Stantec Computational Experts: Alyssa Haas, Masha Pekurovsky, Achintya Bhat

Educate, Engage & Deliver –

Demystifying Computational Design Culture


Computational design methodologies offer a range of solutions to otherwise challenging and time-consuming design problems. Promoting computational design culture in AEC is imperative to advancing ideas and evolving computational design toolset. Interpreting what computational design culture is and what one does to promote it, is a rather open-ended question and one that we would like to discuss in this blog entry.

The roadmap to incorporating computational design methodologies will no doubt vary from firm to firm and will be influenced by the size and cultural ethos of the organization. However, there are ways to sequence and organize the approach to ensure that colleagues recognize the value that computation brings to AEC disciplines.

Cultivating interest and demonstrating value are at the core of any computational design initiative. Computationally inclined practitioners will be responsible for promoting these methodologies, transforming them from seemingly exotic to everyday practices. Selecting the appropriate opportunities to engage with design teams and managing expectations will increase the probability of success in these initiatives. As we learned from our experience at Stantec, open and collaborative engagements provide a foundation for fledgling computational design culture and getting practitioners on board. Demonstrating value through successful delivery ultimately reinforces computational design culture.

In short, here is what a possible ‘Advancing Computational Design Culture’ road-map might look like:

Find opportunities to educate and promote computational design methods

Developing a culture that supports computational design requires the education and engagement of practitioners throughout all levels of the organization. Both members of leadership, as well as those charged with delivering work should share in the excitement and potential offered by innovative approaches to practice. Increasing the dialogue around computational design creates fertile ground for ideas to emerge and develop. This dialogue will uncover potential problems to solve or areas within processes to intervene. Simple, quick and low risk case studies can be implemented for educational purposes and can be used to demonstrate potential value and build interest. Competitions serve as an excellent platform for computational engagement.

Education may also be formalized in varying configurations from access to online education platforms, quick lunch sessions, and intensive workshops both to engage and inform decision makers but also to provide opportunities for practitioners to gain the fundamental skills necessary to employ computational thinking in their day to day processes. Initializing a culture of computational design through education can be further strengthened by bringing together communities of practitioners who share a passion for innovation and offering platforms for them to learn from one another and build institutional expertise.

Discover opportunities to engage with project teams

Now that we have generated a bit of a buzz around computational design, hopefully we have identified key collaborators and some good problems to work on. How should a team be encouraged by their collaborators to increase likelihood of successful initiatives and implementation?

We can start by selecting projects that are low hanging fruit that we know we have a good chance of success. Another way to approach this is to select a project which has simple foundational output that could be built upon. So maybe your idea is really sophisticated, and it could be the end goal but in the meantime the team can successfully deliver a portion of this idea which will still demonstrate value. Managing expectations and continuing to educate your collaborators will be fundamental component of successful engagement.

Collaborators need to walk away from the experience having a better understanding of what is possible and what steps are necessary to get to successful solutions. Levels of engagement will likely vary depending on the needs of the collaborators, for example the team could be charged with developing a bespoke parametric project model, providing a support role offering varied levels of training and development as the collaborators develop their own solutions, or offering their services to develop a toolkit for use on specific project typologies. The interventions could address for example design optioneering, delivery efficiency, and/or data flows or any combination thereof.

Demonstrate value and delivery of solutions and trust-building engagement

There are inherent risks to innovation and building a culture that sustains innovative thinking and development requires ongoing attention. Encouraging buy-in from leadership through business case development is required for teams to secure the resources necessary to move forward with their computation initiatives. Development time, in addition to training or upstaffing costs are all investments that business leaders will need to consider making to establish foundation for a growing computational design culture.

The best way to build and secure trust is to work within an open and collaborative environment and to deliver solutions successfully. As teams grow to trust one another more ambitious interventions can be explored but when developing a supportive culture, it is important to focus again on those interventions where successful delivery is most likely and where stakeholders’ expectations are met or exceeded. Interrogating our work throughout the engagement is fundamental and necessary to develop a strong case for intervention: How does our work create value for the organization? Are we asking the right questions?

Successfully implementing a new workflow and tracking the results allows for computational teams to build strong business cases that strengthen comfort level at the leadership level which offers massive support to the computational design culture.

To conclude, the delivery of computational design solutions will undoubtedly vary from firm to firm, project to project but teams will need to consider roll out plans and adhere to standards and defined best practices. Defining the scope of ongoing support as well as follow-up can help further strengthen bonds between members in the organization by demonstrating that you are invested in the ongoing success of any solutions that have been developed. Increasing the levels of comfort within the realms of computational design in practice relies on the successful delivery and implementation of innovative solutions. The anticipation is that computational design culture becomes self-reinforcing when successes feed interest and innovation throughout the organization.

Written by Compuational Designers

Alyssa Haas, Masha Pekurovsky, Achintya Bhat – Stantec

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