Interview: Zak Kostura, Associate Structural Engineer, ARUP

1.Q) Computation seems integral to the work that ARUP do, and a critical differentiator to other design firms. Could you give a couple of examples of how ARUP work differently to integrate computation into every day work?  Rather than mandate specific approaches to design and management, we try to foster a culture of adoption of new technologies.  We regularly have internal seminars intended to share new technologies and project-specific case studies to engineers from a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines.  We offer internal grant funding for small R&D projects that are carried out by interested staff members based on needs they observe from project work.  We have numerous platforms for code sharing and custom application distribution.  We share knowledge on internal Wikis and media spaces that enable staff to post video recordings of techniques for others to watch.


  1. Q) What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the wider adoption of computational design? Why isn’t it already as widely adopted as BIM? Depends on what you mean by “computational design”. From an engineering standpoint this has evolved to mean the use of computational software to achieve higher quality designs more efficiently and expeditiously.  From that end, I would say that computational design is in fact more advanced than BIM, which while widely adopted is used in very conservative ways on projects (e.g. as a 3D visualization model with little to no added metadata attached to models, and still complemented by conventional 2D drawings that take priority in the event of conflicts between the two).


  1. Q) In your experience, what is the most common mistake that design firms make when leveraging computation for the first time? The same mistake many existing firms (including Arup) continue to – they treat the computation as the end product rather than the building project. All computational work, like hand calculations before it, are a means to an end, which is a well designed building.


  1. Q) What is the most convincing example you have to prove the value and ROI in computational design? Do you have any projects where design optimization, cost, speed or some other metrics has been measurably improved? I would say the use of software development/deployment, databases and parametrics to design the Mexico City Airport roof.


  1. Q) Do you believe the AEC industry can benefit from collaboration as a way to enable mass adoption of computation? Are there any examples of successful collaborative projects or platforms where designers have shared tools, techniques or training methods? Sharing successes and lessons learned is always a good thing, provided those who share are honest and candid about what worked and what didn’t work. But adoption of new technologies shouldn’t be done for the sake of being “cutting edge”.  Designers should look critically at what is wrong with the AEC industry (or what can be improved within it) and how new technologies can help with that.


  1. Q) The advancement of computation is clearly linked to technology, such as the development of design software. What do you think is the next big technological leap that we should be planning for? What do you envisage computational design to have the potential to achieve? I think it’s the direct interaction with databases to more efficiently capture and convey data on a project. Revit and other BIM tools simply visualize databases in a way that’s palatable to users who are intimidated by databases themselves.  The more we are able to interact directly with back-end infrastructure (e.g. the technologies that power the pretty front ends), the more effectively we’ll be able to leverage computation.


  1. Q) What are you hoping to achieve from attending and presenting at Advancing Computational Building Design 2017? Share my lessons learned, and hear from others how they are using computational design in a fruitful way.

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