Palazzo Lombardia in Milan, Italy. Courtesy FG+SG Fotografia de Arquitectura (left) and Simon Hsu Photography (right).



Thornton Tomasetti provided structural engineering services for the Lombardy Regional Government’s headquarters. The project includes five nine-story wave-like buildings totaling 98,000 square meters, including a 43-story tower and three parking and storage levels below grade. The civic complex also features rooftop gardens, open-air public plazas between the buildings, and a large piazza enclosed by an innovative roof structure. We performed structural design through design development before turning the project over to the local design-build contractor.

The curving shape of the low-rise buildings made coordination between form and function more complicated than in a structure with conventional geometry. Our engineers met early on with the architect to work out the column grids in a brainstorming session, where all the pieces came together in a “eureka” moment: the team found the solution that optimized structural efficiency and supported architectural priorities. The team’s willingness to openly share ideas resulted in a timely solution to a complex design challenge.

The piazza at the heart of the complex is topped by a curving diagrid of steel tubes supporting a transparent membrane of ETFE pillows. Because it connects to four separate buildings, each of which could move independently during a seismic event, the roof needed to be able to withstand simultaneous movement in different directions. We employed parametric modeling to identify the best balance between appearance and performance and developed a two-fold approach. Some portions of the roof rest on slide bearings while others are supported on posts hinged at top and bottom, allowing the boundary connections to move freely. We used innovative tools to apply simple techniques to a complex problem, creating a unique, project-specific solution.

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While the range of shapes and forms that can be designed with modern modeling tools is almost limitless, geometric discipline is still essential for budget control. When forms are still in flux, the design team can use our proprietary tools to interactively study multiple geometric options and establish optimized shapes for structural frames and building surfaces, along with related systems.

Parametric modeling applies parameters such as materials, dimensions or performance criteria to define elements or element categories within a model. Once entered, they can be altered, individually or in combination, to explore and easily incorporate design changes. These 3D models contain intelligent information and can serve as deliverables, or they can be used to generate 2D drawings. Parametric models improve documentation speed and quality, enhance visualization, quickly perform geometry-based analytical tasks and easily calculate material quantities.

Generative modeling uses scripts – instead of direct input – to generate elements, providing even greater flexibility in iterating and testing many options. It allows architects, engineers and other project stakeholders to work together to quickly evaluate any number of concepts and variations.