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Chuck out your T-square B

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Howley Harrington Architects and structural engineer Price and Myers have just won the design competition, organised by the Institution of Engineers of Ireland and the Dublin Corporation, for the millennium footbridge over the River Liffey in Dublin. The footbridge links the north and south parts of the city, and is aimed at continuing the regeneration that has taken place in Dublin over the past few years.

As with many millennium architectural and engineering projects, the bridge's dramatic design could only be achieved by the use of computer modelling. As with the Millennium Dome and the new Wembley Stadium, MicroStation from Bentley Systems was used throughout. The high level of design visualisation used during the design process and for the competition submission undoubtedly helped convince the judges.

Tim Lucas, project engineer at Price and Myers, said: 'We use MicroStation on projects where we need to see if something is actually possible to fabricate, like a curved roof or a winding staircase. MicroStation is a necessity because it allows us to see how the design will look in real life and, in this particular case, to evaluate how the bridge would look structurally.'

Cadventure provided training and consultancy for both practices. Hugh Whitehead of Cadventure has a great deal of experience in providing visualisation advice on complex projects: his work has included the Sydney 2000 Olympic stadium with the Lobb Partnership.

The lightweight metal bridge will be fabricated off-site as a single piece complete with all finishes and lighting. It will then be floated up the river from Dockland Quays to be lifted into place. The project is due to be completed by September 1999.

This project dramatically illustrates the benefits of producing a model which both details construction elements and produces visualisation materials. Projects of this type live or die by public and client perception, and this can only be fully addressed by the use of visualisation technologies. Bentley has recognised this and built all the tools required into the core application with MicroStation SE. This inclusive process will be continued with the forthcoming release of MicroStation/J, which for the first time will include the modelling functionality of Triforma in the architectural solution.

'Visualisation is no luxury, it's essential to win jobs. The return on investment equation is very simple: if you don't adopt technology you won't be around very long. You have to ask yourself whether you can afford not to have this technology at my disposal. It is no coincidence that there is a direct correlation between the earnings of the world's top architectural firms and their adoption of technology,' says Joel Orr, engineer laureate at Bentley Systems.

Technology has moved from the arena of project management and production to provide users with a true set of design tools. Tools traditionally used for high-end animation for film and television work are now being used for architectural and design visualisation. In an increasingly visual age, clients and the public expect more from designers than a few line drawings on A1 sheets of paper.

Projects like the Millennium Dome and the new Wembley Stadium could not have been designed without extensive use of computer technology. The exploration of complex geometric ideas is not possible without the use of solid modelling techniques which allow you to sculpt shapes in three dimensions. The electronic drawing board should be forgotten as was the T-square. Technology provides designers with such great opportunities to really explore ideas and fully test them. For those of you who still think you can't afford to join in, fine, but don't expect to find many large projects coming your way.

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