Digital tools have improved the way architects design modern buildings. Though not a new concept, one such program, parametric modeling, enables architects to design glass structures that blend complex aesthetics with energy-efficient solutions.

Parametric modeling allows designers to create, plan and construct structures that can be easily modified and adapted. Designers and engineers can build and manipulate three-dimensional (3D) objects while maintaining control over various design parameters.

Nearly 140 double-curvature and five flat laminated safety glass lites were attached to New York’s 33rd Penn Street Station cables.

Without advanced design software, many modern glass-related projects might not have been possible, says Christoph Timm, a principal at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s New York offices.

For instance, he explains that the 33rd Penn Street Station entrance canopy would not have been possible without advanced software. SOM was one of the architectural companies attached to the project.

Timm says there were more than 100 simulations of the project, which consisted of a double-curvature cable net façade designed, fabricated and installed by seele Inc. The structure features a steel frame and stainless steel cables that create the impression of a dematerialized glass enclosure. According to seele officials, nearly 140 double-curvature and five flat laminated safety glass lites were attached to the cables.

Officials explain that the cables had to be measured and input into a software program that checked various factors, such as the distance between cable nodes and stressors. Cloud computing software was needed due to the heavy foot traffic throughout the site.

“There are so many factors that went into this design,” says Timm. “…It would not have looked the same way 20 years ago. There’s no way. The same applies to other projects, such as the Hangzhou Wangchao Center in China.”

The Hangzhou Wangchao Center features a curved glass façade comprising flat glass lites. Timm says the building would not look like it did two decades ago.

“There’s so much that went in it,” he says. “For instance, the corner studies of the glass, the vortex shedding, or even the radius. It’s interesting to go back and look at this and see the impact of parametric software. It’s tremendous. You can hardly overstate it. What can be done is pretty amazing. It’s not even aesthetics, it’s structural. SOM’s structural engineers use it all the time.”

If you’re interested in learning more about parametric modeling, look for the upcoming February issue of USGlass magazine. It will feature an in-depth article on how parametric modeling enables architects to design complex glass facades that harmonize aesthetics and functionality to create artistic structures.

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