An architectural project will begin with a conceptual study of shape, form, and size. It is so crucial to get these three elements of the proposed structure right in the very beginning, that no amount of architectural detailing or facade materials can compensate for a building that is out of proportion or one that appears awkward within the surrounding landscape or environment. When massing is properly modeled, the aesthetics, the form, and the function of interior and exterior spaces will harmonize.
Prior to computer-aided architectural design (CAAD) technology, architects used either wooden blocks or moldable clay to model the shapes, forms and inter-relationships of the building to achieve a clinical description of volumes. Today, using Auto desk Revit Conceptual Massing tools, a conceptual mass model can be further developed by converting or mapping the mass surfaces into real world architectural elements such as walls, floors, facades, and roofs.
Mass modeling goes beyond determining if a building should be short or tall, long or wide. A true mass model can also guide the architect in selecting the best orientation of the building and in determining the design and location of openings to maximize solar shading options and minimize HVAC loads. A successful massing and orientation will allow the structure to take full advantage of site conditions and environmental conditions, such as:
- massing architectural curtain wall systems
- conceptual energy analysis and thermal simulations
- architectural designs that contribute to surrounding landscape
- massing to connect with street life and urban venues
- orienting to avoid shading of surrounding wild lands
- massing to steer foot traffic away from sensitive areas
- assure compliance of Right to Light regulations
- modeling interior space allowances using ‘mass floor’ tools
- building sustainability design issues such as rainwater harvesting
Mass Modeling to Define Shape, Form and Relationship
While the end result of an architectural project is to satisfy the technical and functional requirements the stakeholders desire of the building project, the fuller objective is to accommodate human activity through the proper arrangement of spaces and forms. Mass modeling contributes to the conceptual design process by allowing the architect to create a design that promotes the endeavors of its occupants while also eliciting an emotional response in both the interior and exterior environment.
Visualizing distance and volume of absolute space prior to detailing function allows the engineer or architect to resolve forces of opposition – or structural relationships that are not in harmony. Consider working closely with an outsourced engineering design firm that is skilled in Revit’s Conceptual Design Environment, which allows the creation of masses to explore ideas and manipulate forms until the conceptual design reaches maturity. A conceptual masses workflow involves extruding two dimensional elements to create volume, then applying parametric components (dimensional and geometric restrictrions) and patterned surfaces to create massed building frames, walls, floors, and roofing.
Revealing Light and Shadows With Mass Modeling
An interested application of mass modeling is to determine how light and shadow will react on the structure and the surrounding landscape. Shadows can actually be used constructively, to add depth and form to a structure. Manipulating shadow, shading, and cast shadows can be used to add bright and dark contrast, such as the shadow of a cantilever roof on the facade of a building.
Shadows can also invoke a sense of quiet or awe on a structure. Mass Cast Shadow tools such as those available in Revit, allow for the manipulation of transparency values of masses along with environmental shadows and shading tools to accurately determine the pattern of light and dark surfaces for both interior masses and exterior surfaces. Similarly, structures that are meant to bright and open will benefit from mass modeling to reveal optimum fenestration and orientation for maximum daylighting resources.
Modeling Scale and Mass Distribution
Mass modeling has typically been the first tool used by architects and engineers to determine scale and volume, or mass distribution. Whether through a series of manual sketches or through the use scale model-making materials, evaluating or expressing the general volume of a structure and their relationships to one another will establish the tone for the remainder of the creative and technical design process. In today’s congested urban landscapes, a two-dimensional figure-ground drawing can be extruded to depict solids and voids within the landscape to determine building orientation, foot traffic paths, and view shading from neighboring structures.
Mass distribution and space analysis seeks to translate the architect’s intent into a three-dimensional context that also reflects the needs of the project owner and future occupants. Overlapping spaces, abutting spaces, and spaces within spaces will all contribute to a harmonious mass distribution while reflecting economy of design. Even complex, multi-level and organic flowing structures are more easily assimilated using mass modeling software techniques.
Using Mass Modeling for Energy Analysis
Conceptual mass modeling is a useful tool for preliminary analytical energy studies which is a required component of 3D BIM modeled structures. Once the model has been completed, pertinent data such as building location, building type and zones, regional climate, and construction material is input to generate whole building heating and cooling loads and to compare the performance of alternate building design strategies. From this mass modeling analysis, changes to the structure’s orientation, building form, or envelope design can be qualified early in the design process.
A 3D BIM model will require a building performance analysis. A part of determining building performance includes a thermal model simulation and an energy analysis. It is important to note that a conceptual mass model for energy analysis is used to guide design decisions by gaining insight into fenestration, thermal R-values, and alternate building forms. The resulting performance metrics are used to validate the design, but does not guarantee performance or compliance achievement.
Abstract Mass Modeling of Organic Forms
A prime benefit of partnering with a professional mass modeling service provider is the availability of architectural designers that possess the technical skill required to mass model organic or curvi-linear features. The extended knowledge required to not only create surfaces from curves and to precisely blend those surfaces to create volumized mass spaces is not commonly found within A&E consulting firms.
Abstract and geometrically complex mass models can be developed intuitively, similar to how a sculpture forms a figure from non-structured material, or by formula – which relies on mathematical rules to influence the form of the structure. Mass studies for these complex structures can be used to rationalize the buildings geometry and may also indicate the need for a conceptual structural analysis before making a final decision to the building structure.
Mass Modeling as a BIM Tool
Architects can use 3D mass modeling as an early-stage feasibility tool from one platform, as opposed to using several different design applications. It can also be to flesh out design form and coordination conflicts throughout the entire project cycle. A mass site analysis affords early visualization of the environmental and solar impact upon the proposed structure, and an addition application is the ability to render the model for client presentations and approval.
The mass model can serve as the starting point for the design layout phase of the project using the dimensions and arrangements of walls, floors and roof for elevations, sections, and two-dimensional or 3D detailed documentation by assigned building elements to the pre-conceived surfaces.