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Catia: The Building-Saver of Bilbao

By Jacob Simunaci

       Had it not been for Catia, a program developed for the French aerospace industry, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao might never been built.  The problem was that the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao did not stay within the construction budget allowed by the Basque Administration and if it wasn’t for this program, that assists the construction process by saving time and preventing inaccurate use of materials, the Bilbao would be nothing more than a dream. 
      This program was favored by Jim Glymph, a member of Frank O. Gehry and Associates, and it was he who implemented it to make the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao a reality.  The problem with most software on the market at the time, according to Jim Glymph, was that they merely:


 “array points in space and then there are massive holes in between …. But Catia, a program that deals with polynomials equations instead of polygons, is pretty much capable of defining any surface as an equation, which means that if you query the computer for any point on that surface, it knows it…  I had to come up with a method of cladding with one panel type that had to be able to change shape.  That panel, shaped like an accordion, could then be predetermined in the computer..  We could lay the panels on and build backward, so we built from the outside in and by accident followed the same procedure as an aerospace engineer designer does.”

     With such detailed information provided by Catia, the many manufacturers and contractors used for Bilbao could do their job in cheaper manner, while doing it with a greater accuracy, and in a shorter period of time.  However, not everyone was impressed by Catia in the beginning and a problem that came up was that Gehry, of  Frank O. Gehry and Associates, was, at first, against the use of computers in his design process.  
     He disliked Catia because it seems to limit the architecture to symmetries, mirror imagery, and “simple Euclidean geometries,” as Glymph put it.  Catia was not able to reproduce the closeness of a sketch, nor did it know how to translate three-dimensional forms into a very large scale.  “I just didn’t like the images of the computer,” said Gehry, “but as soon as I found a way to use it to build, then I connected.”  To overcome this dilemma and satisfy Gehry, Glymph came up with the suggestion of installing extra equipment to improve the process.  He and his team finally came up with a method of digitizing and visualization on the screen, where they where able to capture the physical mode, allowing for the construction of Bilbao.