MIT tool may reveal architectural past

Mar 08, 2006

A computer design tool originally created for animation may soon unlock the secrets of the structure of ancient cathedrals, according to MIT Assistant Professor John Ochsendorf of architecture.

A structural engineer specializing in architectural and construction history, Ochsendorf recently presented to colleagues a virtual design method that has been extended in novel ways by a team of architects, computer scientists and engineers at MIT.

"This is the kind of work -- crossing the boundaries of engineering, history and architecture -- that could only happen at MIT," Ochsendorf said.

The method, known as particle-spring systems, is a three-dimensional design tool that was originally developed by computer scientists for creating graphics such as character animation and cloth simulation. For example, particle-spring systems produced the clothes "worn" by virtual characters such as Yoda in "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith."

The interdisciplinary MIT team proposes to employ particle-spring systems dynamically: They are using the software, which models the gravitational load on a given shape's exterior, to find a structure's most efficient form and to allow the architect or engineer to interact with the form-finding program while it is still running.

Ochsendorf, assistant professor in the Building Technology Program, described the software to colleagues at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Feb. 16-20 . Ochsendorf's talk was titled "Arches: Gateways From Science to Culture."

The team's software is the "next generation of design tools. My dream is to use it to understand Gothic cathedrals," he said.

Historically, finding and creating new structural forms was accomplished by painstaking physical means. Antoni Gaudi, Spanish architect and designer of the chapel of Barcelona's Colonia Guell, devoted 10 years to a "hanging chain" model made of weights on strings that would serve as an upside down version of the efficient arched forms he sought.

Gaudi's work followed the 17th century discovery by English scientist Robert Hooke that, "As hangs the flexible chain, so but inverted will stand the rigid arch."

MIT's virtual method, Ochsendorf said, is as straightforward as Gaudi's physical method for exploring and testing new forms, but it uses time, materials and money more efficiently.

"Using the particle-spring approach, a three-dimensional structure such as a cathedral can be created in only a few minutes. Most importantly, the user can change form and forces in real time while the solution is still emerging," Ochsendorf and Axel Kilian (Ph.D. 2006) wrote in a recent paper, "Particle-Spring Systems for Structural Form-Finding."

Ochsendorf said he envisions MIT's particle-spring systems method being used to analyze and illuminate historic masonry methods (these secrets were closely guarded by guilds) and to support sustainable modern building practices by discovering more efficient -- and less-resource-consuming -- structures.

MIT's own Kresge Auditorium, designed by Eero Saarinen and built in 1955, offers an example. The hanging chain software program could have reduced the amount of concrete used in its roof.

"The Kresge roof is one-eighth of a sphere. The shell is made of 6 inches of concrete, and it could have been made using only 3 inches of concrete," Ochsendorf said.

Source: MIT, by Sarah Wright

Explore further: Tablets, cars drive AT&T wireless gains—not phones

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

MasterCard, Zwipe announce fingerprint-sensor card

14 hours ago

On Friday, MasterCard and Oslo, Norway-based Zwipe announced the launch of a contactless payment card featuring an integrated fingerprint sensor. Say goodbye to PINs. This card, they said, is the world's ...

Plastic nanoparticles also harm freshwater organisms

15 hours ago

Organisms can be negatively affected by plastic nanoparticles, not just in the seas and oceans but in freshwater bodies too. These particles slow the growth of algae, cause deformities in water fleas and impede communication ...

Atomic trigger shatters mystery of how glass deforms

15 hours ago

Throw a rock through a window made of silica glass, and the brittle, insulating oxide pane shatters. But whack a golf ball with a club made of metallic glass—a resilient conductor that looks like metal—and the glass not ...

Recommended for you

Nokia turnaround since handset unit sale continues

50 minutes ago

Nokia appears to have turned around its fortunes after the sale of its ailing cellphone unit to Microsoft, reporting a third-quarter net profit of 747 million euros ($950 million), from a loss of 91 million euros a year earlier. ...

Yahoo CEO defends strategy in face of criticism

51 minutes ago

Signaling her reign has reached a pivotal juncture, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is trying to convince restless shareholders that the long-struggling Internet company is heading in the right direction.

Sk Hynix logs all-time high Q3 earnings

1 hour ago

SK Hynix, the world's second-largest memory chip maker, reported Thursday a record high quarterly net profit for the three months to September on strong sales and currency earnings.

Apple computer sells for record $905K in NY

1 hour ago

One of the first Apple computers ever built has sold in New York for $905,000, leading Bonhams auction house to declare it the world's most expensive computer relic.

User comments : 0