December 11 2019
Navan Chawla and Her Mission to Bridge the Technology Gap
Bringing Parametric Modelling to the University Curriculum
Entuitive’s leaders are committed to advancing the field of engineering with the latest software and technology. As the field advances towards the use of parametric modelling for design and structural analysis, students and new engineers must be prepared to enter the workforce with these necessary skills.
Our own Navan Chawla, Designer and Engineer in Training, is on a mission to bridge the technology gap between what engineering students learn in university and what they will encounter in the workplace.
Navan joined Entuitive in 2018 and immediately had the opportunity to begin work on the Port Lands Flood Protection and Enabling Infrastructure Project, designing three new bridges for the Port Lands area of Toronto.
Managing eight subconsultants, Entuitive’s scope includes the design and construction of new signature bridges that will serve as elegant, modern landmarks significant to the city. The bridges will accommodate vehicular traffic, an interim BRT, future LRT, dedicated bike lane, and generous sidewalk that will double as a leisure space. These bridges feature complex geometry, the designs of which have been streamlined by Rhino and Grasshopper.
Navan was surprised to realize that her university education had not prepared her for working with these programs.
“You don’t learn this in university,” says Navan, “but this is where the industry is headed. If we can bring parametric modelling into the university curriculum, then we will be hiring engineering graduates who are already familiar with these software applications.”
Rhino is a commercial 3D computer-aided design software that allows users to create 3D models of their designs. Grasshopper is a visual programming language that works with Rhino, allowing users to build generative algorithms that analyze structural designs more efficiently. For example, if the user is designing a floor slab that must have specific column spacing, that rule can be input into the algorithm so that when other parameters are changed or tested, the column spacing will always remain the same.
In essence, users input their rules and test around them for the best, most efficient design. This process allows for thousands of design iterations in the search for an optimal solution, reducing the amount of time and effort spent in the preliminary and schematic design stages of a project.
One Guest Lecture at a Time, One University at a Time
In an effort to bridge this gap, Navan and her colleagues have been reaching out to engineering programs at universities in Ontario, offering to come in and give guest lectures to engineering students, teaching them how to use these programs.
“Programming, parametric modelling, and computational design is actually really fun,” Navan says. “We present at universities to show students that structural engineering doesn’t have to be boring or intimidating.”
At the University of Waterloo, she has become involved with the new design-driven Architectural Engineering program, which brings together architecture and engineering to provide both the technical knowledge and design skills necessary to solve problems holistically. Presentations at Western University and Queen’s University have followed, with more universities on the horizon.
“Whenever we present, we can see the light bulb go off in the students’ heads,” Navan says. “The interest is definitely out there. At Waterloo, we’re starting with first year students to generate interest early in their education.”
Not Just a Design Tool
These programs, while increasingly necessary in the engineering workplace, also offer students a unique learning opportunity while they are completing their degrees. For example, to better understand beam behaviour, a Grasshopper script can be programmed to interactively visualize the forces and moments on a beam under various conditions. Further, the same principles can be applied to increasingly complicated structures, making Grasshopper a great learning tool.
“Calculations are necessary, and all engineering students need that foundational knowledge,” says Navan. “But these programs can also allow students to really visualize what they are learning.”
Navan has her sights set on more university presentations and is also looking into the possibility of incorporating this work into the university curriculum. She’s committed to advancing the field of engineering and teaching new engineers how to do the same.
“We want to provide students with the tools to increase their knowledge base, enjoy what they are doing, be better engineers, and be prepared to impact the built environment once they’ve graduated.”
To find out more about parametric modelling at Entuitive, reach out to Navan Chawla at firstname.lastname@example.org.