News
12.11.2006
Last But Not Least


Mechanical engineering has come a long way since the end of the 18th century when industrialization introduced new building technologies and construction methods. Heating and ventilation became part of everyday building, but mechanical services were still seen as subservient to style and structure in architecture. Consequently, mechanical engineering remained somewhat behind the progress of architectural thought, and MEs were last to join the design team.

Modernists changed this by declaring the new era of stylelesss architecture, and establishing a relationship between the aesthetic and the technical. Some architects searched for ways to give aesthetic expression to mechanical systemssmost notably Le Corbusier, who sculpturally exposed the roof ducts in the Unitt ddHabitation in Marseilles. Today, the way mechanical engineering affects the representational aspect of architecture varies from building to building, of course. But growing interest in sustainable designnwith many concepts derived from mechanical engineeringghas made the close collaboration between architects and mechanical engineers essential.

In fact, for some projects, it seems that mechanical engineering technologies have become equal in importance to a projectts structural aspects, challenging the priorities of conventional architectural process. It has become more important to collaborate with mechanical engineers as early as possible in the design process,, said Robert Fox, a principal at Cook + Fox Architects, acknowledging the potential of MEs to strongly influence the design of a building..

On a high-performance and highly intensive infrastructure building such as One Bryant Park, the mechanical engineerrs role is absolutely critical to the success of the project,, agreed Serge Appel, a senior associate at Cook + Fox and project director for One Bryant Park. I cannt imagine a well-designed, high-performance building whose overall composition hasnnt been impacted by the mechanical criteria.. For example, for One Bryant Park, a 54-floor skyscraper thatts aiming for a LEED Platinum rating, the architects took the input of their MEs from Jaros Baum & Bolles (JB&B) early enough to be convinced of the value of an underfloor air systemma decision that, in turn, raised floor heights and provided opportunities for more flexible floorplans, affecting the way the architects planned interiors.

Contemporary mechanical systems do impact the design of the buildinggnot necessarily how the building looks on the outside, but definitely its efficiency and its structural system,, explained David Cooper, managing director of Flack & Kurtz. MEs can help optimize all the functions of the building, if the collaboration with designers and other consultants starts early enough.. He cited the New York Times tower, which his firm worked on with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop and FXFowle Architects, as a great example of truly integrated space, where architecture, structural, and mechanical engineering become one.. For example, together with structural engineers from Thornton-Tomasetti, Flack & Kurtz helped architects develop a double-glazed curtain wall that ties into the buildinggs HVAC system. Air circulates between the layers of glazing, a cavity that also contains motorized shades.

In a complex case like the New York Times tower, building information modeling is designed to bring this sort of dialogue to a new level. For Daniel Libeskindds Denver Art Museum, the extreme geometries made the full integration of mechanical and structural systems essential. By importing plans into a 3D structural model, Ove Arupps team from its Los Angeles office could successfully accommodate the complex blend of the buildinggs mechanical and structural elements. The improved communication that comes with information management systems like BIM can significantly reduce the number of requests of information (RFIs) between the design team and the contractors, and in some cases allows direct constructability, bypassing 2D drawings altogether.

Another important development has been the extent to which mechanical engineers are engaging in computer simulations that allow them to test a buildinggs performance. Itts expensive to build mock-ups, so when we create complex spaces, computer simulations are extremely helpful,, said Cooper of Flack & Kurtz. For example, for his firmms work on the Hearst Tower, they used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to analyze indoor airflow, which they knew would be affected by the irregular angles of the structure.

The future of design seems to be closely linked to BIM. Murat Karakas, a mechanical engineer at Arup who worked on the Denver Art Museum, certainly thinks so. We see a lot of potential not currently in place,, he said, suggesting that in future, the BIM model could serve as a user manual for building owners, So if a part fails ten years down the road, they will be able pinpoint the problem,, he said.

While the improved integration of efficient mechanical systems is by no means dependent on 3D modeling technology, it can definitely ease the process. With 3D modeling, you get a better set of tinker toys,, said Lenny Zimmerman, another Flack & Kurtz mechanical engineer. Now, you donnt just draw what you are going to builddyou actually build it..

Masha Panteleyeva studied architecture at the cooper union and is an editorial intern at AN.

Masha Panteleyeva