The Skyscraper Architectures, Digitally Remastered!

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  • March 1, 2020
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Twenty years ago, it would have been difficult—and in some cases impossible—to engineer the buildings you see today. Now powerful computer-assisted design and manufacturing techniques let architects build according to wholly new geometries. In this era, the rectilinear glass box has become a quaint relic of the predigital past.


Zaha Hadid Architects Wolfsburg, Germany 2005

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Most of the Phaeno Science Center’s weight rests on a series of scattered concrete cones that seamlessly taper down from the building’s underbelly. But the cones are not only structural supports: they also house a bookstore, a theater, and the museum’s entrance. Computers confi gured the exact cone placement necessary for the curvaceous design to work, and a new material called selfcompacting concrete fi lled it out. It is the only concrete capable of sustaining a structure with such sweeping curves and tight angles.



Foster + Partners New York, NY 2006

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The Hearst Tower’s triangular frames, known as diagrids, eliminate the need for any vertical steel columns around the building’s perimeter. It is the fi rst building in North America to feature this gravity- defying technique. So effi cient is Foster’s design that the building uses 20 percent less steel tonnage than a conventional building of its size.



Santiago Calatrava Malmö, Sweden 2005


From top to bottom, Calatrava’s anthropomorphic apartment tower twists 90º. The building was constructed by stacking nine warped cubes, each five stories high, on top of each other; each cube rotates about 11º from the one below it. An external spine buttresses the twist, mimicking a human spinal column, while an exoskeleton sprouts from the spine to provide wind resistance and damp the building’s vibrations.



Foster + Partners London, England 2004


The pickle-shaped 30 St. Mary Axe owes its bulging and tapering structure to a diagrid steel framework like that of the Hearst Tower, which allows the perimeter to remain column-free. Its aerodynamic profile reduces wind load and creates a difference in air pressure between the inside and outside that draws cooler outdoor air in through panels in the façade. Thanks to this and other features, like abundant natural light, the building consumes as little as half as much energy as other office buildings its size.



Foster + Partners St. Moritz, Switzerland 2002


From digital design specs, the timbers for this pumpkinlike apartment building were cut and carved by a fully automated “computer numericalcontrol” machine called a Lignamatic , which may have been the fi rst timberprocessing unit of its kind. Twenty tools descended from racks in a prescribed order to cut, drill, rout, or bore pieces of timber up to 40 meters long, at any angle and with any curvature.



Richard Rogers Cardiff, Wales 2005


Undulating like a shaken carpet, the curvilinear red-cedar underside of the Assembly’s roof is so geometrically complex and delicate that it could be realized only with 3-D modeling and visualization techniques. From the front of the building, the roof appears to fl oat upon a single slate plinth, an illusion made possible by thin steel mullions in the façade, minimal steel columns around the perimeter, and tensioned stability ties from the ground to the roof.



Santiago Calatrava Tenerife, Canary Islands 2006


Computer-assisted 3-D modeling translated Calatrava’s drawings for the 50-meter-high cantilevered wave and perfected the acoustics for the performance space within.



Frank Gehry Prague, Czech Republic 1996


With hourglass bends and tapering profi les, each of the two towers— dubbed Fred and Ginger—displays the computer-generated irregular geometry that has become Gehry’s signature.



Asymptote Haarlemmermeer, The Netherlands 2002


Designed with the help of software used in aeronautics, Hydra-Pier features two “wings” that slope downward. Water cascades over them and runs off the sides as it descends, creating a watery alleyway through which visitors enter.

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