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Modelling architectural design information by features: an approach to dynamic product modelling for application in architectural design

By J. van Leeuwen


Architectural design, like many other human activities, benefits more and more from the ongoing development of information and communication technologies. The traditional paper documents for the representation and communication of design are now replaced by digital media. CAD systems have replaced the drawing board and knowledge systems are used to integrate expert knowledge in the design process. Product modelling is one of the most promising approaches in the developments of the last two decades, aiming in the architectural context at the representation and communication of the information related to a building in all its aspects and during its complete life-cycle. However, after studying both the characteristics of the product modelling approach and the characteristics of architectural design, it is concluded in this research project that product modelling does not suffice for support of architectural design. Architectural design is characterised mainly as a problem solving process, involving illdefined problems that require a very dynamic way of dealing with information that concerns both the problem and emerging solutions. Furthermore, architectural design is in many ways an evolutionary process. In short term this is because of the incremental approach to problem solving in design projects, and in long term because of the stylistic development of designers and the continuous developments in the building and construction industry in general. The requirements that are posed by architectural design are concentrated in the keywords extensibility and flexibility of the design informationmodels. Extensibility means that designers can extend conceptual models with definitions that best suit the design concepts they wish to utilise. Flexibility means that information in design models can be structured in a way that accurately represents the design rationale. This includes the modelling of incidental characteristics and relationships of the entities in the model that are not necessarily predefined in a conceptual model. In general, product modelling does not adequately support this dynamic nature of design. Therefore, this research project has studied the concepts developed in the technology of Feature-based modelling, which originates from the area of mechanical engineering. These concepts include the usage of Features as the primitives for defining and reasoning about a product. Features have an autonomous function in the information model, which, as a result, constitutes a flexible network of relationships between Features that are established during the design process. The definition of Features can be specified by designers to formalise new design concepts. This allows the design tools to be adapted to the specific needs of the individual designer, enlarging the library of available resources for design. In addition to these key-concepts in Feature-based modelling as it is developed in the mechanical engineering context, the project has determined the following principles for a Feature-based approach in the architectural context. Features in mechanical engineering are used mainly to describe the lowest level of detail in a product's design, namely the characteristics of its parts. In architecture the design process does not normally follow a strictly hierarchical approach and therefore requires that the building be modelled as a whole. This implies that multiple levels of abstraction are modelled and that Features are used to describe information at the various abstraction levels. Furthermore, architectural design involves concepts that are non-physical as well as physical, Features are to be used for modelling both kinds. The term Feature is defined in this research project to reflect the above key-concepts for this modelling approach. A Feature is an autonomous, coherent collection of information, with semantic meaning to a designer and possibly emerging during design, that is defined to formalise a design concept at any level of abstraction, either physical or non-physical, as part of a building model. Feature models are built up entirely of Features and are structured in the form of a directed graph. The nodes in the graph are the Features, whereas the arcs are the relationships between the Features. Features can be of user-defined types and incidental relationships can be added that are not defined at the typological level. An inventory in this project of what kind of information is involved in the practice of modelling architectural design is based on the analysis of a selection of sources of architectural design information. This inventory is deepened by a case study and results in the proposition of a categorisation of architectural Feature types

Topics: Automated Management Information Systems, Computer-Aided Architectural Design (CAAD), Information Systems, Models
Year: 1999
OAI identifier: oai:cumincad.architexturez.net:14968
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