April 18, 2011
Report on Sg2011 in Copenhagen
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
Report on Sg2011 in Copenhagen
By Susan Smith

While riding in the cab on the way to the airport in Copenhagen, the cab driver told me about the construction for the extension of the metro which is causing a lot of road closings in the city. The city is the oldest in Europe and existed as a settlement as much as 6,000 years ago. Today it is the second largest city in Scandinavia.

Most of the foundations of the old buildings were built with oak. This oak remains strong so long as it is submerged in groundwater, but should it dry out, it will rot. The cabbie said some of the old buildings may not withstand the construction of the new parts of the metro. The modern day solution is to fill the area with concrete.

When I went to the SmartGeometry conference in 2009 the program was comprised of a number of architectural firms and architectural students presenting their projects using Bentley’s GenerativeComponents (GC) and other tools. They were certainly in the forefront in terms of architectural design and the use of iterative techniques to achieve their end.

At SmartGeometry 2011, held in Copenhagen at University of Copenhagen’s Center for Information Technology (CITA) the beginning of April, the focus was quite decidedly different. Entitled “Building the Invisible,” the program was all about architectural research. The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture brochure states that one of the most important purposes of architectural research is to “develop new models for the way we build and design the world in a time characterized by new technological possibilities and great challenges.”

Generally at conferences we hear about the same things, the same statistics. In the U.S. we have reached a sort of tipping point where we have a lot of infrastructure to retrofit, but new building has come to a halt. In Europe, building is continuing on, but retrofit is a huge part of their process as well because they have cities such as Copenhagen which are hundreds of years old. Grappling with centuries-old infrastructure is another type of challenge.

At sg2011, professors and grad students explored the use of data, the ownership of data, creating the data yourself, and having relationships with data, they took the meaning of architecture to heady degree – exploring the materials that architecture might possibly be made with, by exploring the possibilities of materials, and what they might offer in future buildings and cities.

While these studies may seem beyond the scope of most architects who are charged with putting together a structure made with glass, wood, steel and concrete or other common materials, the idea of looking to new choices that might be more economical, environmentally safer, and create greater comfort is right on target with global infrastructure needs.

Bentley’s Commitment to SmartGeometry

Huw Roberts, Bentley global marketing director, Building and Structure and an architect, talked at the SmartGeometry conference about Bentley and its commitment to spend up to 20 percent of its annual revenue on research and development. Generative Components, he said, is actually free software and is not included in the R&D figures. There is also R&D for GenerativeComponents separate from that. GC is advanced architectural 3D software that enables designers to define and capture relationships, set up rules and algorithms and iterate using parametrics and other rule-based processes.

GC is a wise investment for Bentley because the company sees it as a vehicle for “open information and data sharing.” Dr. Makai Smith of Bentley said that the process was not yet mainstream -- so we could expect to continue to see adoption spreading. As architectural and structural design firms face more challenges, GC will continue to inform and shape the development of other products, according to Roberts.

Bentley is doing “syndicated development” projects, said Roberts, where Bentley cooperates with major firms using software to address new challenges


The first day to which the press was invited to SmartGeometry was entitled “Talkshop,” a day-long series of panel discussions that focused on data – with topics such as: data by design, form follows data, performative data, the data promise.

To kick off the day, Shane Burger, associate and head of the Computational Design Unit at Grimshaw Architects, defined the 9-year-old SmartGeometry group as “a world wide community that believe that through digital tools they can make design process better and through that, can make better architecture and design.”


Founders Lars Hesselgren, Hugh Whitehead, and Jay Parrish

Founders Lars Hesselgren, Hugh Whitehead, and Jay Parrish spoke about the beginnings of SmartGeometry:
“I sent email to the other guys about going forward using CAD,” said Hesselgren.

“I recollect there were a few who could do parametrics,” said Whitehead.

“We thought the problems were technological, but the way around the problem was more through sociology, and the reason why sg continues to flourish is it is a social experiment,” said Parrish.

“We intended consequences and some happened, and unintended consequences also,” said Hesselgren. “Then there are those things that we absolutely had no idea were going to happen – the “unintended unintended.”

In September, sg organizers put out an email to the community asking what a challenge would be and that becomes the overall theme of the conference. What is new, and where are the new boundaries – essentially what they should make sg about this year.
The conference comprises 10 clusters with 10 participants each, plus champions that set the brief of the cluster. “We had about 50 applications from people who wanted to run a cluster,” said Burger. “Last year there were only 15.” There is open registration, and you have to actually apply, only get the best people in. “We try to keep it small — to 110 people– but we are convinced that we have the best people in the world to run workshops. And who participate.”

He added that what people talk about in this conference happened just last night or this morning, unlike other conferences.

Talkshop offered “an opportunity for critical reflection on what had been accomplished in the sg2011 Workshops that had occurred in the past four days.” This explains why the audience felt as if they were coming in on a conversation that had already started.

Kyle Steinfeld, UC Berkeley, and Nick Novelli, CASE Rensselaer said that for the past four days the group had been exploring ability for designing literal data creation from the ground up to see if that makes the process more transparent and more robust.
”Not just architects manipulate data, everyone does,” said Steinfeld.


  • Data accessibility
  • Data resolution
  • Data agency

They talked about including GIS data and tabular data in their collection of data, and discussed for one day when information becomes data, in a very Kafkaesque way. These conversations about data ownership and use are very common in the GIS world, but not so in architecture.

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