Gehry’s CATIA in the Age of Computational Design - BIM Services, VDC, VR, Construction Management, Estimating, Scheduling Services

Gehry’s CATIA in the Age of Computational Design

Leslie Baz
Dec 12

How On Earth Would You Build That?

When the Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry designed Peix—the fish-shaped sculpture commissioned for Barcelona when it hosted the 1992 Olympics—his team had to figure out how to build it.

As explained by researcher and analyst Lian Chan in Priceonomics, the ‘resident hippie’ at Gehry’s practice named Jim Glymph suggested using CATIA, Dassault’s software originally developed to design fighter jets. The project’s results were a hit, and Gehry’s practice used, built over it, and set the foundation for CATIA in the AEC industry.

“Gehry suspected that digitally designed geometries could be executed much more efficiently with less redundancy,” Chan wrote. “Instead of creating standard 2D construction drawings, Gehry now had his contractors refer directly to the 3D digital model, translating digitized coordinates directly into manual cutting instructions and machine tooling paths.”

With Peix and soon after, the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, came the birth of BIM and Digital Design and Construction.

xGenerative Design: A Gateway into CATIA

A foundational challenge with CATIA is that it was originally built for mainframes and large legacy manufacturing companies such as Boeing and Toyota. This has worked magnificently well when multiple versions of widgets needed to be made, but for users in AEC, where every construction project is unique and the supply chain extremely fragmented, this has created a huge learning curve that few in the AEC industry have been willing to invest in.

Enter xGenerative Design, a new application built on Dassault’s Systemes Convergence Geometric Modeler (CGM) the same kernel utilized by CATIA. The new app focuses on generative design and delivering on the production of complex geometry; it has been developed to be accessible and intuitive for those new to the concept of generative design. As the Computational BIM Specialist at VIATechnik, I was tasked with learning how to use xGenerative Design, and after a four hour workshop, I found myself quite comfortable with it! Here’s a breakdown of what I learned (or scroll down to see a table comparison of xGenerative Design versus the most popular visual programming software out there.


xGenerative Design, a Web-based Visual Programming App

xGenerative Design is a mix of Grasshopper and Dynamo, taking the strongest features of both while running on a cloud server. Much of xGenerative Design’s development is inspired by Grasshopper, which by observation still leads the market for Generative Design. Similar to Grasshopper, a user can start to build a design from points inside a 3D viewport— in this case though, the 3D viewport lives inside your browser! And get this: simultaneously, the generative graph starts to automatically build up, a notable difference from Grasshopper in that users have to manually add basic components and select the 3D objects that the components reference from. And as with Dynamo, xGenerative Design has strong parameter editing capabilities that create fabrication level models and drawings much more expediently.

Moreover, xGenerative Design’s user interface allows for clicking directly on objects in the 3D viewport and making edits without going into the generative graph. Also, upon creating a new project, basic nodes such as reference planes and origin points are pre-populated, making it significantly quicker to start designing. Not to mention that there are several useful node layout options, such as distinguishing inputs from outputs in the graph, which helps to clean up a design sequence.

As I mentioned earlier, xGenerative Design is web-based (think Flux), making data and file management much more convenient, and virtually eliminating the use of files. xGenerative Design is part of a larger platform, so sharing models becomes a much easier task as well, with customizable Dashboards where data and model exchange between users can easily happen. Collaboration is highly marked here, a mighty torch to carry in the AEC industry. And let’s not forget, xGenerative Design makes use of the geometric kernel of CATIA, one of the most powerful engines in the market— after all, Frank Gehry did choose to digitize his designs on this platform.

Will xGenerative Design make a dent in the dominance of Grasshopper and Dynamo? The jury is still out there, but we are excited about the opportunity of mixing CATIA’s digital manufacturing expertise with the craziness of AEC design-build processes. If you’d like to learn more or schedule a demo, please feel free to reach out!

Full Disclaimer: VIATechnik has recently partnered with Dassault Systemes to explore opportunities in getting digital manufacturing workflows into design and construction.


