Soaring structure.
An example of a design created by the new software.

Axel Kilian

Turning Buildings on Their Heads

ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI--In the 19th century, architect Antoni Gaudi designed unusual and complex buildings by hanging weights from chains; considered upside-down, the results provided a blueprint. With such hanging chains as an inspiration, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor John Ochsendorf and his colleagues have recently developed a computer program to simulate new, stable, and efficient architectural shapes.

The software, described here yesterday at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW), models the gravitational load on a building's exterior by simulating particles attached to springs and letting those particles "fall" into a stable form. The flipped version illustrates the feasible shell of a structure. "The hope is to invent new forms," says Ochsendorf, "The possibilities of architectures with more exciting spaces are starting to be realized."

Similar particle-spring modeling is already used in computer animation, depicting, for example, clothes hanging on virtual characters such as Yoda in the last Star Wars movie.

Related site