by Daintry Duffy

Software Enables Frank Gehry’s Architectural Achievements

Feb 15, 20042 mins
Enterprise Applications

Frank Gehry’s buildings, like the fantastically curved, titanium-covered structure of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, are a marvel of free-form design and technological achievement. But cutting-edge architecture can’t trump mother nature, as the occupants of Gehry’s Peter B. Lewis building at Case Western Reserve University have learned.

In 1990, Frank O. Gehry & Associates of Santa Monica, Calif., first explored the use of computer-aided three-dimensional interactive application (CATIA)?engineering software used to design airplanes. CATIA plots Gehry’s designs onto a geometric grid so that plasterers, metal fabricators and stonecutters work with exact dimensions, making possible structures such as the Lewis building, a $61.7 million, 152,000-square-foot behemoth that contains only four flat walls.

However, the steep slopes and waves in the Lewis building’s roof have created more than just a visually arresting experience. Last winter, frigid Cleveland temperatures and more than 90 inches of snow created falling ice and snow hazards for students walking to class.

The university has erected barricades on some of the sidewalks, and Gene Matthews, director of plant services at Case Western, is working with Gehry’s firm to identify some remedies to protect passersby while still preserving the building’s unique design. Ideas: rooftop systems that melt the snow piles before they plummet to the sidewalks below, and diverters that would direct snow and ice runoff into special trenches. “It’s contingent on finding a solution that doesn’t interfere with the building’s aesthetics?which is a challenge,” says Matthews.