GenerativeComponents: Going with the Flow

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Industry News
GenerativeComponents: Going with the Flow
by Susan Smith

In November, 2007, Bentley announced its trial program for generative design in architecture and engineering, which included a no-charge 90-day subscription to GenerativeComponents – Bentley’s generative design software – and a Web 2.0 community “space” for users to learn and share ideas about this new approach to design.

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Abstract produced by Ricky Titus in Generative Components
What is GenerativeComponents? GenerativeComponents (GC) is an associative and parametric modeling system used by architects and engineers to automate the design processes and accelerate design iterations. Created by Dr. Robert Aish, former Bentley research scientist, GC gives designers and engineers creative ways to explore alternative or unusual building forms without manually building the detail design model for each scenario. It also increases their efficiency in managing conventional design and documentation.

I’ve followed the progress of GC for many years, and found it unique in that it was brought to market differently than other software products. It also epitomizes the quest to bring parametric modeling capabilities of 3D solid modeling into architectural design, but with greater fluidity and fluency than 3D solid modeling. Not surprisingly, designers and architects who wanted more freedom in design than the traditional CAD interface allowed inspired GC. They were responsible for shaping the product very early on in its life, and have continued to shape and define it. The SmartGeometry Group, a non-Bentley group of users, was formed to continue research and create architectural design with GC.
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BishopsGate Tower, designed using Generative Components, copyright Kohn, Pederson, Fox Associates

According to Huw Roberts, Bentley’s global marketing director, GC has grown “from a great partnership between a software company and users of software in a way that I really haven’t seen any other example of in the market.”

GC is definitely different. For those designers whose view of design is as a set of relationships and a series of decisions that build on each other, GC could be easy for them to pick up. GC training is now available in a growing number of universities, architectural and engineering schools all over the world.

The generative design virtual community site offers training, materials, samples, and the opportunity to connect with others who are using GC, as well as Bentley support and training personnel.

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Multiple Truss created using Bentley Generative Components - Lars Hesselgren

“With the changes occurring in architectural and building designs, the notion of designing conventionally - whatever that means to someone - isn’t sufficient anymore,” explained Roberts. “Designers, contractors, engineers are looking at issues in terms of building performance, sustainability, new materials, new methods of construction, new geometries, new relationships between the programmatic elements of the building, and they really want the computer to be their partner in that process, rather than just a documentation tool or something automated. What’s exciting about GC is that’s exactly what it does. It’s a way the user can partner with a computer to deal with the issues that are important to them and to connect them to the geometry and the design model they’re making in a very flexible, iterative way. It allows them to re-explore issues and change their mind and not be limited by what is hard coded into the software.”

According to the press release, “GenerativeComponents uniquely preserves and exploits the critical relationships between design intent and geometry. Users can, for instance, dynamically model and manipulate geometry, apply rules and capture relationships among geometric features, and define complex forms through concisely expressed algorithms. By virtue of GenerativeComponents’ extension of Bentley’s MicroStation environment, the resulting generative designs can flow through to detailed production and fabrication without information loss.”

In contrast, building information modeling (BIM) is designed to help users with the predictable requirements of building design, i.e. coordinating all drawings, and elements of the design. GC can be a valuable addition to the BIM model because it can address the part of the design that is not anticipated or hard wired into the system.

Roberts said that GC most commonly drives the BIM model, but it can be approached either way. Many architects will have a really good understanding of parts of their structure in BIM, and will be dealing with the big issues first. For more specifics, GC can be added in.

Dubbed the “Father of GenerativeComponents” by many such as Lars Hesselgren, Dr. Robert Aish was instrumental during the formative years of GC. During the last couple of years, once GC moved out of the research division into Bentley’s commercial software development process, Aish’s focus shifted to the people using the product, learning what their experiences were, and enabling a dialogue between them and Bentley. Dr. Aish has now left Bentley to join Autodesk.

Thousands of people now use GC, according to Roberts, led by such notable architectural design firms as Arup, KPF, Foster and Partners, and Morphosis. Architectural programs at universities such as Penn State, Yale, Architectural Association at Columbia also include GC in their curricula.

Where once GC may have seemed a somewhat elite tool, it is now offered free to every MicroStation user who is on the Bentley SELECT program. A “Discovery” subscription and trial program are designed for those who don’t have MicroStation.

“Many people using it use other systems,” noted Roberts. “It can easily be taken into systems such as AutoCAD and CATIA and used there.”

There is a youthful exuberance and sense of possibility about GC. For architects and designers who want to try something new, GC is very appealing because of the price point. It can be easily added to whatever you’re already working on, and you don’t have to buy MicroStation or learn any other program, you can just add it to your workflow.

GenerativeComponents and related websites:

Generative Design Virtual Community Site 
Bentley Generative Components website
Generative Components website

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