Altra Sede Regione Lombardia

DESIGN PROCESS FOR COMPLEX BUILDING SYSTEMS

This project was born during a multi-disciplinary course held at Politecnico di Milano and offered to all the PhD students. The course, held by Ingrid Paoletti and entitled “Innovative Design and Construction Technologies”, aimed at developing competencies and skills on innovative technologies for design and construction. The main goal was to help students to achieve highly competitive levels of knowledge, by managing the whole process of building a construction system.

The programme was divided into two sections. The first one was dedicated to frontal lectures, while the second part consisted in a long-time workshop experience which mixed together different disciplines in order to develop projects of building systems.

The workshop activities were held by Edmondo Occhipinti [Gehry Technologies] and were dedicated to the Altra Sede Regione Lombardia building, through the use of Digital Project [Gehry Technologies] as instrument for the management of the whole design to construction process.

The whole class was organized into different groups, each of them developed a specific project to reconfigure some specific aspects of the building. My group was formed by the following participants:

Roham Afghani_Building Environment Science & Technology Dept.

Lo Prete Matteo_ Building Environment Science & Technology Dept.

Maryam Moayerynia_Department of Architecture and Planning

Reza Raeissamiei_ Building Environment Science & Technology Dept.

Rachele Perego_ Building Environment Science & Technology Dept.

The main goal of the project was to critically analyze the project of Altra Sede Regione Lombardia, designed by Pei, Cobb, Freed & Partners, individuating some negative aspects and trying to propose new solution based on an innovative approach to the architectural design to production process.

Edmondo Occhipinti suggested all the groups to focus the attention on the covering system positioned above the great internal court. This system is composed by a structural steel mesh as primary structure, holding a secondary steel structure with a series of triangular ETFE cushions. The primary structure is positioned on the top of the building (not considering the tower), above a series of steel columns which separate it from the reinforced concrete structure.

Our analysis highlighted three main negative aspects related to this solution:

Considering other examples of lightweight covering systems which are similar to this one [British Museum Great Court (Norman Foster + Partners), Multihalle Mannehim (Frei Otto), etc.] we considered the steel mesh as oversized in comparison to other lighter and more efficient system. This solution affects the costs with a high quantity of materials used decrease the quality and the beauty of the architecture. Moreover the solution takes distance from the early sketches produced by Kelly Wilson, which describe a more thin structure above the inner plaza.

Our second though was dedicated to the plaza itself which hasn’t a real focus and appears just as a free space without any reference and attraction. The lack of a real centre for this huge volume, ideally squeezed at its ends, produce dispersion instead of attraction, becoming just a passage more than the core of the whole building.

The last aspect we observed is lack of implementation of energetic systems with the covering structure. This huge surface would be used for the production of “clean” energy availing the sun power but at the moment there isn’t a specific system integrated with the steel and ETFE structure.

Aiming at providing a series of suggestions for the solution of these three main problems we had a long discussion about the new proposal and, in particular, about the substitution of the main steel structure with a lighter one, maybe realized with different techniques, dimensions and materials. At the end of the discussion we decided to propose a more feasible solution, by keeping the main structure, removing the secondary steel ant ETFE mesh, and adding new components in order to achieve a better result under a technical and aesthetical point of view. The new concept we propose is to realize a new building system, able to collect the rain water and avail it for reduce water consumptions, able to collect the solar energy and avail it for energetic optimization, able to change the perception of the inner plaza by giving it a real core and increasing the aesthetical quality of the environment through a really interesting solution.

We achieved these goals through a series of passages:

1. Reconstruction of the geometrical model

The first phase was dedicated to the reconstruction of a geometrical model into Digital Project, availing some standard 2D drawings received by Regione Lombardia and Infrastrutture Lombarde, which is the construction company which realized the project. The reconstruction process passed through the definition of a pure NURBS surface describing the main structure. Then we extracted a series of curves from the NURBS and changed them into a triangular mesh, able to describe the subdivision of the covering system.

