Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering

Clever roofs: innovative methods to cover large open spaces

Our researchers developed groundbreaking digital design methods for complex buildings, directly contributing to the future of our built environment.

Millenium Dome


One of the common problems in building major landmark buildings is how to cover large roof spaces, such as courtyards and stadium roofs, without relying on traditional intermediate supports like columns.

In developing new, innovative design solutions to this problem, architects and engineers must also be aware of the environmental challenge to reduce our carbon emissions, of which the built environment is largely responsible.

Bath's world-class research has been a significant factor in the firm’s international growth and success. The novel structural analysis techniques they developed have led to significant consultancy on major landmark buildings.

— Senior partner,
Buro Happold

REF submission

This research was part of our REF 2014 submission for Architecture, Built Environment and Planning.


Researchers in the Digital Architectronics group within the Centre for Advanced Studies in Architecture (CASA) have worked closely with leading architect and engineering practitioners, including Buro Happold, to develop unorthodox digital methods fundamental to establishing Architectural Geometry as a new specialism.

Our researchers have developed novel structural analysis techniques and experimental algorithms using software tools to make direct and substantial contributions to the design of a series of exemplary and influential buildings.

Research has extended the pioneering work of dynamic relaxation, a technique for the form-finding and analysis of cable and fabric structures like the Millennium Dome, to improve the stability of these types of structures whilst also allowing them to be more accurately modelled.

Our research directly contributed to the development of the British Museum Great Court roof, where two innovations in Architectural Geometry were introduced: the first was the use of ‘blended equations’ to describe the shape of the roof, and the second was in the way the structural grid was optimised using a modification of dynamic relaxation, leading to the efficient and beautiful spiral form seen today.



Benefits and outcomes

Our research has led to the establishment of Architectural Geometry as a professional specialism in both architecture and engineering, where it has had economic and environmental impact.

The unique design techniques have changed the way industry approaches the design of complex geometric buildings and has resulted in consultancy on landmark buildings in the UK and worldwide.

The reductions in complexity, risk, and carbon footprint resulting from this approach have led to a re-emergence of the timber gridshell as a cost-effective and spectacularly low-carbon building solution, costing only one sixth in CO2 compared to an equivalent steel structure.

The University has also contributed significantly to educating and training skilled architects and engineers who will use Architectural Geometry to lead the future of our built environment.