of GC was released December 8th, introducing a new symbolic diagram built on the V8i platform.

At SmartGeometry 2009, the beta build was deployed. “Using beta software at this event is key,” said Smith. “It allows us to keep open to your feedback. We will work hard to incorporate your suggestions from this event. Bentley supports this with onsite technical training.”

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Hugh Whitehead, Foster+Partners
Some new features of the beta version include mesh with manifold topology, faceted surfaces, efficient, large datasets such as DTMs (has been tested in the civil market), mesh operations, booleans, the flexibility to go between curve, surface, solid and mesh.

GC also provides multiple parallel modes that are kept synchronized. This means that a user can have a full scale geometry model and on another scale can have an RP fabrication model. Modeling information can be brought back into STAAD, and GC data can be brought into BIM.

What is in the works is the leveraging of the Bentley interoperability platform for broad AEC file compatibility, also moving to 64-bit computing. The convergence of associative parametric systems to make them cohesive and legible is also part of the plan, to take full advantage of the competition.

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J Parrish, ArupSport
Bentley’s Applied Research Group director, Volker Mueller, said the vision of that group looks “beyond the next version of software to identify and investigate new technology. Its concern is exploring out into the future with a vision time frame of 3-5 years.” Research projects can be internal prototype development or joint projects with universities, technology providers and users.

Themes include collaboration, computation and design, work packaging, construction, augmented reality and interoperability.

Martin Tamke, associate professor at CITA, Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, sees architecture as craft. Digital crafting requires a commitment of 1:1. His presentation showed a "glacier" made of laser cut fabric, with a time lapse of the surface, demonstrating the surface quality within textiles and how to incorporate them into a building. “Digital tools allow us to inform materials,” he said. Information can be transmitted directly to machines such as knitting machines and can become quite speculative. This work is being done for an exhibition project. Tamke describes the work as “a shift away from industrialization.” And
“decisions for design build come out of the parametric engine, and give opportunity for more expression.”

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