By Luke Carothers

One of the most visceral effects of climate change is the increasing intensity of weather events.  From hurricanes Katrina and Rita to recent tornadoes in the American South and Midwest–these weather events wreak billions of dollars in damages to residential areas, commercial buildings, and critical infrastructure in over short spans of time.  

The AEC industry has to be aware of the rising threat of extreme weather events and act accordingly–revisiting building thresholds and redesigning construction to withstand these events.  To this end, engineers are now using advanced simulation design technology to utilize big data and artificial intelligence to predict the performance and resilience of structures and materials and perform code assessments.  

One of the people leading the charge in this push is Altair’s Senior Director of Global Architecture Engineering and Construction, Luca Frattari.  Frattari has a degree in Architecture and a phD in Experimental Architecture and Product Design, focusing on the optimization of civil engineering structures and products.  In 2011, around the time Frattari was finishing his phD, the approach of digitally designing complex structures with complex shapes hadn’t been fully developed, and the result was repeated trial and error involving designers, engineers, and architects.  The result of this gap in technological knowledge meant that, while these complex structures won competitions and looked beautiful, they often had to be modified when it came to actually building them with curves being redefined and additional columns being added. 

For Frattari, this was his opportunity to begin looking into the technology side of the problem.  This research led him to a product called Optistruct, which was being developed by a company called Altair.  After initially struggling with the depth of the program–never having used a product like it–Frattari received training and quickly developed proficiency, helping him complete the research to finish his thesis.  The final step in his phD program was completing a six month study abroad internship, which he was able to do working at Altair’s Detroit office.  Frattari notes how important this time was for his professional development.  After spending time as a user of their products, Frattari was now working “elbow to elbow” with Altair’s software developers.  

After completing his phD program, Frattari joined Altair full time in a business development role, setting up a market for Altair in the architecture, engineering, and infrastructure spaces.  During this time, Altair was developing “cutting edge technology for the simulation of structures.”  However, this focus soon expanded to include electronics, data analytics, and high performance computing.  According to Frattari, this transition made Altair into a much more complete company, which facilitated their growth into the larger market.   This growth has allowed Altair to add a significant number of solutions–optimization, meshing, computer fluid dynamics (CFD), blast impact, data analytics, and wave propagation– to their core business of structure modeling.  

When it comes to designing and building new structures to accommodate increasingly extreme weather events, Frattari notes that these modeling tools present architects and engineers with alternative solutions.  Traditionally, projects are more inclined to closely follow building codes because they provide a base layer of protection from adverse events and because developing alternative designs adds costs and time.  However, structural modeling allows architects and engineers to develop multiple options, make changes to those designs, and choose which design best fits the needs of the project.  When it comes to designing buildings with things like wind resistance in mind, the ability to create a digital twin and simulate the forces on the structure creates a much more accurate representation as opposed to wind tunnel testing.  

Technological tools such as CFD allow engineers to accurately represent how physics will interact with a given structure.  Using CFD to simulate forces such as wind represents a much easier and cost effective solution to structure testing.  The data generated from these simulations is also powerful in its ability to accurately represent how forces interact with groups of buildings and cities.  Frattari points out that, in the physical sense, it is almost impossible to test how wind interacts with every building in a downtown on a given day.  However, through simulation and data analysis, this is now a feasible practice.  For wind analysis, this sort of large scale modeling is useful for tracking things like pollution and its path through a city.  

Frattari believes that this capacity is only limited by the data we collect.  As more and more members of the AEC industry continue to adopt digital modeling to replace physical scale models and testing, the data set also grows.  This paves the way for larger and more complex forms of simulation testing as the digital environment continues to be built out.  This is especially important in areas that don’t have sufficient recorded weather and precipitation data.  In these instances, digital modeling can be used to reproduce accurate weather conditions.  

However, technology and data are only part of the solution for this new way of thinking.  Frattari believes that technology and data must also be coupled with industry expertise.  He says, “[we] need numbers, software, and people…to move forward and change the status quo.”  The move away from traditional 3D modeling and physical testing represents an industry shift towards a more connected future.  As the data and technology continue to improve, more and more members of the AEC industry are not only adopting digital modeling and testing, but are pushing its boundaries to expand the knowledge of the industry.


Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.  

Comments