The triangular mesh presented some irregularities, which we supposed coming from some imprecision during the generation process. After a comparison with some photos of the real covering structures we discovered that same irregularities into the steel mesh which was built on site.

The geometrical model was then completed with all the information related to the steel sections, the steel plates used for the joints and the management of the secondary structure. In this case we also solved all the problems deriving from the difference of position between the primary structure joints and the secondary structure ones, in particular near to the lateral edges.

2. Changing the inner space and collecting the water

After the reconstruction of the covering system we started to design an architectural solution able to change the aspect of the inner court by giving an attractor point. We decided to connect the architectural solution with a technical advantage deriving from the collecting of rain water from the roof. Then we developed three different solutions, based on textiles and treated as inversed umbrella, able to collect the water to some point on the ground. All the solutions, developed through a geometrical process in Digital Project, will be realized with developable surfaces, which can be easily produced by cutting planar fabric surfaces.

During the design process we were inspired by the world of pure geometry [please see the first solution] and the world of nature [please see the second and third solution]. All the complex shapes we developed are able to solve the technical problem that we posed and introduce a new element into the composition of spaces, adding value to the existing structure.

Obviously each of them present advantages and disadvantages: we offer a comparison between these three configurations without take a final decision. We just decided to offer all of the as feasible answer to the problem.

3. Treating the light with specific components

Once suggested a series of different configurations for the inner plaza we focused our attention on the main structure, the substitution of the ETFE cushions and the acquisition of solar energy. Under this point of view we decided to develop some components working as louvers, offering a sun-shading system and, at the same time, allowing the passage of water and the absorbance of sunlight.

Considering the height of the buildings around the plaza we decided to reverse the standard logic of the louvers, allowing the passage of summer sun and defining a system able to reflect the winter one, bringing the rays into the plaza in a more efficient way. This kind of system becomes efficient just considering the combination with the textile surfaces that we discussed before, because they tend to eliminate any flashing effect due to the pure reflection of sun rays.

The early system we developed was based on a series of longitudinal components, anchored to the edges of each triangle of the structural mesh. The components were composed by a long central bar and a series of transversal section, holding four developable surfaces, cut by a planar surface and then adapted to those steel sections. We thought to produce the base structure with steel and the surfaces with plastic materials, with the integration of solar cells. The development of the model in Digital Project allowed a parametric configuration of the components, based on the curvature of the transversal steel sections.

Then we tried to develop a second solution, based on triangular components. These elements, also following the concept of filtering and reflection, subdivide each mesh triangle into four smaller parts. The single panels are held by a steel bar and they are folded onto this axis just following the optimal position and angle of the sun, considering the whole year sun paths. This new version of the louvers allows a sunlight regulation during the year and the collection of solar energy through the positioning of specific cells on them.

At the end of the design process we instantiated the standard panel on each triangle which composed the structural mesh, obtaining a continuous variation of geometrical solutions, adapted to the external conditions.

At the end of the whole design process we produced a last comparison between the different configurations and then discussed about the relationship existing the problems found during the analysis and the quality and performances offered by the solutions.

All the configurations appear as valid under a critical point of view and need of a series of simulations and tests in order to define which of them presents the best conditions considering the external environment.

The end of the course showed that the use of parametric and associative software such as Digital Project is very useful in order to manage the whole project as process more than a series of complex shapes. All the aspects related with physical simulation are also useful to define the condition for an optimal solution and should be deepen into a second time, giving more importance to a new way to conceive the architectural project, which today becomes process instead of form.

I’d like to thank Roham, Maryam, Reza and Rachele for this great experience. I also thank Edmondo Occhipinti, a strong a really experienced architect in my opinion. I admire and respect each one of these persons.

Please note that all the materials and images related to this project are protected by the international laws on copyright, being intellectual property of the PhD student’s group affiliated to Politecnico di Milano and Edmondo Occhipinti as project manager for this course. You’re not allowed to copy, modify and/or reproduce each of these materials. Each abuse of this series of rights will be reported and punished.

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