Published in Het Financieele Dagblad / author: Arend Clahsen
When the new Feyenoord stadium was designed, a computer calculated an optimum view of the pitch for each and every seat. The technique is called parametric design. And what can be done in Rotterdam can be done elsewhere in the construction industry.Dutch newspaper ‘Het Financieele Dagblad’ talked with our domain expert in parametric design Gijs Joosen and to Janko Arts, Director Advisory Group Design & Engineering.
No Dutch football club is as closely associated with its own stadium as Feyenoord. Feyenoord is ‘De Kuip’, and vice versa. Anyone looking to follow in those footsteps must have impeccable credentials; the architects at OMA were well aware of this when they designed the new stadium. Reflecting this, the working title was The Perfect Bowl: a stadium with a perfect line of sight from every single seat. And they’ve succeeded with the latter, thanks in part to algorithms and parametric design: a technique that underpins the next design revolution in architecture and construction.
In very basic terms, parametric design means that, if an element of the design changes, algorithms are used to automatically recalculate and update all manner of underlying and related information. Change the distance between stand and pitch in the new stadium, and the computer recalculates the positioning of the seats and the slope of the stand. The impact on the roof construction is also instantly apparent, along with how much more, or less steel is needed.
“According to the guidelines of UEFA and the KNVB, not a single part of the pitch may be more than 190 metres away from a seat.”
‘Essentially, it means not having to repeat all the design steps,’ says architect Gijs Joosen, domain expert in parametric design at consultancy and engineering firm Royal HaskoningDHV. Joosen took care of the parametric design process, working closely with OMA. ‘In the past, you had two-dimensional construction plans, then came 3D modeling, which involved building a structure from blocks. In parametric design, instead of this static model, you make a shape comprised of lines x, y and z. Change one of the numbers in x, y or z and the rest changes with it. You build flexibility into the design.’
According to Joosen, this flexibility is not an unnecessary luxury in a complex design such as the one for the new stadium, which will be ready to open in 2025 if, later this year, the financial coverage is found for the investment of around €440 million. Joosen explains, ‘A stadium has to satisfy a whole heap of requirements set by the UEFA and KNVB football associations. Not a single part of the pitch may be more than 190 metres away from a seat. Plus, there are strict requirements for the line of sight from the seats.’
This means having to account for the horizontal distance from each seat to the edge of the pitch, the depth of the seating row and the vertical distance between the spectator's eye level and the pitch. If the line of sight is not sufficient, or the distance to the furthest point of the pitch is too great, the seat doesn't count towards the stadium capacity in the allocation for official competitions, such as a Champions League final or European Championship matches.
Artist’s impression of The New Stadium. Credits: OMA/LOLA.
Normally, it is painstaking work repeating these steps each time a design is altered, even for a ‘British’ stadium with straight stands flanking the pitch. The oval design for the new stadium takes painstaking to another level. Due to the curved, oval shape, each seat has its own line of sight and distance from the pitch.
The computer's processing power is therefore more than welcome. As the requirements for each individual seat are known, a computing model can be written for it using design programmes like Grasshopper or Autodesk Dynamo, Joosen explains. This 'script' calculates and makes changes in the background when a modification is made to the design, so the entire stadium design is linked to a digital field of scripts. Whether for the steel framework of the structure and roof, the surrounding walkways with amenities or the stands and the heights of the steps: everything is calculated in the background.
‘The big advantage is that you can compute faster and run through considerably more design options, thus making far better choices,’ says Joosen. With a digital heat map, he demonstrates how this works for the seating. In the current design, all the seats are dark green. This indicates perfect lines of sight wherever you are, even in the uppermost ring in the round corners. But tweak this a certain way and the detrimental effect is instantly apparent: a large number of seats turn light green or yellow. Which is a no-go.
“The working title was The Perfect Bowl: a perfect line of sight from every single seat in the stadium.”
According to Janko Arts, Director Advisory Group Design & Engineering at Royal HaskoningDHV, these features are a huge bonus for clients during the design consultations. ‘You remove the gut instinct from discussions. You can demonstrate almost instantly why something does or doesn't work, as with the seats. Or that a particular construction solution is possible, but more materials will be required and the construction costs will increase. This means you make better informed choices, having reviewed many more options.’
Parametric design lends itself to more than just complex construction projects, says Joosen. It also offers added value in the kinds of project that involve repetition, such as at data centres. ‘From the outside, they might look different but, in essence, they are exactly the same. The white space with servers is customised, but virtually everything around it is repetition and can be automated. For the installation technology, the construction calculations or the adjacent office space, you can write scripts that can be reused. That’s how you make the switch from project to product thinking.’
Due to this advantage, parametric design has wider applications. Arts: ‘For us, it ranges from the design of breakwaters to dyke reinforcements, bridges and tunnels, to buildings such as stadiums and everything in-between.’ When reinforcing the Dutch Waaldijk, between Gorinchem and Waardenburg, the design was created parametrically. ‘This enabled us to visualise the designs more quickly in 3D, which in turn helped with participation and communication with all the stakeholders.’
