Parametric design - a gold mine

Every architect’s office owns a gold mine, says André Agi. The gold mine is the digital traces the construction work with parametric design leaves, which streamlines the working process and sets the creativity of the architect free.

André Agi, responsible for in service training of parametric design at LINK Architecture, says that BIM certainly was the eye opener for parametric design. As the development progresses, many entrepreneurs, not the least startups, see business opportunities in using the digital traces that parametric design leaves in the architect's work with modelling.

Digital traces refine the design process

The digital traces consist of the different steps in the decision-making process of the architects in their working process, translating their creative intentions into algorithms and sets of rules. The program itself identifies patterns that become logical processes which may be used in a variety of other modelling projects. This, in turn, refines and strengthens the design process.

Parametric design – a valuable help when demands are heavy

Parametric design is particularly convenient for architects in keeping track of increasingly complex calculations, André explains. The architects also face many new demands from the outside world, such as environmental requirements, energy saving, sustainability or demands for economies. Each requirement for each project may be entered as input, or initial values, in the model. These, in turn, are structured in adaptive systems using generic algorithms, making it easier for the architect to live up to the requirements, and to control the result of the finished model.

Difficult architectural problems solved with optimization algorithms

The mathematical complexity also increases in the design processes. Optimization algorithms help the architect to control the initial values and end results she or he wants from a great number of choices. The process begins with a possibility space in two mathematical axes with predetermined possibilities and limitations for the future model. Based on the choices made, the computer explores, visualizes, and generates possible design suggestions. Changes in input values result in changes all the way throughout the entire calculation process and the final results.

Mathematical Backpack model provides smart calculations

The mathematical Backpack model, a parable that deals with packing items in a limited space, a container, is another useful help for architects in creating models, André explains. The model helps the architect to accommodate, for example, the maximum number of apartments of different sizes within a given space, in this case a building. It can also help calculate, for example, the most effective location for partition walls.

Tree structure connects the scales

Mathematically, it is all about placing surfaces and geometries in relation to each other in a systematic hierarchy - from building level all the way down to room level. By creating a tree structure of the building's typology, the scales are interconnected. When the architect progresses the programming in the dynamic model, the different levels of the tree structure are updated in a flexible, scalable, and interconnected system.

Collaboration on urban development plans on a large scale

André gives an example of collaboration in a project with CIL (City Intelligence Lab). Together they sketched an urban development plan on a large scale. Optimizations and contextual conditions were processed in the urban model, which made it possible to investigate environmental aspects, such as noise and wind impact. With this information they were able to make decisions about, for example, how high they need to build in order to create courtyards free from noise. Other calculations were also made to investigate for example the best location for commercial routes, what the effects would be of managing traffic in different directions or finding the best location for green surfaces. By measuring effects of the different parameters, the program quickly provided feedback on the different choices by moving between micro and macro analyses.

Three software applications in collaboration

Archicad, Grasshopper and Rhinoceros are all part of digitizing the building trade in new areas, André says. Architects are now able to design, sketch and use information in the models, or make strategic decisions such as material selection or shaping. He points out that these features are improved with each new Archicad version. The architect can trim Archicad with parametric systems by running Grasshopper as a sublet program and linking the volumes, which, in turn, are then sent back into Archicad.

Smart placement with algorithms

With the combination of Archicad, Rhinoceros and Grasshopper, the architect of a larger office building project can design a building site and let the program suggest different designs of the building’s appearance. Then he or she can continue sketching manually or modify and let the program allocate office space, communication areas and meeting rooms as space efficient as possible within the building’s form based on size and other input values by using a generic standard. With the help of algorithms, the architect can select and distribute the different types and place them within the defined surface. For each new change made, they are distributed in new ways within the given area. This enables the architect to see how the location of, let’s say, a meeting room changes patterns of how people move around in the building and whether there is a risk of disturbing nearby offices. Different stages are made more efficient in the process such as creating slabs, areas and planning. It also enables the architect to visualize the effects of changing different parameters, such as daylight, or calculating the effects of different amount of people moving around on the site.

For André, it is important to achieve a balance between the push of a button and the feeling of being in full control of the creative process, making his own decisions and controlling everything exactly the way he wants. As an architect, he saves an enormous amount of time in favor of design, the creative process and quality improvement.

Data is the new gold

Every single architectural firm literally has a goldmine of information in the form of data, André says. The working process itself with building planning can become assets with incredible opportunities, regardless of whether it is part of your business plan or of learning from your own design. The biggest obstacle, says André, tend to be that architectural firms don't know how to extract or analyze different data for this purpose.

Start an inventory of your data and gain better understanding

André’s advice is to make an inventory of data as a first step and gain insight into all the information it stores. Convert the stored planning data and structure it, make them available anywhere and anytime, and ensure operational continuity. This makes the converted data information from the working process useful in future projects and beneficial to the entire organization.

Discover data patterns and learn from mistakes by structuring

To benefit from data, they must be made understandable. If systems are structured so that analyze planning is based on different parameters, it is possible to discover patterns and learn valuable lessons. A good example is trying to find maximum use of space when furnishing rooms in the model. By drawing conclusions from the geometric shape, one discovers that even large areas of the same geometry can be difficult to furnish, i.e. due to the specific form, not how large the area is. With this kind of information, the architects can start discussing quality and what is essential to the plans at a whole new level.

Generating databases using AI and machine learning

André also advises on training the computer to recognize and analyze the distributions and typologies within the models. Generating databases with different types of planning gives the architect insight into what different designs implicates in future projects and they are quickly and easily filtered by desired character. When the database is linked back to the modeling program with machine learning and AI, the architect can easily draw up a representation of a plan, have the computer compare, and find the plan that most closely resembles what he or she wants to perform. The computer has learned from data and will suggest using the same type as the one already used on a previous occasion, which is very valuable for future productions and when collaborating with others.

Architects in great need in future digitization

Digitization raises many different questions. Is computer generated design less valuable? Will jobs as architect become scarce in the future? Do new methods kill creativity? The questions certainly need to be asked. André, however, firmly believes that architects will be in high demand in the future for sensible decision making in the designing process. But the architect will certainly become more of a creator of systems, instead of drawing the process from start to finish.

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About Love Janson

Love Janson is a communication strategist at ComWise AB. He has a BA degree in communication from Halmstad University.
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