At first sight the roof of the shopping center in the Palaisquartier in Frankfurt has the looks of a nonstandard structure. But look carefully, the detail is welded with very low precision. In the design stage there was the nonstandard concept design of the renowned Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas, there had been an intentional 3d wireframe mesh, but it was erroneously not executed using a precisely controlled CNC production process. Apparently the steel structure was manually drawn in 3d, not generated by scripts as it should have been. Many of the steel components were cut to length on site, the pieces were welded together on site in an extremely brutal fashion. I feel obliged to show this example for educational reasons, not to blame anyone in this project, not the architect, not the engineer, not the manufacturer. But it is obvious that something went wrong. The link between the file and the factory was broken. There should have been an immediate link from a scripted high precision detail to the with high precision CNC produced components, to be dry assembled on site with zero tolerance. It should absolutely have been avoided to be welded on site since that introduces so much imprecision. Unfortunately, I have experienced a similar problem while building the CET in Budapest. In much the same way that the construction designs of the Bird´s Nest and the Water Cube in Beijing have been compromised by a traditional construction approach, also the execution of the CET has regrettably been subject to old school construction methods. The problem is how to secure a sustainable nonstandard design and building process. The solution is to secure an unbroken link from BIM to CNC production to dry montage of the unique pieces of the 3d puzzle. Breaking the direct link, that is not transmitting the exact data from the “design” phase into the “build” phase of the design & build process, is a recipe for putting back innovation in the building industry.
In 2006 ONL has won the design for the Al Nasser Headquarters tower in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates via an invited international competition. The client Mr Al Nasser owns a steel company and has chosen ONL´s iconic design, by far the most challenging of the competition entries, as he liked the exposed nonstandard steel structure inside and the metal duotone finishing of the exterior facade panels. Only in the final design stage the client as represented by Northcroft Middle East realized that all steel components and all windows are indeed different in shape and dimensions. They were fascinated by this fact but at the same time worried if this would be feasible within the strictly commercial budget they had defined for this project. Thanks to the precise control ONL successfully has monitored on the data as extracted from the Revit BIM model they were convinced that it was feasible indeed. The smart BIM model has served many purposes. In the first place ONL appointed no more then one single highly skilled architect, the young Gijs Joosen MSc, to be the executive architect and the BIM modeller in one. No information was lost in translation. The BIM model allowed for tweaking the curvatures of the shape of the office tower until the requested maximum GFA was reached, while maintaining the uniqueness of all constituting components and the unique configurations of each office floor. Any change in the curvature affects the square footage of each floor and hence the allowed GFA. Furthermore it facilitated to communicate with high precision with the local architects ACG who were responsible for acquiring the building permit and responsible for the calculations of the steel structure. The Al Nasser HQ is now under construction and will be finished in 2013.
PS: the building is now renamed into the LIWA tower
In summer 2007 ONL, together with the Hungarian project developer Porto Hungary Kft, has won an international tender to build a cultural mixed use center in the heart of the Pest side of Budapest, on a truly unique location at the banks of the Danube. The nonstandard design includes the conversion of the old Közraktárak warehouses, and completes it with a bold new structure, jutting out southbound towards new developments along the river. The building is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010. The design stands out as an uncompromising nonstandard design. The notion of nonstandard was already promoted by a small but influential cultural elite in Budapest in the first decade of 21st century, I was interviewed for the magazines Atrium and Octogon. There were also designs developed for Budapest by other players in the international arena, there was a kidney shaped office building by Zaha Hadid for Tervita Square and another office building design by Asymptote in the odd form of two giraffe blockheads. These projects stranded because of their financial and urban arrogance, ignoring local rules and commercial financial constraints. I did not fall into that trap, since I respected the urban guidelines and the available budget. I was able to develop a feasible nonstandard design within these severe constraints. One of the strongholds of the success formula was the Building Information Model that was modeled in Revit, allowing to work in real time connected work groups in ONL´s Budapest and Rotterdam offices. Eventually ONL was rewarded the Autodesk Revit Experience Award in fall 2008, by and large because the complex triangulated mesh was successfully imported in the otherwise starched parametric Revit software and used to model the steel structure. One person in Budapest would control all concrete components, another the old warehouses, a third all installations, while in Rotterdam the complexity of nonstandard geometry was controlled. The four work groups updated their work on a daily basis. Instant updating was in principle possible but would have taken too much transmitting time, and hence would have slowed down the work. Autodesk was happy with the achievements, which made them decide to obtain one of the CET renders in the opening window of Revit version 2010, also appearing on the cover of the Revit 2010 CD cassette.
A typical procedure in VAA.ONL / Hyperbody designs is to define the feature lines of the whole structure first, then define the point cloud of reference points, and then augment the points with further details for the physical nodes. The data produced by the Grasshopper scripts are directly used for the CNC production of the constituting building components. The Haarrijn sound barrier features s dense stainless steel mesh along the A2 side and 6mm solid natural aluminium plates at the other side. As in all VAA.ONL designs all sides are considered to be front sides, and are treated as such. For the Haarrijn project we have taken the responsibility for the structural design as well. In collaboration with Arcadis we have set up an immediate link between the geometry of the designer and the caculations of the structural engineer. One of the clues for the evolutionary success of synthetic architecture is the direct link in the early design process between the most relevant disciplines. In the Haarrijn project we took the initiative to set up the direct link between our Grasshopper file and the structural engineers SCIA file. Grasshopper exports coordinates and other on beforehand agreed data to XML. SCIA reads the XML file, changes some data on the basis of the calculations, and exports the new data to XML which are read again by Grasshopper. This direct facilitates an intense feedback loop between designer [geometry] and engineer [calculation]. the feedback loop is itinerated many times as to reach the optimum in kg´s steel, number of nodes, foundation frequency and costs.