‘The things we can design parametrically are becoming more and more extensive and wide-ranging,’ confirms Jurjen Haitsma, Programme Manager Digital at Arcadis, the Netherlands’ biggest consultancy and engineering firm. As well as shape and stability, time and costs are also used as parameters. At Arcadis, parametric designs will soon account for 50% of infrastructure projects (roads, bridges, tunnels, dykes) – according to his estimate.
Haitsma explains, ‘With bridges, for instance, you can enter a number of parameters, such as the traffic category, width, span and a number of other things. Then the computer can generate several designs. If the decision is made to build the bridge with a single span - so that it can be assembled over a highway in the space of one weekend - the computer generates various scenarios for the construction. The client can then make a better assessment of costs and inconvenience.’
Parametric design is used in all three divisions at Arcadis: Infrastructure, Water and Environment and Buildings. One application that Haitsma cites are feasibility studies for apartment complexes. ‘In a high-rise project, you can use the technique to take account of the amount of daylight. You can then optimise the positioning of the building, the distribution and layout of the apartments.’ This is important, since apartments with a south-facing balcony are worth more than a balcony facing north. ‘Within the defined space, in a short time you can produce several designs of the maximum number of apartments with sun, offset against feasibility.’ Feasibility being the construction costs.
'The big challenges in the construction and real estate sector make the assistance of data and AI indispensable.’
Joosen - who 'grew up in front of a screen and was only interested in computers as a student, sometimes to the irritation of my professors' - shares his knowledge with fellow architects. For the BNA, the Royal Institute of Dutch Architects, Joosen regularly teaches a masterclass in parametric design, together with architect Pim van Wylick. Like Joosen, Van Wylick has been fascinated by digital innovation for years. In his late twenties, he was responsible for designing the exterior of the Bird’s Nest – the Olympic stadium in Beijing. Without parametric design, the stadium's openwork exterior would not have been possible.
A number of years ago, Van Wylick founded the company Planalogic, driven by the belief that new design methods can greatly improve the efficiency of project and area development. Planalogic's digital platform looks not just at the ideal construction design, but also takes account of the use of raw materials, energy consumption and generation, costs and factors such as privacy. In other words: how, as a developer, do you achieve the optimum synergy between all those aspects?
‘The way we learned to work belongs to a world that is disappearing. Everything is labour intensive and takes a really long time.’
At Planalogic, the designer doesn’t have to keep changing the parameters each time; within defined limits, the computer does this using algorithms and artificial intelligence, generating millions of design solutions for each project. In generative design, as it is called, the client can then select the best or most suitable options. ‘In the projects we have delivered so far, an efficiency gain of 10% to 20% has been achieved,’ says Hugo Jager, a partner at Planalogic. This might be anything from projects for dozens of homes, to urban locations with high-rise, mixed-use buildings and a thousand to 1,500 apartments. For the digital platform, it makes no difference.
According to Van Wylick, the challenges facing the construction and real estate sector are big and the assistance of data and artificial intelligence is indispensable ‘There’s a huge housing shortage and the sector has a major climate impact. 36% of CO2 emissions come from the built environment. Eight of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals apply directly or indirectly to real estate and they are all interlinked. If you build more energy-efficiently, something else has to be sacrificed. Or it becomes less affordable.’ A computer can find the optimum balance, but a human can’t, is what he is saying.
‘The way we learned to work is perfect for a world that is disappearing,’ says Van Wylick. He is talking about the typical development process. An architect is hired, a municipality has to give its blessing, the design is worked out, the construction costs turn out to be too high, the design has to be modified again, the final go-ahead is given and only then can the builder start work. ‘It’s labour intensive and, because of this, takes a really long time. Those two things make it expensive and you only have one, or a handful of alternatives. We take a smarter approach. With generative design, we generate millions of results, with not much work and in a short amount of time, on the basis of which the client can make an assessment.’
According to Jager and Van Wylick, a process which normally takes four months can be shortened to four or five weeks. And there are literally more options. 'In one housing construction project, it was found that, with one design option, for just €16,000 more in construction costs, the number of square metres increased from 186 m2 to 222 m2. This isn't a commonly used surface area but, it was possible to offer a unique and attractive product at such relatively low construction costs.’
The programme calculates other factors too. How many homes fit on a development location, how enough solar panels can be fitted on the roofs, whether the residents can see into their neighbours’ back gardens and how the windows can be positioned so that hardly any energy is wasted. Or, as was recently calculated for a project, whether the neighbourhood is so energy-efficient and generates and stores so much energy that it becomes entirely self-sufficient. Jager explains, ‘The neighbourhood can be built off-grid.’
Joosen expects that efficiency can be improved in other areas along the chain. ‘Right now, a design is converted by the builder to BIM (the 3D model which Joosen mentioned earlier, ed.) and buyers and estimators search for the right material for the right price. But with parametric design, you can directly link to the steel manufacturer who custom-cuts the steel pipes for the stadium, for instance. The only thing the manufacturer needs is an excel sheet with numbers. You can use those numbers like a construction kit during assembly on the construction site. Much of the drawing work can be automated. In nine out of ten cases, you can simply send through a data package.’
Read the original Dutch story on the website of Het Financieele Dagblad.
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