The Underestimated Role of Simulation in Architecture, Engineering and Construction

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Have you heard of hyper-loops, undersea hotels, and made-to-order 3D-printed buildings? These were just concepts a few years ago, but are reality now.


These structures need to be designed for either transporting people through natural surroundings, protecting them from natural surroundings, or allowing them to interact with natural surroundings. The commonalities that underlay these structures consist of intricate linkages between product, nature, and life.

In fact, the original charter of the Institution of Civil Engineers describes the civil engineering profession as “the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man”, and herein underlies the role of product, nature and life.

So we need to think about product, nature, and life together not only to allow for creating innovative designs, but also to provide optimal functionality, ensure safety, and safeguard sustainability, for ecological well-being. Product, nature, and life, hence, need to play a conjoined role during planning for large engineering projects such as city developments, large transportation projects, as well as dam and irrigation works.

How can we include nature and life – and by life we mean human life – in the design process of an architectural structure?

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This will need to be done through realistic simulations that take into account precise geometry and material properties, realistic representations of physical and natural processes, and rational predictions of experiences by people.

Representing products as they are has become fairly widespread and well understood. Engineers are able to create a detailed geometrical representation of the product, be it a doubly curved concrete superstructure, a curved Plexiglas window on an undersea hotel structure, sound absorbing acoustic panels inside auditoriums, or roof tiles and linings in railroad tunnels.

The key however to understand how an entire structure will behave in real life is to accurately represent the material properties it’s composed of, including the response behavior of the material to changes in stress and temperature over time, and material degradation due to interactions with humans and natural surroundings.

Contours of displacement in a segmented box girder bridge
Contours of displacement in a segmented box girder bridge

Loads, both external as well as internally generated, need to be taken into account together with externally applied disturbances, such as those during earthquakes.

The geometry, material characteristics, and the driving forces of loads and prescribed disturbances, need to be combined and solved in order to obtain a structural response that the experiencer then perceives. The more information on the complete system that one is able to take into account, the better will the structural response prediction be.

The complete system will then include the structure, foundations, rock or soil surrounding the foundations, wind, thermal inputs such as heat loading, and of course gravity.

Additionally, scenarios such as explosion loading, etc. will also need to be considered for assessing structural behavior during or subsequent to any of such contingencies.

Contact interactions, impact loading, construction and demolition sequences, retrofitting scenarios and options, and responses to seismic excitation can be evaluated.

This is what simulation brings to the table and the value companies reap from it—the ability to virtually understand everything about the behavior and impact of a building, a bridge, or a dam, before having to physically build them.

Looking at the bigger picture, the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform from Dassault Systèmes is uniquely positioned to allow users to leverage these capabilities in a single framework. It combines and integrates leading technologies from SIMULIA for realistic simulation, CATIA for accurate 3D representation of structures, GEOVIA for precise description of geo-stratification, and BIOVIA for the understanding of material behaviors starting at the atomistic level.

It will enable one to not only model buildings, but also their behaviors, including the way they interact with nature, the way nature interacts with them, and their impact on people, from the micro to the macro scale.

Transport of pollutants in a city due to wind. Here we see streamlines of the pollutants and how they get affected by the presence of the buildings.
Transport of pollutants in a city due to wind. Here we see streamlines of the pollutants and how they get affected by the presence of the buildings.

Speaking of macro scale, we see the emergence of the need for cities to model their entire infrastructure for planning purposes, including systems of buildings and equipment along with all the physical and web-enabled inter-connections linking them.

A unique effort is being undertaken at Dassault Systèmes to address these challenges through 3DEXPERIENCE City. As an example, a digital representation of the nation-city of Singapore is now being constructed and once completed can be used for planning purposes and to study “what-if” scenarios. It can be helpful for investigating the implications of certain decisions made by city government agencies, and to plan and channel urban growth.

These are exciting times for comprehensive simulation technologies to connect product, nature, and life in the AEC industry.

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Related Resources

Collaborative, Industrialized Construction – Industry Solution Experiences from Dassault Systèmes


SIMULIA for realistic simulation

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