The rapid advancement in technology in the construction industry is providing increasingly efficient means and digital tools, such as the BIM Software, for collecting data for projects across typologies, support for the design processes, as well as implementation. It is the need of the hour that architects make better-informed choices and adopt these innovations within their creative toolbox as a means to deliver more innovative, efficient, and sustainable solutions.
The BeyondBIM Podcast is one of the few spaces within the podcast world that aims to actively disseminate the latest advancements in the construction industry by connecting the audience to the expertise of leading practitioners and academicians in the domain. Hosted by Dr. Erika Pärn, a Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, her work lies at the confluence of digital technologies within the industry, particularly Digital Twins, and how they can incentivize greater profitability through Business Model Innovation.
In the episode titled “Computational and Generative Design”, Dr.Pärn talks to industry expert Bill Allen. Bill Allen heads several ventures such as Evolve LAB offering computational design and BIM Software support, and On Point Scans, providing services such as Laser Scanning of spaces and 3D Photo Modelling, and has also been a speaker at various events. In the interview, Allen talks about Computational design and generative design and the realms of possibilities these digital design-aid tools can open up.
Computational and Generative Design
Allen describes Computational design as “BIM 2.0”, where “BIM 1.0” refers to the mainstream adoption of the early stages of BIM Softwarewherein the tool was used as a relatively static one. Autodesk describes BIM as an “intelligent 3D modeling process”. Stakeholders and consultants, such as MEP, HVAC, Lighting designers, etc. can directly give their inputs in the model where changes can be made in real-time instead of a back-and-forth, time-consuming coordination process. It decreases the fragmentation of various facets involved in the life-cycle of the project. By “modeling every detail of the building” into the BIM model, stakeholders can see how the building will appear when it is built. “BIM 2.0” or Computational Design takes the possibilities to a whole new level where data can be used to optimize specific aspects in a building design such as lighting, wind-flow, structural analysis, etc.
In generative design, designers can have computers assist within the design process itself. These data-based tools can help architects to generate a large number of options and rationalize processes for complex projects which would have been a very complicated task at hand before. According to Allen, generative design can help architects with producing multiple options for multi-objective optimization, say lighting, structure, acoustics, etc. Adapting this into modular construction as it is “repeatable and stackable” is easier, but eventually, Generative Design tools can be adapted across project scales and typologies. He talks about how these data-driven design tools can be applied to projects such as healthcare that involve a lot of constraints for which these tools can generate multiple options within seconds.
On the Difficulties in Adopting these New Tools
Allen talks about how, at the moment, these tools are not “off-the-shelf” per se, that is, architects usually have to develop these tools and layer them onto the more mainstream BIM software by themselves. The lack of skill-set and resistance to adopting new technologies is another impediment to the path of its widespread usage.
On the Possibility of Full Autonomy in Architecture
When asked if the future of architecture is full autonomy, Allen remains optimistic that architects will still be the “orchestrators”. He sees these tools as one that would facilitate the design process, rather than replace it. As architecture is a more “subjective process”, it will be difficult to fully automate it. However, he is careful to iterate that a large part of the process could eventually become automated, especially more objective domains such as lighting design, structural design, etc., and such automation could lead to job losses in the coming years. He also touches upon the subject of Machine Learning, still at its nascent stages, that has the potential to give some form of creative output based on learning from a database of buildings built in the past.
On Advice to Professionals
Allen encourages architects to learn how to code, and at the same time not be intimidated by the process. He encourages people to take initiative and learn these new-emerging tools and technologies without being intimidated by them. Even if one’s current working environment isn’t keen on adopting these tools for their projects, one can always learn from the vast array of resources available online and use them in one’s projects. In addition to mainstream tools like Dynamo and Grasshopper, he also lists some new applications that offer turn-key computational and generative design tools such as Cove Tools, Hypar, TestFit, and Archistar.
With the successful large scale adoption of BIM software in the western world, Allen predicts that the large-scale adoption of Computational/generative design is just around the corner.
This podcast is highly informative and should be listened to by industry professionals looking to update their knowledge about emerging trends and technological developments and learn how to go about updating one’s skill-sets to become better-suited professionals in the marketplace. Dr. Erika Pärn does a great job of thoroughly questioning the experts and making even the more technical aspects of the conversation accessible to a novice. India has one of the world’s lowest adoption rates for BIM software, standing at 10-18%, as opposed to the U.S. at 71%. BeyondBIM podcast allows one to understand just how important and efficient some of these new technologies are and why it is so important to address the impediments that the adoption of BIM software and other emerging digital tools face in India.