By Jenny Donelan
Ever since humans constructed the first, crude dwellings, architecture has fluctuated between the disciplines of art and science, form and function. It has this in common with computer graphics technology, which also attracts practitioners from both artistic and scientific camps. The relatively short history of digital architecture reflects these conflicted leanings. While the 2D floor plans of the 1980s became the full-blown 3D renderings of the 1990s, many architects (trained as draftspeople) were and still are reluctant to fully embrace design software. Nevertheless the software continues to evolve: 3D models can now be viewed inside and out, and walkthroughs are commonplace. Updated lighting, texturing, and rendering capabilities enhance presentations. New parametric design functions promise to streamline the notoriously convoluted processes behind building projects. Paradoxically, among the newest AEC tools are programs that apply the hand-drawn appearance of traditional artists' sketches to digital designs.
December 1976 Using a Calma interactive graphics system based on a Data General Eclipse S-200 mini-computer, Raytheon and the Brooklyn Union Gas company are able to continuously update a digital database for the utility's Staten Island fuel distribution.
The graphical database enables street views with varying levels of detail.
March 1982 Intergraph Corp. introduces Innovator, a line of turnkey workstation and software systems tailored to architectural users. The software features three sets of tools: floor plans (above), facility management, and 3D interior modeling.
November 1983 Computer-aided design and drafting software helps the architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill create a "fast-track" digital building plan for Pacific Bell that can be altered while construction is in progress.
April 1985 A hangar for Miami International Airport is designed with the SSCAD (Space Structures' computer-aided design) system, which helps engineers calculate the effects of wind and other forces on the structure.
August 1986 Architectural software becomes a necessary tool for firms hoping to win large-scale building design bids. Heard & Associates uses Computervision's Personal Architect system to create models for a Chicago-area school building.
August 1986 Microtecture's DataCAD is among a new breed of lower-cost programs designed specifically for the architectural market. The price of the software is $2495. An optional 3D module is available for $500 more.
June1987 The architectural firm Spring creates an animated video of the construction history of The George Pompidou Center in Paris as a practical trial of Spring's Iko-Light AEC software.
April 1988 Topas software from Crystal Graphics is one of the first affordable AEC packages with which users can assemble flythroughs and renderings such as the one below, created by Fernando Rivera of Zero/One.
December 1988 Sun Microsystems' 386i/250, configured as an architectural and animation workstation, allows users to run both DOS and Unix applications. The 386i/250 is used to create this texture-mapped office interior.
February 1989 Fast radiosity algorithms developed at Cornell University's Program of Computer Graphics allow researchers to create realistically lit scenes such as this steel mill interior.
May 1989 Architects begin to experiment with the rendering capabilities of PC-based design software. One such package, Wavefront, is used to apply detailed texture maps to the ceiling of a virtual basilica.
October 1989 Walkthrough capabilities are becoming standard issue for plant design software vendors. Intuitive menu commands in Calma's PRT system enable untrained users to learn to navigate plants such as the one above in as little as 10 minutes.
December 1990 Increasingly sophisticated renderings help architects sell proposed designs to clients. This marble staircase from a restored beaux-arts theater in Toronto is modeled with Alias Research's Alias/2 software running on a Silicon Graphics system.
Image courtesy GW Hannaway and Associates.
June 1992 Advances in modeling and rendering make it possible even for pipes to be the stuff of art. David M. Orloff of the MK-Ferguson Company creates "Brew Master" for the annual Intergraph Graphics Users Group art competition. The design takes first prize in the Engineering and Construction category.
November 1992 Computer-aided landscape design tools are evolving as a separate AEC software category. Above, a video image is combined with an AutoCAD design. At right, the rendered version of the scene includes trees created in Landcadd.
January 1993 University of Oregon professor Kevin Matthews assembles hundreds of historical building models for the CD-ROM Great Buildings Collection. The CD features 3D versions of structures such as Shakespeare's Globe Theater, above.
April 1994 Clouds reflected in a glass facade help convey design intent in "The Tower," a model created by Sergey Zlotnikov and Alexander Mason using StrataVision 3D and Adobe Systems' Photoshop.
November 1995 Apple's new QuickTIme VR makes 3D walkthroughs more accessible. Above, the Lightscape Visualization System combines with QuickTime to make a panorama.
June 1995 As the quest for realistic presentations continues, a model created in autodessys's formZ is composited with site photographs to enhance its verisimilitude.
April 1996 The Great American Virtual Home, designed by Mike Rosen & Associates, debuts at the National Association of Home Builders conference. The 3D interactive model enables prospective buyers to inspect the inside (left) and outside (below) of the 3500-square-foot house.
June 1996 To show views of proposed buildings for Boston University's BioSquare Business Park, architect Ed Howard combines future and existing buildings in a QuickTime VR movie. Users can stand in the center courtyard and "turn" 360 degrees to understand the relationships between the buildings and the surrounding spaces.
August 1996 The newest version of Bentley Systems' MicroStation Masterpiece includes radiosity. The right-hand side of the image above is raytraced only, whereas the left-hand side is rendered with both raytracing and radiosity.
June 1997 Philadelphia's City Hall, created in Bentley Systems' MicroStation 95 and MasterPiece software, rises above a fully detailed, real-city model of Philadelphia, created by Bentley as a marketing project.
June 1997 In order to achieve more spectacular results, architects begin to employ non-CAD tools alongside traditional AEC programs. 4D Solutions uses Imagine software from Impulse to model and render the above scene, which began as AutoCAD drawings.
June 1998 A shaded courtyard view of an unbuilt church is designed and developed respectively by architects Alvar Aalto and Andrzej Zarzycki using AutoCAD R12 and R14 and Lightscape 3. The study is recognized for excellence in Lightscape Technologies' annual image contest.
May 1998 Using 3D simulation tools to model entire factories promises reductions in product cycle times. Below, GM uses Tecnomatix software to model and validate the operation of its manufacturing equipment and processes.
September 1998 The architectural firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox designs the 95-story Shanghai World Trade Center, destined to be the tallest building in the world, with software from Bentley Systems. Because of its size and complex shape, the building could not have been developed without computer-aided design tools.
December 1998 Archaeologist John Kantner uses MetaCreations' Infini-D software to recreate how the inside of an Anasazi kiva, an underground ceremonial pit, may have appeared almost 1000 years ago.
January 1999 Graphisoft's fifth-annual virtual building design contest features architecture based on cultural themes such as "Bluebeard's Castle," on which this image by Gordon Rossol is based.
March 1999 The never-built dream castle of Ludwig II of Bavaria appears in digital format. A 3.5-minute, 5000-frame virtual reality tour is made possible by the firm of bb-digital using Kinetix's 3D Studio Max.
March 1999 AniTime, an Amsterdam-based animation company, creates 3D versions of some of Dutch artist M.C. Escher's most intriguing masterpieces. The virtual reality perspective reveals hidden features in the construction of Escher's mysterious buildings.
June 1999 The 1998 World Expo site in Lisbon, modeled in Autodesk's AutoCAD and Kinetix's 3D Studio software, begins its 12-year transformation into a business and residential center. The ambitious undertaking is made possible through collaborative design processes.
April 2000 Artist William Munns models the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World with MetaCreations' Bryce, a tool hitherto used more for landscape than building design.
November 2000 Architectural tools begin to incorporate a fourth dimension-time. Below, a false-color image built with scan data serves as a reference on which to base future restorations.