February 24, 2024

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Hong Kong: Advancing Architecture with Evolutionary Algorithms

University of Hong Kong

The Building Simplexity Laboratory (BSL) at the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) presented the KATENARA Pavilion, a project demonstrating the innovative application of evolutionary algorithms in streamlining the design and construction of non-standard, lightweight catenary wood structures.

Image Credits: HKU, Press Release

Constructed in collaboration with the NYCU Graduate Institute of Architecture at Dongshi Forestry Cultural Park, Taichung City, Taiwan, during the fall of 2023, the Pavilion boasts a striking double-curved wooden roof surface comprising two glulam ring beams and ten near-catenary-shaped glulam beams, supported by tension cables.

The project underscores the advancement of computational methods to simplify construction complexities while prioritising timber as a sustainable, low-carbon construction material.

Currently, an exhibition titled ‘KATENARA: Advanced Computational Methods for Low-Tech Timber Construction’ is on display at PMQ in Central, Hong Kong.

This exhibition showcases drawings, prototypes, and onsite documentation of the KATENARA Project, along with pilot studies and historical precedents illustrating the challenges and opportunities associated with catenary glulam roof systems.

Architects and engineers have historically strived to optimise geometry and cost to create structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing spaces. Notable examples include the J.S. Dorton Arena (Matthew Nowicki, USA, 1952), the David S. Ingalls Skating Rink (Eero Saarinen, New Haven, USA, 1958), and the Yoyogi National Stadium (Kenzo Tange, Tokyo, Japan, 1964), all featuring lightweight suspended steel cables or members in their structural roof systems, utilising materials such as concrete, steel, and timber.

In recent years, glue-laminated (glulam) timber has emerged as an environmentally friendly option for large-scale roof structures. However, the complexity of glulam geometries often poses challenges due to expensive bespoke moulds.

To address this challenge, researchers at BSL have developed evolutionary algorithms to minimise moulds, thereby reducing costs and enhancing accessibility. In the KATENARA Project, parametric engineering software optimised the number and spacing of catenary beams, while the design was further refined for low-tech timber construction settings. Japanese Cedarwood, chosen for its sustainability and strength, served as the primary material.

Minimising construction costs while preserving architectural integrity posed a significant challenge. The algorithms enabled the prefabrication of all curved glulam elements using a single jig, which accounted for 19% of the total timber works cost, underscoring the impact of reducing the number of jigs on project budgets.

Strategically controlled parametric detailing simplified the connection between the roof floor and suspended beams, utilising steel connection details to facilitate easy fabrication and minimise the complexity of on-site installation. The on-site assembly of KATENARA’s main structure was completed within just three hours.

The realisation of the KATENARA Pavilion underscores the viability of its underlying concept and highlights potential avenues for refining similar projects in the future. As the inaugural implementation of optimised suspended glulam roof structures tailored for low-tech timber construction environments, KATENARA sets a precedent for advancing innovative architectural designs, particularly in developing construction contexts where prioritising cost-efficiency and sustainable practices is paramount. These observations were made by Professor Kristof Crolla, the Founding Director of BSL.

Professor Crolla emphasised how the Project demonstrates the transformative potential of advanced computational methods and evolutionary algorithms in revolutionising architectural design and construction. These technologies empower architects and engineers to develop visually striking, structurally efficient, and environmentally sustainable buildings that challenge the traditional boundaries of global construction practices.

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Qlik’s vision is a data-literate world, where everyone can use data and analytics to improve decision-making and solve their most challenging problems. A private company, Qlik offers real-time data integration and analytics solutions, powered by Qlik Cloud, to close the gaps between data, insights and action. By transforming data into Active Intelligence, businesses can drive better decisions, improve revenue and profitability, and optimize customer relationships. Qlik serves more than 38,000 active customers in over 100 countries.

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CTC Global Singapore, a premier end-to-end IT solutions provider, is a fully owned subsidiary of ITOCHU Techno-Solutions Corporation (CTC) and ITOCHU Corporation.

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SIRIM is a premier industrial research and technology organisation in Malaysia, wholly-owned by the Minister​ of Finance Incorporated. With over forty years of experience and expertise, SIRIM is mandated as the machinery for research and technology development, and the national champion of quality. SIRIM has always played a major role in the development of the country’s private sector. By tapping into our expertise and knowledge base, we focus on developing new technologies and improvements in the manufacturing, technology and services sectors. We nurture Small Medium Enterprises (SME) growth with solutions for technology penetration and upgrading, making it an ideal technology partner for SMEs.

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HashiCorp provides infrastructure automation software for multi-cloud environments, enabling enterprises to unlock a common cloud operating model to provision, secure, connect, and run any application on any infrastructure. HashiCorp tools allow organizations to deliver applications faster by helping enterprises transition from manual processes and ITIL practices to self-service automation and DevOps practices. 

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IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider. We help clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs and gain the competitive edge in their industries. Nearly 3,000 government and corporate entities in critical infrastructure areas such as financial services, telecommunications and healthcare rely on IBM’s hybrid cloud platform and Red Hat OpenShift to affect their digital transformations quickly, efficiently and securely. IBM’s breakthrough innovations in AI, quantum computing, industry-specific cloud solutions and business services deliver open and flexible options to our clients. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity and service.

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