Weaving Algorithms Into Architecture
Architect and Interiors India|March 2021
Computational design is not just a digital replication of analog tools—instead, it introduces an entirely new framework for ‘how’ we work.
Sneha Naicker
Technology has a great deal of influence on almost every aspect of our everyday life. But what is the work that captures the essence of technology in architecture? In architecture, “form” has a well-placed understanding. It portrays the defining moment for a building. It is the identity; often a way to re-question functionality as a work of art. Now, the most exciting facet, about the amalgamation of the two, is that technology can now demonstrate how the full force of a design, and the design process itself, can affect the day-to-day complex problems vis-a-vis innovations. The macro trends that are coming out of such initiatives couldn’t be further than the present culture of conventional in terms of ideations and yet they address a vast array of possibilities in a positive way. Central to urban developments, these designs were far and few but now computational design is emerging as a global runway for new ideas.

Computational design is when design techniques merge with computational technologies.

Applying computational techniques to the design workflow radically changes how people construct interfaces, services, objects, or buildings. Instead of specifying fixed shapes, designers must define the entire process by which an object is created. This generative process is powered by algorithms whilst the output is not performed by humans using a drawing tool but is auto-generated by a set of instructions, variables and parameters. With the onset of computational design, architecture is witnessing a rapid transformation.

Most computational design environments rely on visual programming as opposed to traditional text-based programming. With visual programming, you assemble programs graphically rather than writing code. Outputs from one node are connected to inputs on another. A program or “graph” flows from node to node along with a network of connectors. The result is a graphic representation of the steps required to achieve the end design.

TRADITIONAL DESIGN V/S COMPUTATIONAL DESIGN

It is a completely different approach to design, based on algorithmic thinking. Instead of reasoning about “form” – as in traditional approaches – one reason about “rules”, which in turn give rise to form. Shedding light on this Britta Knobel Gupta, founding partner, Studio Symbiosis, explains: “Algorithm-based iterative design can evaluate a design based on various parameters as deemed critical for the project. This integrated approach can be used by designers to create more efficient, playful and sustainable designs. These parameters can vary during the various stages of a single project and from project to project. At the concept design stage; solar analysis, self-shading, wind tunnel studies can give accurate data required to access the design of the building and be plugged into a feedback loop, which can be used in real-time to check the performance of the building. During form-finding various techniques could be deployed to create a form that is generated with parameters of structure integrated with the algorithm to ensure that the design is conforming to the desired requirements, and there is not a huge shift in design at a detailed design stage. During the detailed design stage, optimisation algorithms can be run.”

Further adding on to this, Carlo Ratti, Founding partner at Carlo Ratti Associati and director at MIT Senseable City Lab, states that “There are two main advantages that computational design has over the traditional approach. First, we can explore faster a broader spectrum of design solutions. Traditional design approaches often require repetitive work on iterations and options – such as changing the proportions of a room with the size of various components on a façade. The same tasks can be performed in an automated way by modifying just a few parameters. Second, designs overall can become more complex, as parametric tools allow us to perform tasks that would have been too taxing or impossible manually.”

For one of their hospitality projects, Hilton Kathmandu, the design team at Studio Symbiosis managed to optimise the glass wastage from 42% to 2.5% and also replaced all curved glass with flat glass. This was possible by creating a loop based on their requirements to reconfigure and give them multiple options and values.

The firm also created an interactive plug-and-play system called ‘Plexus’, which deploys these algorithms to create a real-time form generation system. Since Plexus follows a component aggregation logic, 1001 iterations have been generated using the same base components but resulting in catalog of designs. This will ensure that the same material is used for various venues with a new form and fresh look for the stall displays.

The term parametric; simply states parameter-based design. Architecture and design have always been parameter-based. Given this, Britta aptly states that the term is more apt to describe the design resulting from computational advancements in computational/algorithmic design.

WHEN ALGORITHMS CONTROL SUSTAINABILITY

Jatin Shah, national director; and Arthi Chinnadurai, manager, Project Management, at Colliers International India, believe that “Parametric design is accomplished by application of multiple programs and strategies during the design process where the designers can by mathematic algorithm-based approach arrive at decisions. The approach primarily remains focused on the relationship between geometries by re-defining the variables to arrive at the end result. It is relatively easy to create iterations in algorithms faster than the traditional method of designing.

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