The Fabrication of “The Cloud”: Introducing Material Constraints in Complex Geometry Optimization

The Fabrication of “The Cloud”: Introducing Material Constraints in Complex Geometry Optimization

Stefano Converso (Roma Tre University, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3993-3.ch018


The chapter shows the optimization, rationalization, and design development process of the doubly curved wooden cladding of the main auditorium for the New Congress Center of Rome (mostly known as “the cloud”: “la nuvola”), designed by Massimiliano Fuksas, and completed in 2016. The author has been hired by the subcontractors to perform the design development of the original project and to develop a precise geometry of tessellation and a strategy for fabricating efficiently the wooden panels and the corresponding metal substructure of the cladding surfaces by preparing the geometry for direct CNC fabrication of both for a total amount of approximately 4,800 unique interior panels and 2,400 unique exterior panels. The optimization process of geometry has been conducted in parallel on rebuilding the original surface for curvature continuity and on verifying local conditions through custom tools developed within Rhinoceros to control and generate several tessellation options and compute dynamically the deformation of panels.
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1 Introduction

“La Nuvola” (The Cloud) is the nickname generally accepted for the new conference center of the city of Rome, located in the Southern part within the EUR district. The EUR district was built originally for the International Universal Fair of 1942 with the original name of E 42, and then updated with new additions for the Olympic Games of 1960. The competition was awarded in 2000 by a Jury directed by Norman Foster to the proposal presented by Massimiliano Fuksas. The project featured a squared glass envelope that hosts “the cloud”: a freeform textile envelope.

The long history of turning such a powerful image into the actual building lies outside of this paper’ purpose. The author and his research team from Roma Tre University are involved in the process in August 2013, when one subcontractor hires them. The subcontractor is DEVOTO, a company specialized in complex wood furnishing. The purpose of the contract is a consultancy to help them in the geometry management and realization of the curved wooden envelopes of the main conference hall of the building, located inside the above mentioned freeform textile envelope of the “cloud”. At the beginning of the work of consultancy, in July 2013, the steel structure of the building is already erected, as shown in image 1.

Figure 1.

Interior view of the main Auditorium of „the cloud“: Strucutral steel was already in place when the work started.

Tessellation and Material Constraints: Optimizing Design Geometry

The work started from the constraints given by the material and by a 3D original surface, provided as a mesh, but including indications on doors and fenestration, the indications on size and material of the tessellation: the surface had to be covered with squared panels of approximately 80x80 cm in wood.

The preliminary operation run before this step has been the remodeling of the surface in order to get a continuous NURBS object instead of the existing one, composed of trimmed surfaces joint together. This remodeling passed through several steps of optimization, later on in the process, but the first one had as purpose the possibility to work with one single continuous reference surface, by ensuring curvature continuity (second degree) all along the surface, and reduction of control points. This first step of overall geometry optimization allowed us to start the elaboration of options of tessellation, to be submitted to architects, to the construction site coordinators and to the general contractor, during a series of preliminary meetings. The need and the initial request to our team was to help development of hypotheses, but in a reliable way. In one sentence: a support for informed decisions.

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