Six Designs That Would've Been Impossible Without Computer Modeling

After three decades on the market, Autodesk's software has radically transformed modern architecture, science, and art. In downtown San Francisco, Autodesk exhibits a rotating gallery showing off twenty of its most impressive design feats. On a recent tour, Gizmodo saw the stunning range of the program's capabilities. Engineers use it to plan the most the world's major buildings, and scientists use it to make scale models of molecules. For an artist, it's a way to finally design a giant dinosaur made of LEGO.

Here's a look at a few highlights of the Autodesk Gallery at One Market Street, where tours start every Wednesday at 12:30pm.

Six Designs That Would've Been Impossible Without Computer Modeling

LEGO Dinosaur


There isn't an instruction booklet big enough to explain how to turn a pile of 62,500 LEGO blocks into an 8.5-foot tall dinosaur sculpture. Instead, LEGO combined its Digital Designer software with AutoCAD to develop and test 3D models of the lambeosaurus. The company ensured its structural stability, then starting popping together the pieces.

Six Designs That Would've Been Impossible Without Computer Modeling

Shanghai Tower


When it's completed in 2014, the Shanghai Tower will be the largest building in all of China—a towering 128 stories tall. But at that height, the structure is subject to Shanghai's famously tremendous winds that, if unchecked, could cause the tower to sway and potentially buckle. So, rather than build numerous small-scale models of the three potential designs and subject them to wind tunnel testing—a labor, cost, and time-intensive exercise—the team erected each in AutoCAD and virtually tested their wind resistance in a computational fluid dynamics model. This allowed the architects to reduce wind resistance in the tower's final design by 24 percent, before a physical model was ever made. The 1:85 scale model entered a wind tunnel test, validating the virtual results of the renderings.

Six Designs That Would've Been Impossible Without Computer Modeling

Molecular Renderings

This 3D-printed 10,000,000:1 rendering of DNA-RNA transcription. They were created using accurate data, fed into AutoCAD, by Dr. George Church and the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.

Six Designs That Would've Been Impossible Without Computer Modeling

Masdar HQ

The new headquarters for the Masdar corporation, an energy company located in Abu Dhabi, is being heralded as a breakthrough in energy efficiency. To optimize the building's design, the Masdar designers used AutoCAD software to configure everything—its orientation on the lot, the roof design, the shape of the solar panel array, and the shape of the cooling inlets located at the base of the main support columns. As a result, the Masdar building will consume 70 percent less water than a similarly sized structure, and it will actually produce three percent more energy than it consumes—making it the first positive energy building in the Middle East.

Six Designs That Would've Been Impossible Without Computer Modeling

SF Bay Bridge

When the new eastern span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge was in its design phase, skeptics worried that the world's largest self-anchored suspension bridge, couldn't handle the strain of morning commute traffic. To prove that the project could be accomplished, the California DoT created and disseminated realistic models of the proposed span and construction process. The idea was to gain public support and to plan how to minimize delays during lane closures. This technique was so successful that the DoT did the same for the recent Doyle Drive renovation.

Six Designs That Would've Been Impossible Without Computer Modeling

3D Camera Booth

Sure, you can scan physical objects into the virtual realm using laser range finders and such, but where is the fun in that? And what else are you going to use those three dozen spare cameras for? This device takes a series of photos of the subject, overlapping them slightly. This data is then fed into AutoCAD 123 Make where it is stitched together into a 3D model. Users can then export the model to a 3D printer or a CNC machine to cut the shapes from cardboard. Then it's just a matter of assembly. The finished result: a bust of AutoDesk CEO Carl Bass' kid complete with sound-activated light-up eyes.