Computational Fluid Dynamics in the Process of Generating Architectural Forms

Ognjen Graovac
University of Belgrade, Faculty of Architecture, Belgrade, Serbia

Project idea

Fluid dynamics can have significant impact on architectural objects, so the forms are optimized, but usually after the conceptual design. Therefore, in this work, the possibility of inverse form-finding was considered, that is generating forms according to certain rules in order to obtain optimal structures. Also, the main topic was exploring to what extent digital technologies, the software for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to be more specific, could contribute to the inclusion of consideration of aerodynamic performances in the process of designing architectural objects, thus improving the design process.

However, generative architecture does not imply direct creation of optimal structures, but the use of appropriate digital technologies in designing forms. Therefore, the following hypothesis has appeared - if the generating process was based on the basic laws of fluid dynamics, would the final result be forms that show required aerodynamic performances? Starting from the benefits of using visual programming in architecture, the research also implied the possibility of obtaining a large number of variable solutions in the form of completely unconventional structures.

By understanding the laws under which particle systems are subjected to in fluid dynamics, the new rules that will later generate forms were established. At that point, the research tackled the subject regarding to what extent physical laws could be used in design. Initially, particles that were moving under the influence of the given virtual forces were generated. The given forces could be completely changed in relation to the context (for example gravity). Then, for each set of particles, trajectories were preserved and they were later used for generating volumes. In order to confirm the hypothesis, structure behaviour was examined in an appropriate software for CFD. An additional experiment in a wind tunnel was carried out in order to confirm the credibility of the computer simulations.

One of the goals was to perceive the structure as a compact, unique form. On the other hand, the question whether the process could be used in design of the facade without the required physical principles was emerged. Therefore, a complex network of trajectories of a large number of particles moving along the surface of the structure completely randomly was created. The same principle of generating volumes around the trajectory was applied and a complex, unconventional facade was obtained.

The project was conceived as the form of a unique nautical museum in Belgrade, Serbia. As the city is located on two rivers, the design is resolved in the form of a floating structure, also as a desire for greater activation of the rivers. The museum is designed to be able to visit other cities in Serbia (Novi Sad, Apatin), as well as in Central Europe (Budapest, Bratislava and Vienna).

The project demonstrates the potentials of use of complex digital technologies in architecture and new approaches to design.

Project description

The museum itself is conceived entirely as the form of a linear movement through more or less transparent corridors. The movement itself follows the idea of particle dynamics within fluid. Exhibition rooms are divided into dark and bright zones. There are also a store, coffee shop with a small kitchen and pantry. Apart from the technical rooms, there is a workshop with a suitable storeroom. The main part of the exhibition are models of different types of ships, as well as details from ships such as types of knitting nodes and old guiding systems such as compasses and sextants. There is an idea that models for exhibition or selling could be made within this workshop, but also that visitors themselves could make models or souvenirs on their own. A special emphasis is placed on the free-form design of various micro-ambients in the interior.

The dimensions of the structure are 40m wide, 80m long and 22.4m high, where the launch is approximately 8m. With its width, the museum does not disturb the river traffic of the Danube (average width in Belgrade 450m). The total surface is about 5800m2, where 3000m2 belongs to the exhibition.

Technical information

The use of visual-based programming such as Grasshopper for Rhinoceros has contributed to the possibility of exploring generative architecture. The bulk of the research was based on writing an appropriate code that has the ability to generate particles, to apply various forces that define their motion, and to extract the desired volumes from the trajectories.

The results of virtual simulations are divided into numerical (forces and drag coefficients) and graphic (visualization of the movement of particles around the form). On the basis of the results it was confirmed that the drag coefficients were reduced and that it was an aerodynamic object, which supported the initial hypotheses.

In order to validate the virtual simulations, an experiment was conducted in the wind tunnel at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, University of Belgrade. For the needs of the experiment, a special model of 200x100x52 mm was made using 3D printing. High-speed cameras were capturing the motion of laser lighted olive oil particles around the model in a vertical plane. The result of the experiment, a diagram showing the movement of fluid around the body, was compared with the results from the simulations, and it was determined that the movements coincide.

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