Advancing Computational Building Design 2018 Retrospective
After chairing the recent conference for Advancing Computational Building Design (#ACBD2018), I am left reflecting on three questions that strike me as critical to the way buildings are designed and constructed.
- What impact will computation have on the industry?
- What can we learn from it?
- How will we implement?
Adoption is Only the Beginning
Listening to our keynote presentation about leveraging tools and data to integrate computation into collaborative design, it occurred to me that the process needed to begin by enabling architects and engineers to leverage tools that create data. Specifically, they need access to useful data with a lifespan longer than the stage during which it was created. Computational design is no longer just about the forms that can be created within specified parameters. While those efforts led to the creation of our processes around this practice – and it has served the industry well – it’s time to move beyond those digital limits. The field of computation is increasingly complex, and growing in diversity, expertise, and clarity. While we digital computation practitioners agree that a database of information is not the end-all, though we seem to have responded to this challenge by creating more data to address the growing complexity of the process. In fact, the newest reality I heard addressed is that our industry, building owners, and clients alike are suffering from data overload. Which standards and metrics must we establish as the process matures?
Digital design modeling in the DLR Group studio. Photo © DLR Group.
I see experts in the field are approaching the conversation differently and are beginning to ask: “Why?” Once we understand the client’s values, we can offer our expertise through precise systems or certification metrics that best match a project’s computational goals. This relieves the pressure of forcing a design process into a box of auto-generated forms, and leaves room to select the outcome that best meets the project needs. It also becomes a value-added approach to any given building project, rather than a strict set of standards around which to mold the design process.
Finding a Common Language
Communication is still the axel that turns the wheels of progress. While there is a lot of new, explicit language presented at ACBD, there are also implicit lessons learned. This year, I recognized topics that have been developing over the past two conferences and noted an evolution in the way this knowledge is changing. The way this knowledge is evolving appears to follow a consistent innovation cycle. Using The Lean Startup by Eric Reis, we talked about treating a computational initiative like a startup to build a minimal viable product with your tools, then enter it into the innovation cycle. Once recognized, this cycle can then be applied to many other domains of knowledge that, in turn, can help identify where an organization is in that cycle and what needs to happen to move to the next level. We seem to be harvesting more data to offer meaningful insight into why certain actions or design choices affect the life of a building, yet many of these knowledge areas appear to be at the burden-of-proof phase. I also see that this particular phase is the point where most ideas stall out before moving on to mainstream adoption. I expect to see more advanced research coming from a variety of businesses and organizations in the coming year. It is easy to forget that computation is the process, not the outcome.
Randy Deutsch, AIA, associate director for graduate studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s School of Architecture also shares his thoughts on the conference and the future of the computational building design community.
One of my first impressions of this conference is that besides a few notables, the participants and speakers were not the usual faces one might see at other industry-related events. This is important, as this still nascent group continues to define itself, asking questions about where this all is heading, and whether this group indeed forms a community of practice. This event had it all, from uplifting talks to out-there talks that no one was expecting to presentations that completely delivered on a promise of details and cases. I learned a lot from these presentations, but also from the breakout sessions – especially the conversations, which, for me in two cases, lasted well into the night. I really couldn’t ask for more from a conference. This was the real deal, entirely worth the time, investment, and my second flight delay out of La Guardia in a month due to weather. I’d go again in a heartbeat.
What I experienced at Advancing Computational Building Design 2018 constitutes a community of design technology specialists, who not only are working toward the mastery of these tools and work processes for building design – and the name of the event implies – but in some cases, more broadly, including computational urbanism among other areas of practice. This was quite interesting to learn, and to witness firsthand. I was not able to make last year’s inaugural event in San Francisco, but from what I have heard from others in the relatively short span of a year, this group has developed its capabilities, producing interesting, innovative, new work that is at once compelling and performative, and – when word gets out to the rest of the industry – influential. There was much to learn during our time together, and I don’t think I have ever been more curious to see what this group, their colleagues, and its followers continue to develop in the year ahead. I am absolutely attending next year’s event – no matter where it is held – and look forward to seeing computational designers and design technologists continue to make a name and a place for themselves, in their teams, firms, and the profession and industry.
Tackling Implementation Head-On
With the growing complexity of this field of practice, I feel challenged and inspired to begin thinking about and capturing the ever-changing design vocabulary within computational domains of knowledge. Computation is no longer a question of should, or whether it is possible. Understanding the nuances of this vocabulary will be key to success as we lead our clients into these pioneering adventures in sustainable design. And finding a common language is critical for implementation to take hold.
This conference continues to inspire change for those who attend. What we do with that inspiration – which I’m taking as a professional challenge – will determine the speed of change within our industry, and how quickly we embrace computational design in an ever-changing world.
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