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Bentley’s GenerativeComponents

A design tool for exploratory architecture


Robert Aish, Director of Research

Exploratory Architecture
Architecture and construction embrace, paradoxically, two opposing but complementary approaches:
convention, which captures experience in an efficient, re-usable, and well-understood way, but is constantly
evolving and being refined, and exploration, the desire to innovate, to respond to competitive pressure. In
architecture, an exploratory approach may suggest searching for new aesthetic possibilities, new engineering
efficiencies—specifically, new forms and new construction processes.
The GenerativeComponents system has the potential to span the architectural process from concept formation
to digital fabrication in a system of related design models. As a design tool for exploratory architecture it also
addresses the need for designers to test and confirm the practicality of such exploration—specifically, how to:
• Capture conceptual design in an intuitive form
• Capture design rules in a logical form
• Create project-specific components (involving both intuition and logic) in a re-usable form
• Model building fabric and the enclosure of space so that it can drive analytical and simulation tools A definition of a GenerativeComponent
• Integrate an exploratory approach to design with conventional tools and processes

Features of the GenerativeComponents system


GenerativeComponents address conceptual design, as well as the realization of such concepts via
production processes:
• GenerativeComponents consists of a rich set of predefined geometric types and relationships, which can be
combined and used by the designer to capture new, more complex geometric relationships and operations.
• GenerativeComponents also includes predefined measurement tools which can be used to evaluate the
performance of such geometric construction.
• GenerativeComponents does not force the designer to input overly precise information early in the
design process when the priority is to establish general geometric concepts and relationships. For
example, GenerativeComponents only needs specific dimensional information when the underlying
geometric relationships have been defined and tested.
• When precise dimensions are required, these need not be actual numeric values, but references to Radial array of GenerativeComponents
parameters which can be assigned different values, for example, in order to test alternative “what-if’”
scenarios. Parameters and measurements can optionally be combined into powerful expressions using
familiar scripting conventions.
• At one level, a GenerativeComponents model can be a simple sketch or it can consist of a potentially
complex amalgam of geometric and algebraic relationships, across multiple geometric and parametric
spaces, sufficient to express the most demanding system of design intent.
• The GenerativeComponents system has a built-in change propagation mechanism. This allows designers
to explore variation in these geometric relationships and parameter values, with the resulting geometric
model automatically rebuilt at various levels of detail and completeness, as determined by the designer.
• The designer can extend the tool set with his own user-defined, rule-based, project-specific
GenerativeComponents. Although the GenerativeComponents system is delivered with a rich set
of predefined geometric types and relationships, it is recognized that an essential characteristic of
exploratory architecture is the desire to invent and extend beyond traditional conventions and beyond
the limits of the vendor-defined functionality.
Assembly detail
• More importantly the GenerativeComponents system allows these project-specific components to be
defined using geometric modeling skills and without requiring programming skills.
• When programming skills are available, these can be harnessed to create additional programmatic
components, but do not require a complete application to be written.
The Generative Components system breaks away from conventional architectural CAD applications by not
being exclusively based on a pre-defined library of components (encoding traditional architectural semantics).
Instead, it encourages an innovative approach to design by making it very easy for users to create their own
unique (or project-specific) components. In particular we are focusing on responsive components where
individual instances can uniquely adapt within defined rules and limits to changing configurations or underlying
support geometry, often found in complex structural and enclosure forms.
This opportunity to design customized, responsive components matches changes in the construction industry
where digital fabrication and mass customization are the emerging technologies. GenerativeComponents can
be thought of as the design tool for this new approach to architecture and construction.
We can contrast conventional architectural applications, where each architectural object has to be individually
created and laboriously placed by the designer, with our “generative” approach to design where sets of intelligent
responsive components (for example, a complete façade) can be created in a single operation. This gives
tremendous expressive control to the designer, in addition to unprecedented productivity gains.
We have conducted a number of informal validation projects with Foster and Partners, Gehry Partners, Morphosis,
KPF, Arup, and Grimshaw. GenerativeComponents was the design technology used at the recent SmartGeometry
Conservatory enclosure (inverted)
Summer School in Cambridge, England (www.smartgeometry.org). Bentley is planning an Early Adopters
workshop in the spring of 2004. Invitation will be extended to those organizations submitting a position paper
which sets out their understanding of parametric design and a description of the types of problem or parametric
conservatory designed by kevin rotheroe,
and behavioral design methodology that they would like to explore with GenerativeComponents. freeform design + manufacturing studio, new york

GenerativeComponents is an application layered on top of MicroStation V8, fully harnessing the geometry and
application libraries of MicroStation TriForma and Parasolid. It is developed with Microsoft .NET technology,
and extensively uses object-oriented software engineering to turn user-defined geometric and behavioral design
models into new classes (or types) of objects (or components). A formal definition of the GenerativeComponents
system is “a model-oriented end-user programming environment which combines direct interactive manipulation
design methods based on feature modeling and constraints, with visual and traditional programming techniques.”

Feature structure geometry


The core GenerativeComponents design framework presents fundamental curves, surfaces, solids
geometry types and operations and related measurement operations. A designer
can use these to the generate special components, and compositions of such
components forming a complete design configuration. In parallel, an engineer measurement
length, area, volume design application
can use the fundamental measurement operations provided by the configuration, components
GenerativeComponents framework to read the design geometry. The
GeneativeComponents framework can also be used to build evaluative
tools which can address key issues of building performance. Finally, the design evaluation
cost, energy, circulation fabrication
geometry can be reinterpreted from the perspective of digital fabrication. flat patterning,
CNC robotics
Conclusion
With GenerativeComponents we are moving on from precoded tools to create standard designs, to a set of more
general and conceptual tools that enable the creative and thoughtful designer to explore and solve challenging
problems in a original way. In addition, GenerativeComponents provides a computation platform within which
performance evaluation software can be directly embedded into design tools, and therefore respond to changes in
the form and configuration of design geometry. GenerativeComponents is a single environment which can be
shared by both designers and engineers who are searching for the maximum integration of building form and
engineering performance. What we are searching for in the development of GenerativeComponents is the minimal
abstraction of design, that when implemented in software and used by creative designers and engineers, provides
for the most expressability and the most extensibility.

About Bentley
Bentley Systems, Incorporated provides software for the lifecycle of the world’s infrastructure. The company’s
comprehensive portfolio for the building, plant, civil, and geospatial vertical markets spans architecture,
engineering, construction (AEC) and operations. With 2002 revenues reaching $230 million, Bentley is the
leading provider of AEC software to the Engineering News-Record Design 500 and major owner-operators.

For more information on Bentley, please visit www.bentley.com or call 1-800-BENTLEY.

Bentley, the “B” Bentley logo, MicroStation and TriForma are registered trademarks of Bentley Systems, Incorporated or Bentley Software, Inc. All other brands and product names are trademarks of their respective owners.
The information is subject to change without notice. ©2003 Bentley Systems, Incorporated. DAA024340-1/0001 10/03