New possibilities included a presentation on parametric design and three-dimensional modeling tools that are helping unravel the mysteries of Sagrada Familia–a Barcelona cathedral designed by Antonio Gaudi that has been under construction since 1889. When Gaudi died in 1926 he left a set of 1:10 scale plaster models to document the nave’s design. Most of the models were destroyed in the 1930s.

(Photos courtesy of Mark Burry, RMIT University)

So that construction can continue, Mark Burry, professor of innovation at RMIT University, Melbourne, is revealing the underlying geometry of Gaudi’s hyperbolic ruled surfaces by using surviving fragments and photos of the models. Finding the missing information "is where parametric design is an incredible tool," said Burry.

Arup Ltd., London, is using computational fluid dynamics, acoustic modeling, traffic simulations and other virtual tools to push for wider acceptance of performance-based design as an alternative to traditional prescriptive codes. "The approach helps us evaluate systems instead of elements," said Chris Luebkeman, director of research and development.

But the unconventional forms digital tools enable also accentuate shortcomings in the organization of the industry, said many symposium participants. "We need to bring contractor and designer together and not worry about the legal structure," said James Glymph, principal at Gehry Partners, Santa Monica, Calif. "We need different attitudes toward risk and the ways it is shared."

The McGraw-Hill Cos., parent company of ENR, was a sponsor of the event.

esigners and academics explored new problems and new possibilities presented by digital design tools at a recent symposium organized by the Dept. of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.