Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I spent the weekend preparing for RTC Australasia.  Looking forward to spending 2 or 3 weeks in Auckland, visiting my sister, seeing the sights & attending RTC.  I will be taking two classes.  One will focus on conceptual massing, including my various pumpkin experiments.  The second will explore the use of BIM as a research tool for better understanding the way buildings work. 

I have decided to take 3 office buildings which happen to also be seminal works of architecture and use Revit models to dig deep .... I had started to model all 3 of these at one time or another and have previously posted about 2 of them.  I recently picked up a new book about Casa del Fascio and decided to start again and model it from scratch.  This was a good exercise in how far you can get in one weekend, and as usual I came up with some new ideas along the way. 

Of late my mind has been focussed on the use of BIM for concept design.  This is quite a complex building and I wanted to start by "roughing it out", sort of an analogy to the way sculptors often work.  I figured out the grids & levels, placed columns & floors, blocked out the main form with some chunky walls.

The architecture is all about expressing the concrete frame & playing games with subtle displacements and variations.  The facades can be seen as a matrix of cells.  I wanted to colour code groups of cells to create a simplified diagram of how the 4 different facades relate to each other.  It struck me that one way to do this would be to create a monster curtain wall family with 400x400 mullions spaced 4m apart and infilled with my chunky wall.

Duplicate the wall family to create types with different colours.  Select panels along vertical rows, unpin, and swap them out.  Use the empty system panel where appropriate.  This worked fine and helped me to get to grips with the underlying logic of the building.  It's a 4 sided courtyard (obvious references to the Renaissance Palazzo) but also can be read as two blocks of accommodation (left & right sides) with less substantial links at front & back.  As the modelling developed further the complexity of the form began to emerge.  The sectionalised perspective below illustrates this quite well.

You can see the games that he plays.  Reveal the frame, then hide it.  Walls of different opacities (and shininess).  The central volume has a symbolic & ceremonial importance.  Terragni believed that the Fascist party of Italy was an expression of the peoples will.  The building expresses the idea of a party born out of a revolution and the importance of transparency in its relation to the people of Como.  With the benefit of hindsight we can see that things didn't quite work out like that.  But I confess to a little admiration for the courage of Terragni's vision & hope.  There have been several popular revolutions across the middle east in recent times, one of them in a former Italian colony.  All of them are struggling to convert the fire of popular revolt into a lasting framework of peace & respect for all.  Not easy.

I didn't want to destroy my initial roughing out work, so I stumbled across an idea.  Why not use phasing to represent the different design stages ?  I created phases for Concept, Schematic & Detailed design.  The curtain wall version of the exterior facade belongs to Concept Stage & is demolished at the transition to Schematic.  New walls are built and window families developed to take us through to Detailed Design.

As a prelude to building the window families I drafted over the elevation views, making a detail group for each window type.  By copy-pasting these groups to a drafting view I could dimension them up to create an accurate guide for setting up the family geometry.

By duplicating views and assigning phases & filters appropriately I can keep simplified abstractions of my design alive while continuing to work out the finer details.  This approach certainly has widespread application to the kind of research work that I love to do.  I'm not sure how useful it will be for new design & build projects, but it's worth considering.

In just a day and a half, I have already created plans of this building that bear comparison with anything I have come across over the years.  It doesn't take long to find inaccuracies and contradictions in text-book drawings once you start to create a BIM model.  That's not really a criticism.  Most book illustrations serve their purpose of supplementing a text and giving readers images that can be used to compare the plan forms of different buildings.  But I think it is high time that we started to see histories of architecture & construction based on BIM models.  (a perfectly valid term in my view)

I need at least one more weekend to reach the level of detail that I need for my presentation in May, and this is only a sneak peek after all.  Don't want to spoil all the fun for my audience.  But as you can see, I did manage a reasonable image of at least one of the facades.  Those with sharp eyesight will notice that the window transomes don't align perfectly.  Actually the windows are very interesting, sort of a modern version of what the English would call "sash windows".  But I haven't modelled this properly yet.  Perhaps I will have different families for Schematic & Detailed Design.  Come to Auckland in May and find out !


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