InvestmentsUniversitiesFacilities 3DEXPERIENCE platformarchitectBIMcatiacollaborationconstructiondassault catiadassault systemesDEXPERIENCEdigital designdigital manufacturing workflowsDynamofrank gehrygrasshopperpartnershipXGDxGenerative Design
Leslie Baz
Dec 12

3 comments to “Gehry’s CATIA in the Age of Computational Design”

  1. Jerry JACKSON Says:

    Twenty-eight years ago, Frank GEHRY created a point of departure, the foundation, as you say Leslie, for the use of 3D technology and the novel processes to match. Jim GLYMPH searched for a digital system, circa 1991, that had him investigating Alias and also SOM’s Architectural Engineering Series (AES). Bill MITCHELL, of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, recommended Frank’s office also explore the use of CATIA, a 3D interactive software, developed by Dassault Systèmes. In addition to CATIA, and often not properly recognized, Frank GEHRY also brought to architecture, engineering, construction, and development the workforce of the future.

    The first hire of this prescient workforce was Rick SMITH, an aerospace engineer, who was working for IBM in the summer of 1991 when he received a phone call from Frank’s office asking him, “Do you know how to build a building in the shape of a fish?” The fish (Peix in Catalan) is Barcelona’s Golden Fish, commissioned for the Summer Olympics of 1992, the same one that you reference in your opening. By August of 1991, Rick left IBM and began working for Gehry Partners, who at the time, had no computers in the office.

    In the ensuing ten years Frank’s workforce of the future, led by Rick, virtually produced:

    The Barcelona Fish, Guggenheim Bilbao, The Walt Disney Concert Hall, The Peter Lewis Residence, Guggenheim Seoul, Experience Music Project, Conde’ Naste, Deutsche Bank, Millennium Park Pavillion, and the Stata Center.

    Leslie, xGenerative Design indeed represents the gateway you articulate. It is also an opening to outcomes over ownership, access more than friction, it is an invitation to connect rather than detach, it represents an affinity for collective, captured, and renewable intelligence along with the individual mind. xGenerative Design adds capability to a compass that the workforce of the future uses to navigate a new way forward that bridges minds with computation, projects with platforms, and core knowledge with the know-how of value networks to deliver a built environment that produces more than it consumes. Perhaps most of all, it honors and continues at scale the innovation of Frank GEHRY.

    For reference:
    “Guggenheim Museum Bilbao” Wikipedia, accessed November 9, 2018,
    Caneparo, Luca (2014). Digital Fabrication in Architecture, Engineering and Construction. New York: Springer. ISBN 978-94-007-7137-6.
    Baudoin, Genevieve (January 2016). “A Matter of Tolerance”. The Plan Journal. 0/2016: 38, 39
    Smith, Rick. Fabricating the Frank Gehry Legacy. Amazon Books. ISBN: 978-0-9986098-1-2

  2. Leslie Baz Says:

    Hi Jerry,

    Thank you so much for your very thought-provoking response on this post! I wanted to add on to your thoughts about platforms and how revolutionary this concept truly is.
    I read a book recently, “Where Good Ideas Come From”, by Steven Johnson. One quote from the book that really struck me was about platforms and their generative power for promoting innovation:

    “Generative platforms require all the patterns of innovation we have seen over the preceding pages; they need to create a space where hunches and serendipitous collisions and exaptations and recycling can thrive.”

    I believe that this is being achieved by the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, with xGenerative Design leading the way for the AEC industry.



  3. Guido Maciocci Says:

    Thank goodness Jerry Jackson shone some light on the above article. Frank was undoubtedly a provocational architect with an immense vision for which he fought hard in order to realize his incredible works of architecture. However, it is also quite a well known fact that, despite the marketing spin that has been put on his story, Frank himself along with most of his office was extremely reluctant to adopt technology — I’m talking anything beyond pencil, paper, and physical models… nevermind CATIA!

    Hopefully the AEC industry will have a similar story! All that reluctance to change, to finally be at the forefront of innovation!



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