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Austria-based engineering specialists create innovative roof for museum

More than 1,000 employees in 16 locations in Europe, the Middle East and South-East Asia implement complex structures of steel and glass. The Vienna-based company is considered a specialist in this area and is renowned for its high level of expertise with geometrically sophisticated architecture.

Waagner-Biro’s references include the dome of the Reichstag in Berlin, the envelope of the Yas Marina Hotel in Abu Dhabi (Formula 1 circuit), the glass roof on the British Museum in London, the Red Bull Hangar 7 in Salzburg, and the roofing of the Sony Center in Berlin. The engineers have worked together with many world-renowned architects and designers such as Foster and Partners, Asymptote Architecture, Jerde Partnership, and Murphy Jahn. In Louvre Abu Dhabi, Waagner-Biro is now realizing the extraordinary design of the famed French architect Jean Nouvel, which will be completed by December 2015, with the help of the Advance Steel software.

Taking inspiration from an east-Asian bazaar

Next to tourist facilities, a number of leading cultural institutions such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi will be built on Saadiyat Island, an offshore island in front of the center of Abu Dhabi. This project is the first part of the future museum island in the desert city. The steel and glass division of Waagner-Biro is currently modelling, designing, manufacturing, and assembling a 184-meter-wide and 4,850-ton dome structure. This structure—approximately the size of five soccer fields—is suspended by only four bearings and thus appears to be floating.

The dome, bolted indoors and welded on the edge area as desired by the architect, is made up of square steel hollow sections and nodes, whose lower and upper dome skin is each covered with ornamental stars from different aluminum sections. Inspired by light rays that flood the reed mat covered alleyways in an east-Asian bazaar, each four-layer, star-shaped ornament creates a graceful interplay of direct and indirect light.

A tight time frame presents challenges

Waagner-Biro was awarded the contract for the project in May 2013, with the completion of the steel structure within one and a half years—as well as the sophisticated geometry of the dome. Because the dome is suspended by only four bearings, the different peaks had to be considered as an important parameter in the design. Making matters worse was that none of the 7,384 star-shaped ornaments were alike. Each layer was twisted in contrast to the other by a certain number of degrees so that there was no right angle, and each star had to be made individually.

Planning and coordinating the project with ease

In order to realize the complex and challenging project within the budget and schedule, Waagner-Biro used Advance Steel 3D software—which the company has been working with for more than 15 years—for planning the steel package. A big advantage was the unified database. The DWG format of AutoCAD, a globally recognized CAD standard, enables an uncomplicated and full data exchange between the various trades, companies, and participants.

From the very beginning, the facade engineering department and steel works, responsible for the construction of the ornaments, worked closely together so that the respective geometries and connectors match and changes in the adjacent area could easily be taken over. “We have never had the problem that some data was not correct with Advance Steel,” says Gert Weimann, director of engineering at Waagner-Biro. “The failure probability is close to zero percent.”

Thanks to the software support, Waagner-Biro could easily implement special requests from the architect. “Nowadays, you actually weld together the entire structure to a large construction,” Weimann says. “But Jean Nouvel wanted to see ‘real screws’. That is why, from the beginning of the design process, we created a 3D model in elevated state and then presented all the nodes in order to coordinate with him. Due to the powerful support for 3D planning in Advance Steel, we were able to model the surfaces, rods, nodes, and connections without any problems.”

The software processes all data of the 3D model, creates all required documents in an automated and time-saving way, and checks the model in accordance with the drawings. In Advance Steel, the complete workshop documents such as drawings, list of components, NC data, and assembly overviews are automatically derived from the 3D model by using the company’s own programming. When a component is ready and approved, the software creates a drawing for each part using appropriate pre-settings as well as the project-specific sheet format. “With regard to geometry, construction, production, and assembly, the Louvre project was a highly challenging task,” Weimann says. “Due to the 3D functionality and possibilities of a comprehensive programming, Advance Steel became a great help in our planning.”

Advance Steel increases productivity by 25 percent

By using extensive programming, Waagner-Biro kept the total cost of construction as low as possible. It helped that the dome is a double-symmetrical structure. Thus, each node occurs a total of four times. For that reason, the team was able to determine certain types and thereby reduce the number of nodes to be constructed. However, because the entire dome design rests on only four supports and assembly sequences have to be taken into account respectively, it has a wide range of case combinations. “In our analysis model, we have incorporated all load cases and then calculated the overlays,” Weimann says.

Star-shaped ornaments.


“The profiles of the single rods and nodes were then determined and the optimized geometry imported into the Advance Steel model via one of our programmed pre-processors. So with little manual effort, we integrated the previously determined square rods and nodes into the system.” Waagner-Biro managed to keep the cost of the entire project significantly lower through the use of Autodesk Advance Steel.

“Thanks to the programming, we could record an increase of productivity by 25 percent,” Weimann says. “Of course, we regularly check the market, but so far we haven’t found anything in the high-end area that is comparable to our constructions with Autodesk Advance Steel. Although there are solutions and systems that are equivalent in normal indoor and steel building construction, when it concerns the programming, reading of data or importing of structural data into the model, the software is so far the best.” These advantages were also evident in the construction of the dome roof of the Abu Dhabi Louvre.

Through the combination of lightness, illusion, and highly sophisticated design, the cupola sets new standards and arouses curiosity about the next projects of the Viennese steel and glass engineering organization.

Waagner-Biro designs a complex dome, improves productivity with BIM

The Austrian firm designed a heavy steel and glass roof for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, using BIM to reduce costs and deliver on a tight timeline.

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