Urban A&O - AscendBridge Solutions


Urban A&O - AscendBridge Solutions


Urban A&O

Award-winning architectural fi rm distinguishes itself with CATIA



Urban A&O needed a 3D modeling

solution that could not only create

beautiful forms, but also produce

buildable plans.


CATIA surface defi nition and

knowledge-based design tools give

Urban A&O the form and function

capabilities it requires in a single



Consistently recognized for its

revolutionary designs, Urban A&O

has leveraged CATIA to win a series

of showpiece projects, including

San Francisco’s dramatic Water

Planet exhibit.

“The architectural promise

of CATIA lies in its ability to

generate complex solutions in

response to the site, climate,

available materials and budget.”

Joe MacDonald, Founding Principal,

Urban A&O

Moving from conventional

visualization tools to

knowledge-based design

Several years ago, Joe MacDonald,

founder of Urban A&O architects in

New York City, was awarded a grant by

Harvard University Graduate School of

Design to study architectural patterns

based on a single cell repeated in a

non-recursive manner, meaning that

each repetition is different.

MacDonald was experienced in the use

of 3D visualization tools used by most

architects. But non-recursivity is well

beyond the capabilities of conventional

visualization tools, which lack

mathematical defi nition. To use such

tools with non-recursive patterns, each

new cell must be created from scratch,

a time-consuming, expensive and

error-prone approach.

MacDonald found the answer he

needed in CATIA, Dassault Systèmes’

powerful 3D modeling solution that

provides a unique combination of

surface and solid modeling capabilities

on a single platform. “Years ago we

made the decision to use CATIA

knowledge-based design on every

project,” MacDonald said. “By giving us

the ability to do free-form design and

parametric modeling and produce

buildable plans in a single environment,

CATIA gives us unique capabilities that

other architectural fi rms cannot match.”

CATIA has become Urban A&O’s secret

weapon, allowing it to design and build

forms other architects can only dream

of and winning the six-year-old fi rm

high-profi le projects such as the Water

Planet exhibit in the new California

Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate

Park in San Francisco. The exhibit is

drawing raves from reviewers and the

public alike and putting Urban A&O on

the architectural map in a very big way.

Limitations of conventional tools

Conventional 3D visualization tools do

not include the mathematical functions

required to make the jump from design

to construction. To transition to

construction, architects are forced

to first export their work into an

engineering program, then later into a

“We used CATIA’s powerful

Generative Shape Design

workbench to design wave-like

fi berglass walls for the Water

Planet exhibit to the level of

precision needed to interface

with mechanical and technical

equipment in their interiors.”

Frank Melendez, Design Director,

Urban A&O

computer-aided design (CAD) program

to generate project documents.

Translating the data takes considerable

time and introduces the potential for

error. Also, freezing the design before

moving into the engineering

environment makes it impossible to

simultaneously consider the effects of a

change on both design and engineering.

In contrast, CATIA’s powerful surface

generation, template-based modeling

and documentation tools make it possible

to perform all of the functions needed to

move from concept to construction in a

single environment. This saves time and

makes it possible to immediately

evaluate the effect of changes upon form,

function, constructability, cost, and more.

The result is that architects can optimize

the design to a much higher level than

was possible in the past.

MacDonald took advantage of these

capabilities in creating the Bone Wall, a

4.5-meter-long (14-foot-long) screen at

the Storefront for Art and Architecture in

New York City. He used CATIA’s

powerful surface generation tools to

design one cell, and then used the

Powercopy feature to replicate his initial

cell design 72 times. He then changed

the horizontal and vertical splines by

manipulating the locations of the 32

control points contained in each cell.

The result is a non-repetitive 3D pattern

made up of individual cells that, though

they are similar in shape, vary

incrementally in height, width, and

depth. “The Bone Wall was an

experiment that demonstrated how

parametric modeling provides the best

of two worlds – design and function –

that normally work at cross-purposes to

each other,” MacDonald said.

Designing the Water Plant exhibit

The Bone Wall and other innovative

and highly praised projects have

vaulted Urban A&O to the top of its

profession while carving out a unique

niche where other architects cannot

compete. The Water Planet exhibit in

the new California Academy of

Sciences Museum in Golden Gate Park

in San Francisco is a perfect example.

Thinc Design, also based in New York

City, designed the Academy’s Steinhart

Aquarium and the Academy’s

Rainforest. Urban A&O was awarded

the contract to design the fi berglass

walls and islands s that

defi ne the Water

Planet, the


environment of

the Steinhart

Aquarium, with

contours that

resemble fl owing

ocean currents.

The walls and

islands are used

as backdrops for


projection of an


show that

heightens the

sense of moving

water as patrons

experience the exhibit. But they also play

a much more functional role in the

design, providing an enclosure for sea

life tanks and a wide range of equipment,

from projectors to pumps. The

combination of the need for a very

creative and complex yet precise design,

matched with the need to provide room

and support for the internal systems,

created an enormous design challenge

for MacDonald and Frank Melendez,

Urban A&O’s design director.

MacDonald used the same CATIA

solutions as in the Bone Wall project to

create the complex exterior surfaces of

the walls and islands. He created

splines to defi ne complex surfaces and

manipulated the control points to create

captivating shapes. The software

provided mathematical defi nition in the

background. He then copied the

shapes and manipulated their control

points to create further variants.

