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OSA Review: Oliver Thomas decodes Design Tech at BIG

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

The First Guest Lecture organised by OxArch, 6th October 2022


Morphing into the future- Oliver demonstrating endless possibilities of computer simulations. (Picture by OxArch Photographer)


With the rustling footsteps of autumn drawing closer than ever amidst the increasingly chilly weather, we heralded another new episode as Oxford Brookes Architecture Society brought us their maiden guest lecture of the new term. The number of audiences was, understandably, overwhelming because who could resist a peek into such a large, multinational and multidisciplinary firm called Bjarke Ingels Group?


Without further ado, Oliver demystified his role as a design technologist in BIG through his minimal, straight-to-the-point and succinct presentation, which I suppose it resonates with the design ethos of BIG in terms of its simplicity and accessibility in design execution—the approach which Oliver proudly contrasted with Zaha Hadid’s inundation with fantastical curvatures that were tedious to build. “It is the straightforwardness and the exciting straight lines that land us so many projects internationally compared to Zaha’s as it is less time-consuming to construct”, Oliver remarked.


Anyway, we digressed. Owing to the scale, financial vitality and vision of BIG, Oliver is one of the many key players specialised in technology design solutions. He dissected the typologies of current design technology, as I will be listing out a few in case you’re wondering. First, there’s modelling, which he highlighted Rhino as it works well with both constrained and free form; its alternatives would be Maya (way too unconstrained as he explained), Sketchup (has its own set of limitations) and Blender. Then, we have BIM through the existence of Revit (mainly used for documentation) and ArchiCAD as both of them are able to produce 3D models of full information about the building. This brings us to the concept of fabrication, which involves 3D printed models directly from Rhino.



Serpentine Pavilion in 2016- recognisable by its double curved form with simple sheet materials (Stephenson, 2016)


Pair of Twisting Towers in Miami by BIG- note its orientation to maximise view (McKnight, 2016)


I have to mention that it was a feast for our eyes as he showed us stunning outcomes that would have been impossible without the concept of parametric design such as the Serpentine Pavilion in 2016, the pair of twisting towers in Miami’s Coconut Grove and et cetera. Since we’re already in the future, he envisioned the role that technology would play in design which includes 3D printing actual homes, automated electric vehicles, the metaverse and hyperloop.


Last but not least, he urged young designers to develop superpowers in a specialised area. For those who are keen to harness their superpower towards digital skillset, he strongly encouraged us to support ATN Project Programme by following Archi-Tech Network YouTube Channel for online tutorials.


References


McKnight, J. (2016) BIG completes pair of twisting towers in Miami’s Coconut Grove. Dezeen. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/11/09/big-completes-grove-at-grand-bay-twisting-towers-miami/ (Accessed: 17 Nov 2022)


Stephenson, J. (2016) Serpentine Pavilion 2016 designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). Serpentine. Available at: https://www.serpentinegalleries.org/about/press/serpentine-pavilion-2016/ (Accessed: 17 Nov 2022)



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