The protoSPACE lab 2.0 in the iWEB had to close down due to the 2008 fire, which destroyed the Faculty of Architecture. In Spring 2010 we opened protoSPACE 3.0 inside the walls of a new BK City. In the 2009 MSc2 course Hyperbody students and ONL architects designed a new protoSPACE 4.0 lab, a standalone pavilion between BK City and the Delft Science Centre. For protoSPACE 4.0 we developed a complete new building system based on an assemblage of large unique CNC produced building blocks. The prototypical building block we named protoCELL. The parametric protoCELL unit comes in a series of interacting function-specific swarms: daylight swarm, artificial light swarm, ventilation swarm, interaction swarm, heating swarm, display swarm. Each featured swarm consists of 10-20 parametric building components. The different swarms interact in a loose configuration, intermingling the specified functional units, but never betraying to which swarm one belongs. the units are CNC milled from polystyrene foam and coated with a strong polyurea skin. All building blocks of all swarms are structural as well as provide for insulation. The hundred large building blocks of the proposed protoSPACE 4.0 fit together like the unique pieces of a 3d puzzle. The gravity center of the units form the point cloud of reference points. The reference points are further specified as to form the details of the geometric relations between the units. Each reference points thus becomes a group of parametric related points.
Everyone has once been amazed to see how birds are flocking in the air. Much has been said about the simpe rules the birds are executing when flocking. The birds are constantly aware of their neighbours, avoid collision, keeping agreed distance, adapting to the neighbours direction, striving at a more central position in the flock. Their flocking behaviour has been modelled in simple computer graphics, back in 1986 Craig Reynolds [red3d.com]made a computer model of animal motion, scripting the rules for the creatures he named boids, based on three dimensional computational geometry. Why then are we interested in boids and swarms of birds. Why did I introduce the term swarm architecture back in 2001 during the first Game Set and Match Conference I organised at the TU Delft [hyperbody.nl]? My objective has been clear from the beginning: I wished then and still wish now to identify all possible building components as interacting elements building up bi-directional relations with each other. The idea of behaviour intrigued me because it would lay the foundations for an archtecture that is not static but animated in real time. Animated not as was described by Greg Lynn in his book Animated Form , who de facto claimed his license to kill the animation, but animated in its purest meaning, keeping the structure informed, much like the flock of birds. I concluded that there is no meaning in freezing the motion, I realized we needed to use actual ICT technology to sustain the information flow throughout the complete life-cycle of the built structure.
In 1998 we got commissioned by Nora Hugenholtz of Projectbureau Leidsche Rijn the design of a 1.6 km long acoustic barrier along the A2 highway, and we were asked to think about how to represent the commercial firms behind the barrier. We applied the strategy of multiple use of the ground, and proposed to embed a substantially bi building in the very volume of the barrier. In fact we considered the barrier and the A2 Cockpit building – as we proposed to brand it – as one continuous structure, only to pump up its volume where it was needed. Intuitively we combined many strategies into one coherent structure. Only because we described the project conceptually as one unified entity, we could take the logical consequence and develop one organizational structure for the whole project, including the flattened and cantilevering endings and the expanded Cockpit bubble. We came up with the concept to establish a point cloud of thousands of reference points. The points featured an exact position in space, which enabled us to write a script describing all constituting building components with high precision. It was unprecedented at that time, and still is unique that an architect actually controls the complex geometry in such high precision that the manufacturer – Meijers Staalbouw – can use the architect’s data for the CNC production. All components, steel, glass and rubber are customized to the extreme. Each and every component is different in its dimensions and its shape. The radical file to factory [F2F] process of mass customization was born. We have applied it ever since.
It is summer 2010, and it is only 14 years since I got my first cell phone using the GSM network, and it is only 16 years since I got my first email adress at the Well in Sausalito near San Francisco, a start up company run by Kevin Kelly. My first cell phone I used when we run the paraSITE project in Rotterdam, my first use of the Internet in 1994 to cater the multidisciplinary event Sculpture City. We were early movers among the international population of architects, simply because we were interested to apply new technologies in our profession. I purchased my first pc, the notorious Atari 1024ST, around 1988. I used it to model in 3d my design for the Theo van Doesburg exhibition in the Museum Boymans van Beuningen. Meanwhile Ilona used the Atari to sketch intuitively, exploring early 3d programs like STAD3D. During the years 1988 and 1989 we lived and worked one year in Meudon, in the atelier Theo van Doesburg. Before we came I purchased a fax-telephone machine, which did cost me more then 3000 HFL at that time, to communicate with the AA in London where I was unit master for Intermediate Unit 12 and with my client Evert van Straaten for the Doesburg exhibition in Rotterdam. As from late eighties and beginning of nineties of the last century we got networked with the world via Internet, cell phones and fax machines. We knew instinctivily that we needed to explore the potential of our new condition for art and architecture, which inspired us to organize a series of events: Artificial Intuition in Galerie Aedes in Berlin and TU Delft , Synthetic Dimension and Global Satellite in the Zonnehof in Amersfoort , Sculpture City in Rotterdam and the Internet , Genes of Architecture in Rotterdam, Vienna, Budapest and Berlin . After having experienced the promise of ICT in architecture and art, Ilona and I decided to build our practice of the fusion of art and architecture on a digital platform, enabling us to exchange information and raw data with many other disciplines, like composers, engineers, graphic designers. We felt that we just got to do it, as we know now, well ahead of our times.