Nowadays it is more and more common to exploit digital support for almost every professional purpose. Also in the field of architecture computational engines and software are more and more used for achieving various tasks. Thanks to computational design the complexity of the issues solved through technological devices is increasing, giving much more solutions to the problems in a shorter time. 

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Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House, Photograph credits to Iwan Baan_ ©https://www.architectmagazine.com/technology/the-next-generation-of-computational-design_o

What is Computational Design?

The computational design allows a different approach to architectural projects. An important distinction has to be done between the concept of digital design and computational design: the former indicates the use of computer tools in the design process; thus, all those actions (for example drawing) concerning the development of a project which in the past were carried out by hands or anyway with the efforts of human minds, are today developed thanks to specific software. When we talk about computational design, instead, we are referring to the implementation of computational tools for conceiving a design. Computational derives by “to compute”, meaning to calculate, and thus does not indicate simply the use of a computer for drafting or representational purposes, but indicates the computational capabilities that a designer or architect can exploit as the generation and management of a large quantity of information or the possibility to lead the design process through the algorithmic and computational-based procedure. 

Simply using a computer in the design phase, thus, does not indicate a computational design procedure. Computational design in the field of architecture could be described as visual programming rather than coding: the architect himself has not received the formation for coding and designing software, which makes it preferable to use a visual interface to obtain the same result as in coding. What has traditionally been achieved thanks to intuition, attempts and the experience, to solve design problems, can today be solved by encoding design decisions through computer language. The final purpose is to document all the phases up to reach a certain result, rather than the result itself.

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Grasshopper software, Photograph credits to Michael C.H. Wu_ ©https://www.researchgate.net/figure/The-Grasshopper-program-for-parametric-BHV-leaflet-geometry-modeling-This-figure-is_fig2_277921484

Other Terms Related to Computational Design

The concept of computational design is often misused and for this reason, it can create misunderstanding and confusion with other terms used in the world of architectural technologies. Three terms that can be identified as a subset of the computational design field has been chosen to be analysed.

First of all, computational design is sometimes mistakenly identified with parametric design. Parametric design, which is especially used in BIM software, indicates the creation of architectural components which have certain constraints and certain parameters (for example dimensions and position of the object) that, through the modification done by the user, can give origin to a huge number of different solutions. In this case, we do not obtain the representation of a certain element (for example a wall) with all its specific characteristics, but instead the symbolic representation of a set of objects with different features. Thus the user can set up a function generating different building components, and then try all the possible variations to find the one that is most suitable for a specific problem; this can be described as “design parametrically”, which is different from a merely parametric execution -not considered computational design- which, instead indicates the research of a certain design, already established, through parametric design programs.

The second term is generative design: this concept indicates an evolutionary technique in creation and production. The main characteristic of this approach to design is the development of multiple and complex solutions starting from an algorithmic description. Unexpected results can be produced, and this is due to the non-traceability between generative design programs and the created design.

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The last word, which has a definition similar to the one of generative design, and is thus sometimes considered a subset of it, is algorithmic design: the difference is that a correlation between the algorithm and the generated model is detectable, and this ensures its traceability. We can state that the algorithm is isomorphic to the model.

Advantages of Computational Design in Architecture

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Geometrical design options, Photograph credits to ArchSmarter_©https://www.archdaily.com/785602/5-ways-computational-design-will-change-the-way-you-work

The advantages that computational design brought in the field of architecture are several, both from a design point of view and from an organizational point of view. First of all, thanks to computing programs it is possible to explore thousands of different solutions in terms of the shape of a design and organization of the space: this allows better time management and the possibility of solving project problems. The computational design does allow the management of a large quantity of data and information. 

Another great convenient aspect for architects is the fact that it is possible to test a project before it is built, thus lowering the costs for potential changes that could occur during the construction process; this does not certainly mean that it is possible to reproduce the real-life world, but a realistic simulation can be created.

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Furthermore, automate repetitive tasks can be performed by a computer in a shorter time.

Lastly, it is possible to encode the design process, thus all the phases of a project creation can be evaluated and improved and later applied in other situations.

In conclusion, informatics tools are more and more often part of designers and architects work, in all the phases and approaches, from conceiving a geometry, to managing the subdivision of the space, to the creation of the final representation of a project. Computational design is still not broadly employed but is taking ground thanks to the advantages that it brings in terms of reducing costs and time.

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References

Caetano, I., Santos, L., & Leitão, A. (2020). Computational design in architecture: Defining parametric, generative, and algorithmic design. Frontiers of Architectural Research9(2), 287-300. Available at: https://reader.elsevier.com/reader/sd/pii/S2095263520300029?token=E03FC446387764C36FC700E80655BCC6BE19D7091D5207AF2947B827E5C884A524A1D98E8AB0E768270FDFA34973F1D1&originRegion=eu-west-1&originCreation=20211007075039. [Accessed 07 October 2021].

ProArchitect #005 – Parametric DESIGN? Not really…. 2017.

Directed by M. Dimcic. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDPTrtRMBQk [Accessed 07 October 2021].

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Kilkelly, M., 2016. 5 Ways Computational Design Will Change the Way You Work. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/785602/5-ways-computational-design-will-change-the-way-you-work  [Accessed 7 October 2021].

Satish, S., 2020. Computational Design Tools for Architects – Archgyan. [online] Archgyan. Available at: https://archgyan.com/blog/computational-design-tools-for-architects/  [Accessed 7 October 2021].

What is Computational Design? And 9 Concepts Related to It. 2020.

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Directed by A. Savov. Darmstadt: YouTube. Available at: youtube.com/watch?v=sCptKvK-9Hg [Accessed 7 October 2021].

Computational Design Informs Better Decision-Making. 2018.

Directed by ZGF Architects. YouTube. Available at: https://youtu.be/eFr7AIsr4Z8 [Accessed 7 October 2021].

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Author

Francesca Colombo is a Master Architecture student in Italy. She considers architecture as a tool to face social problems and create better cities, accepting and celebrating people’s diversity. She dreams of living and working in a European capital.

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