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Architectural art - and building science

Paastudio - California, U.S.

Creative transparency combined with building precision and logical, livable space - paastudio's recipe for satisfying its many clients. ARCHICAD Virtual Building models provide the environment to communicate winning designs during the tender, but equally to manufacturers, sub-contractors and building owners alike. Its NHS project demonstrates the effectiveness of combining clear spatial vision with organic modeling in an intelligent virtual model. 

California's paastudio (PAA) could describe their approach as "livable minimalism". However, there are wider aspects of design any architectural practice must consider and handle with the same attention to detail: function and form; structure and aesthetics; beauty and budget; the fusion of art and building science into a practical piece of imagination. "The key," says Principal Ivo Venkov, "is that you must deliver all of this digitally first, and then in reality."

The architect's challenge is to convey the "delicate definition of space" - the fluid transition between different parts of a total volume which are defined without vertical partitions yet still retain their identity and crisp function. Besides these being poetic, they must also become fact. According to Venkov, PAA achieves this and like any architectural practice worth it salt, it provides the proficiency of executing the job within the required time and budget. But his practice boasts one other critical competitive advantage - "ARCHICAD is practically invaluable for us!"

6,130m² mixed-use commercial building with a three-story detached 250-car garage

PAA began using ARCHICAD® in 1996. Prior to that they had DataCad® and Microstation®, "the latter being returned to the vendor due to overall frustration with the ungainly work environment," explains Venkov. "The former, DataCad, was relatively decent for its time, but nowhere near the sophistication of ARCHICAD Virtual Building™ model concept." And they were Microsoft® all the way - at least that is, until Spring 2005.

"At some point, a man's got to do what a man's got to do," he admits, "and find a better platform!" Since, in Venkov's estimate, Apple finally came to terms with the rest of the world price-wise, produced some extremely well-designed hardware and came out with a much improved OSX, PAA had no reason to postpone the switch. "And we haven't regretted it for a moment." The firm, and its reputation, has gone from strength to strength.

Modeling style with function

Like a well-functioning organism, any building complex is organized and brought to life by one basic line of thought - combining ease-of-use with fun-during-use. PAA's NHS building is a good example of this. It's a 66,000sf (6,130m²) mixed-use commercial building with a three-story detached 250-car garage, designed to function within a specific Los Angeles neighborhood. NHS is located south of Staples Arena/ Convention Center; which at one time was a safe-but-non-descript area, but now taking on a new lease of life. Movie director Robert Zemeckis opened a creative film school just across from the plot. The building offers a creative working and recreational space, providing all the newest technology with the constant presence of nature.

To win the design project, Venkov presented a tender incorporating the full range of "bells and whistles" one would expect from an intelligent virtual model - VRs, fly-throughs, 3D floor-plans, sections, shaded elevations, sun studies. Their impact was immediate - the project was secured. "Our approach gave them the presence of a real building before it was built, and the assurance that good modern design is worth the effort and money."

The main lobby features a panoramic elevator and an oval-shaped skylight with integrated sun-screen photovoltaic cells, along with the rooftop garden. This is a safe, park-like environment for the building occupants, along with the option of having a day-care facility with outdoor space as well a garden restaurant at night. "The curved metal canopy was the visual signature for our clients, who are funding neighborhood revitalization in different parts of the city." The project team consisted of four people who produced a decent CD set in around 4 months; around 60 E-size pages, including 3D curtain wall schedule which "was adored by the specific manufacturer who could roll-out production directly from our plans without the trials and constant doubt associated with 2D specifications! In fact, this was the first time that someone gave them a 3D visual of a complex curtain wall before it was built."

Winning client hearts and minds

As the building has yet to be constructed, perhaps the ultimate architectural goal has been achieved - communicating a complex building model, complete with its spatial impact, design intent and practicality. Client satisfaction was gained, and an often-heard "we love it" vindicated all PAA's effort thrown behind the concept generation and modeling. "On our client's side we got additional enthusiastic comments from different walks of life at the company - from the CEO through their construction manager to the average employee. Some of them loved the overall design concept, others the functionality of the design, the built-in solar features, ease-of-access and ample parking... As a matter of fact, it appealed to everyone." The city officials involved in the approval process commented positively, Venkov says, "and even the Fire Marshall had something nice to say about the clever fire-truck turnaround system!"

Challenging designs

But like any ambition medium-sized project, nothing comes without a struggle. "Fortunately, throughout our years of work we have avoided any severe mistakes - and this is to a greater degree due to the use of a Virtual Building model from concept throughout working drawings into construction administration. Nevertheless, clash-detecting within the architectural modeling and coordination with consultants is regular practice, which saves time and money for the client and liability issues for us," explains Venkov. "Being able to actually put together the building in the virtual world no longer takes more time than just drafting it up, since the final set of CD's is based on preliminary design and design development done in ARCHICAD as well."

The first challenge PAA faced with the NHS project - convincing the owner and all of the local city and state agencies involved that this was the right approach and vision to address a relatively complex function on an odd-shaped plot of land - all this within a tight budget. "It was resolved quite definitely," Venkov says with conviction, "by means of advanced modeling and VR presentation."

The main design challenges were the curved canopy and curtain wall with four different glass shades. The canopy was modeled and given preliminary details, then sent to the manufacturer in (3D) DXF for initial pricing. The same went to the structural engineer, who also received the suggested metal post and beam system in 3D. The curtain wall materials were designated with different (3D) hatching patterns, which translated to a clean elevation material description, which was used in axonometric representation too. The main HVAC equipment and chutes were put into the model to size, and clearances cross-referenced in 3D.

3D representations proved critical throughout the design process, ensuring accuracy and avoiding clashes. Venkov points out that the original tensile staircase design would not have been possible without an exact 3D model. The first and second-floor lobby integration, and light disposition of the interior garden drawn from the above skylight, were explored with sun study for every season; a similar approach was utilized at the entry glass enclosure and corresponding overhangs.

Actual tiles were scanned and incorporated into the renderings

"The lobby artwork was texture-mapped to size," he explains, "in the model, to give the owner an exact idea of its presence. As a matter of fact, we created this piece specifically for the project. The proposed floor tile was scanned and applied in the renderings to show the accurate appearance of the lobby along with the warm ambient reflection at day and night-time."

"Using the Virtual Building model plus workflow optimization gives you the same results of a workforce at least a three times the size!"

Venkov fully throws his support behind Graphisoft's Virtual Building direction in thinking and development. "This is the way the construction industry is going to evolve," he says. "For us, doing what we do and the way we do it, gives us an edge to compete with larger firms, most of whom have lesser output than us. And this doesn't take into account design - we're talking just about the level of information and precision."

"Because of how we work, we can save manpower and still do more, he points out. As a conservative overall calculation, one could assert that using the Virtual Building model plus workflow optimization gives you the same results of a workforce at least a three times the size! Referring to our website, you will notice that in the last few years we have been invited to compete and submit proposals for several projects in the range of 50-70,000 m²- ten times larger then the NHS!"

"But don't get us wrong," he concludes. "We don't want to appear brash, but our success and growth are facts. Our positive evolution has been helped tremendously by the use of ARCHICAD."

The what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach has worked well for PAA in both commercial and residential projects. Or in Venkov's terms: "We prefer to view our transparent approach not only as a form to function fusion, but simply as ... honesty."