Riga Airport Competition


Computational analysis of caternaries enhances 3D modelling capability


On a competition submission for Riga Airport, the RCD group used computerised analysis to model the undulating roof structure which was inspired by the catenary form. In the 19th century Gaudi defined the form of his iconic La Sagrada Família by making scale physical models using chains with hanging weights – catenaries.

In the case of the Riga Airport roof the form was found using the modern day computational technique of dynamic relaxation – a digital modelling tool ideal for analysing catenaries. The rationale behind Riga airport’s undulating roof surface was that it should dip where there are check-in desks and rise where natural light is needed to channel into the space below. At one end of the building the roof needed to drape down to the floor to create a sense of enclosure.

The initial geometry was created by the architect using some simple structural rules. Engineers then developed the geometry, maintaining the integrity of the shape but optimising the structural performance significantly using dynamic relaxation.

As a result the final design achieved the architects’ vision for an irregular curving roof while optimising the structure.