How Computational Detailing Will Revolutionize Structural Engineering for Future Building Systems

30 April 2024Advance Steel, Computational Design, Structural designcarbon footprint, computational design, digital transformation, efficiency, innovation, structural engineering, Sustainability, sustainable design, Technology

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In the evolving discipline of structural engineering, the quest for innovation often seems overshadowed by more stylish architectural pursuits. However, as Ashley Kacha of the Institution of Structural Engineers highlighted in his 2024 Innovate2BUILD session, the future of structural engineering holds promise through computational detailing and digital engineering.

The pace of innovation in construction may have appeared sluggish compared to other industries, but the challenges facing engineers and sustainability initiatives continue to develop. Gaining notice, the digital era presents opportunities for structural design to transcend conventional boundaries and embrace creativity. The intersection of computing, structural engineering, electronics, and robotics opens up a new frontier where art inspires innovation.

six tan futuristic art-inspired buildings side by side with small trees and shrubs in front, computational detailing

At the heart of this innovation are computational design and detailing—tools that not only streamline the design process but also foster a vision for a better future in the built environment. Through the use of computational methods, an engineer can devise algorithms to solve mathematical models for complex systems. In addition, they can simulate behaviors and analyze simulation output.

By leveraging technology, structural engineers can tackle structural challenges with greater intelligence and create more robust and innovative building systems.


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One of the most compelling aspects of computational design is its ability to envision structural paradigms that were once deemed speculative. Imagine megastructures towering thousands of feet high, adaptive structures that dynamically adjust to environmental conditions, or self-assembly modular structures that revolutionize construction efficiency.

hand holding remote control with connected icons in the air hovering above an office lounge space, computational detailing

The role of structural engineers in this high-tech world can be truly transforming. But it will necessitate a shift from traditional design analysis to a more holistic approach – recognizing that the myriad parts of a design are interconnected. This approach could involve integrating actuation mechanisms, sensor technology, control systems, and failsafe devices into building systems to enhance resilience, efficiency, safety, and sustainability.

Traditionally, design analysis served as a precursor to construction, but new paradigms will demand more than just analysis. Computational detailing provides a roadmap to efficient design, as well as a better future in the built environment.

Education plays a crucial role in preparing the next generation of engineers for this paradigm shift. EPFL in Switzerland exemplifies this forward-thinking approach. It educates engineering students in human and social sciences, thus enhancing their critical, analytical and aesthetic thought processes. The University of Stuttgart has been offering courses in computational detailing for decades, including training on data management, complex geometry and centralized parametric information models.

artist rendition of two clear oval domes over parking structures with tall futuristic buildings in the background, two with apartments and green growth, computational detailing

Moreover, institutions like EPFL are at the forefront of research into developing structures that can help reduce carbon footprint in the construction industry. One example is a structure that can automatically adapt to loading conditions. By embracing computational detailing and digital engineering, these innovations translate theoretical concepts into tangible solutions to real-world problems. They empower engineers to tackle complex challenges with creativity and foresight.

 

Computational detailing is not merely a tool for optimizing structural design. It is a catalyst for revolutionizing the way buildings are conceived, designed and constructed. As we transition into the future, the fusion of art, science and technology will continue to shape the evolution of structural engineering, paving the way for more resilient, efficient and sustainable building systems. Through computational detailing, structural engineers can unlock new possibilities and create a built environment that is both functional and visionary.


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