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American physicist Samuel Chao Chung Ting won the Nobel Prize in 1976 for his pioneering work in particle physics—and his groundbreaking ideas have continued since. To honor Ting’s lifetime of discovery and his ancestral roots in Shandong Province, China, Chinese leaders decided to build the Samuel Chao Chung Ting Science Museum in Shandong Province. The architects at China Architecture Design Group, tapped to design the museum, were determined to create a design that reflected Ting’s ingenuity and spirit. Taking advantage of the computational design power of Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools helped to make that possible.
The design team had a lively concept featuring free-form concrete surfaces. Much of the building is below grade and employs earth sheltering, with inclined and curved roof beams. Above grade, the team designed an octagonal steel structure with 2 continuous spiral ramps circling exhibition space. The problem? The team had only 3 months to create detailed designs, and they knew that optimizing the shapes of interrelated non-standard forms could prove to be huge time drain. Plus, managing the relationships between non-standard forms as designs evolved could take just as long.
BIM-based computational design tools looked like the answer. The team started by creating an initial model. They modeled the concrete elements, steel structure, and required earthwork—all the elements of the building. The team then configured a computational design tool to follow their preferred parameters for geometry. With so little time for design and such a complex structure, the structural engineers and architects had to work closely, so they shared one collaboration model of walls, beams, and columns. This eliminated the need to waste time coordinating redundant models.
Using BIM-powered computational design, the team optimized the geometry of the building’s many elements. For instance, the spiral ramps and exhibition halls shared similar vault shapes. After determining their basic parameters, the team could explore options for the depths and heights of the walls with the computational tool adjusting geometry of the related elements automatically. They also explored the formwork requirements for the complex 3D concrete surfaces, identifying and addressing potential issues in advance of fabrication.
Working from model-based analysis, the team explored the best way to realize the below-grade portions of the building. In reviewing alternatives, they adjusted the elevation of the building relative to the existing ground to minimize the quantity of earthwork required, while also optimizing the thickness of the soil above the roof and the shape of the roof itself. Each of these insight-driven modifications led to cost savings.
Late in the design process, the team needed to make a change to the location and orientation of the building. This could have derailed the whole project schedule—were it not for BIM and computational design. "BIM technology has been applied very effectively on this extremely complex project within a tight schedule. The 3D model was built not only to reveal the unique space generated by the spiral shape and curved bare concrete wall, but also to organize data and to provide a platform for the design teams to exchange their information. The design embodies Professor Ting’s spirit of exploration, and the BIM design process was guided by that same eagerness to explore." Said Mr Cui Kai, Chief Architect.