Melendez, meanwhile, manipulated the

control points to form the benches that

fl ared out organically from the base of

certain walls. He then generated

section profi les to compare them

against dimensional standards for

safety and comfort.

One of the more interesting challenges

was a housing for a nozzle that propels

a jet of water two meters (six feet) into

a fi sh tank. The nozzle needed to be

precisely positioned so that the jet

landed in the tank rather than dousing

museum visitors. Melendez knew the

speed of the jet as it left the nozzle and

used handbook formulas to calculate

the angle at which it needed to be

aimed to target the tank. Then he

used CATIA to integrate the

mechanical details used to

position the nozzle into the


Making the transition to


“We were thinking about what

materials to use and how to make

the walls

and islands from the

very beginning of the project,”

MacDonald said. The walls were

too big to bring through the doors

of the museum, so they had to be

built in pieces and reassembled

inside. Urban A&O used

methods pioneered by the

automobile industry for joining

body panels such as hoods,

“The use of template-based

modeling in CATIA saves a huge

amount of time during the design

process by allowing us to change

a key dimension and watch while

the entire design updates to

accommodate the change.”

Frank Melendez, Design Director,

Urban A&O

doors, and quarter panels to cut and

rejoin the panels. Seams between the

different pieces are camouflaged as

shadow lines.

“We started off thinking about milling the

walls as positives,” MacDonald said.

“Then we spoke with colleagues at an

automotive design studio who

recommended using fiberglass.” Urban

A&O exported IGES files and sent them

to a prototyping company that has

extensive knowledge of fiberglass

manufacturing. A five-axis milling

company then used the CATIA geometry

to mill positive patterns from highdensity

foam and lay up the fiberglass

over the foam. The fiberglass wall

panels were then attached to sheet rock

walls built by the general contractor,

based on full-scale templates cut with a

water-jet from IGES files provided by

Urban A&O. Urban A&O also designed

a custom fastening system used to

attach the fiberglass panels to the

framing system.

The audiovisuals projected onto the

walls primarily consist of scenes of

underwater life. The wave-like contours

of the walls give the audience the

sensation of being submerged beneath

the raging ocean. The museum visitor

can touch the walls or islands. Exhibits,

primarily consisting of different varieties

of fi sh, are visible through 39 different

acrylic apertures.

The Water Planet exhibit, which

opened in September 2008, is already

contributing to the fi rm’s buzz. For

example, on-line newspaper artdaily

said: “Silvery, sculpted walls and

dramatic lighting set the scene for a

unique foray into the Water Planet

exhibit. Constructed using new

technologies for computer-aided design

and fabrication, the complex molded

surfaces seemingly fl ow into one

another, inviting touch and creating an

immersive, watery setting.”

Rather than resting on its laurels,

MacDonald says Urban A&O will use

CATIA to “continue to explore the

ever-increasing intricacy and precision

with which we are able to both

conceive and realize a project as a

result of unprecedented design and

fabrication technology.”

Focus on AscendBridge

MacDonald credits AscendBridge

Solutions Inc., Urban A&O’s Dassault

Systèmes value-added reseller, with

providing training that helped the firm

optimize its use of knowledge-based

modeling technology. “Parametric

modeling is a larger shift than one might

expect,” MacDonald said. “AscendBridge

has been instrumental in advancing

CATIA knowledge within our office.”

AscendBridge provided training tailored

to the firm’s specific needs. “They

provided an instructor that not only

could explain how to use the software,

but also had the design experience to

open up our files and understand

exactly what we were trying to

accomplish,” MacDonald said. “By the

close of our tailored training, we had

efficiently made the transition to CATIA.”

Focus on AscendBridge

AscendBridge Solutions Inc. is

a Canada-based engineering

consulting, technology services, and

PLM solutions provider to the North

American market. Committed to

delivering process-centric design

software, product data management,

digital manufacturing solutions and

proprietary programs, AscendBridge

works with their clients to increase

their competitiveness, productivity and

bottom line. With deep industry

knowledge, Dassault Systèmes

certifi ed resources and a proven track

record, AscendBridge can provide the

right people, skills and technologies to

clients to improve their performance.

AscendBridge’s offering includes

integrated PLM solutions for product

development (CATIA ® , DELMIA ® ,


Dassault Systèmes

9, quai Marcel Dassault, BP310

92156 Suresnes Cedex France

Tel: 33 (1) 40 99 40 99

SolidWorks ® , CATIA ® , DELMIA ® , ENOVIA ® ,

SIMULIA ® and 3D VIA ® are registered

trademarks of Dassault Systèmes or its

subsidiaries in the US and/or other countries.

Images courtesy of Urban A&O.

© Copyright Dassault Systèmes 2008.

All Rights Reserved.


The Dassault Systèmes home page can

be found at www.3ds.com

For more information on Urban A&O,

visit www.urbanao.com

For more information on AscendBridge,

visit www.ascendbridge.com or contact

Karen Crespi, Director of Marketing &

Operations at Email: kcrespi@ascendbridge.com,

Tel: 905-944-0047 or Fax:


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