Acclaimed Architect Peter Macapia is exploring new frontiers in architectural design; a different way of looking at the design of buildings that simultaneously, rather than sequentially, employs principles of architecture and engineering to produce totally new insights and types of structures. Macapia’s creativity and solidThinkings’s technology combined have brought these new frontiers within reach.
In exploring potential morphologies for buildings, Macapia initially worked independently to carry
through research started in the 1960s and ‘70s in Japan, efforts that had produced genetic-type
algorithms for structural morphology. Macapia describes these early computational methods as primitive
in their applicability by today’s standards, but they formed the basis of his early architectural work.
Macapia’s own perception of what was possible in his field changed significantly in 2010 when a colleague mentioned Altair Inspire. At the time, Macapia was preparing a course for one of the top design schools in the world, the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles.
“When I came into contact with the software, I realized it presented a great opportunity,” Macapia recalled. “It could allow me to take on really imaginative engineering and architecture projects, with an emphasis on the engineering side.” What made the difference for Macapia was Altair Inspire’s ability to transform forces into a design that offered alternatives for shapes, sizes and materials all at once.
Traditionally in architecture, analysis has been completely separated from design, but Altair Inspire showed Macapia how designers could integrate an analytical capacity into the design space. As he observed, “We could already do finite element analysis, but you needed to design the structure and then test it, whereas Altair Inspire integrates design and testing in the same space.”
“Using Altair Inspire,” said Macapia, “we can introduce a new function into a cultural and linguistic environment that we already know and are familiar with. The point is to think within that new function so you invent a new language.” Macapia’s new language involves structures that are designed by deforming surfaces and going beyond the rigid limits of Cartesian grids. It also forces the architect to think more deeply about materials.
“The benefit of Altair Inspire is that it’s not telling you how to solve for the design of the material, but rather it’s presenting a diagram of forces and telling you what it would mean using one type of material rather than another. The fact that you can constantly specify the material and update the form you’re working with is a real asset in the program.”
“It gives you the design choices and shows you the options, with tremendous flexibility in altering the forces. You don't have that kind of interactivity in other structural programs.”
Peter Macapia, Architect and Professor,
LabDORA, Pratt Institute
“Altair Inspire does what computation is supposed to do, allowing you to be in the driver’s seat throughout the project,” he asserted. “It says, these are the forces, these are the forecasts of what happens. You get a vast array of responses and ways the structure can be treated materially.”
Altair Inspire is distinctive from other structural programs. Macapia explained, “It gives you the design choices and shows you the options, with tremendous flexibility in altering the forces. You don’t have that kind of interactivity in other structural programs. They are isolated from the design activity.”
“It’s been great to work with Altair Inspire,” he said. “The team has always been fantastic and supportive. The support has allowed me to produce research, and the generosity on their end has made it easier for me to work with students, providing tools to pose problems of the future. The tools from solidThinking are really open and sophisticated, and the infrastructure support has been great.”