About this Article
Written by: David Balian and Kristina Ferris
Written on: January 1st, 2004
Tags: building & architecture, computer science
Thumbnail by: Carol Highsmith/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
In the fall of 2003, Kristina Ferris was majoring in civil engineering with an emphasis in structural design at the University of Southern California. Her interests include structural analysis and design of unique buildings. David Balian was a student at the School of Architecture.
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Volume V Issue V > Curves of Steel: CATIA and the Walt Disney Concert Hall
The Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by architect Frank Gehry, makes extensive use of computer technology. Without the use of CATIA (Computer-Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application), construction of the concert hall would have been impossible. After a physical model is built, the model is scanned by a laser device that transmits coordinates to the CATIA program. CATIA then shows a 3D section of the model, which can be viewed as a movie that gives structural coordinates as well as a time schedule for project completion. These paperless plans are more easily understood by a contractor and construction crew and allow Gehry's unconventional forms to take shape. In the future, CATIA technology will allow exact quantities of materials to be calculated and will even facilitate work via the internet. CATIA has also been used in the building of other structures such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and a giant fish sculpture on the Barcelona waterfront, both also designed by Gehry.


The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles has been likened to everything from a shining metal flower to a ship with billowing sails of stainless steel. It is a structure that everyone is talking about. Suddenly, Los Angeles is the home of an architectural marvel, and Frank Gehry is becoming a household name. First designed by Gehry in the late eighties and just completed late this year, The Walt Disney Concert Hall is a marvel of modern engineering (see Fig. 1). However, its stunning steel curves would have been nearly impossible to build without the extensive use of a revolutionary computer-aided drafting program.
Carol Highsmith/Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1: The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

Computer-Aid​ed Design Technology

Without the aid of computers, the Walt Disney Concert Hall would still be a messy sketch on the corner of a paper napkin -- an unrealized figment of Frank Gehry's talented mind. The gently flowing curves and harsh angles make it impossible for anyone to draft construction plans. Gehry's firm used a program called CATIA, or Computer-Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application, to render the plans. This powerful computer program was originally developed in France as a means to design fighter jets. Gehry, realizing its applications in architecture, quickly modified the program to portray the flowing lines and irregular angles of his complicated drawings (see Fig. 2). Gino Capra, general foreman for Martin Brothers/Marcowall Inc., says, "Everything is driven by CATIA. It allows us to be creative" [1].
Frank Gehry/LA Phil
Figure 2: A sketch of the hall by architect Frank Gehry.
Before CATIA technology was available, Gehry's design concepts were limited by the nature of the hand drawings that could be produced. His hand drawings often made the structure appear more complicated than it really was, making it difficult for contractors to proceed. The result was that Gehry often had to compromise his design in favor of more traditional structures [2]. Clearly, the use of the program greatly facilitated the drawing of the architectural plans and the overall design of the building.