Elliot Glassman, Associate, WSP

Architecture has always been informed by the technology that was used to design and construct it. Steel structural systems and the curtain wall were some of the technologies that defined the advancement of architectural design in the 20th century. In the 21st century, our industry will be revolutionized by computational design. Already computational design is providing us with new algorithmically generated building forms and the advancement of digital fabrication technologies. As both an architect and a building performance specialist, I see great potential in leveraging computational design to shape structures that are an intelligent response to their climate and site, reducing energy use while providing occupants with a comfortable and well daylit interior environment.

I will be copresenting the keynote address Integrating Computation Into a Collaborative Design Process: Enabling Architects & Engineers to Leverage Tools & Access Data at the Right Time with my colleague from WSP’s structural engineering services Joseph Provenza. During my part of the talk, I will be discussing how WSP Built Ecology has successfully utilized computational design workflows to inform building design decisions with performance in mind. The end goal is to provide a result where the design and performance are integrated into the architecture as one.

The performance of buildings are a function of the complex and dynamic interactions between climate, site, and occupant behavior as well as the physical and thermal characteristics of the building itself. Traditional modelling approaches need the architectural design process to be advanced enough so the characteristics of the building can to be defined in the performance simulation. The catch is that a design that is advanced enough for this traditional modelling approach will have many architectural decisions made already and will therefore be harder to change even if the simulation reveals suboptimal performance.

Using computational design processes and brute force modelling, we can be more proactive about designing for performance. We can analyze many potential scenarios early in the design process so that the critical parameters for high-performance can be identified.  The comparison of alternatives can help us set priorities for the design and understand potential trade-offs. The studies can inform fundamental architectural decisions that weigh heavily on performance such as orientation, massing, and facade configuration.

By providing this information to the architectural and engineering teams earlier in the design process, we empower them to make data-driven design decisions that will more likely result in a successful high-performance outcome down the line. We can simultaneously balance multiple performance aspects such as energy, peak loads, daylight, and visual comfort so that we don’t inadvertently optimize for one at the expense of the other.

Computational design environments are where a lot of our clients are already doing their cutting edge design work. Incorporating performance simulation analysis into that same environment allows us to better integrate with their design process and provide quicker feedback. It also helps ensure that the elements of the architectural design become performative. When these elements cannot be changed or value engineered out without repercussions to things like energy performance or peak load sizing, the design intent is better preserved.

Performance results are most meaningful when they can be related back to the architectural design or the surrounding context. Using computational design tools, we can create custom visualizations to provide visual feedback and draw connections back to the factors influencing performance. This highlight elements which are performing well or underperforming, suggesting paths forward in refining the design.

The biggest challenges we face that prevents us from working with design teams in this manner are often not the limits of the technology. We do not usually approach those technological limits because the industry does fully not understand how existing computational design technology can be leveraged to drive and inform their designs for performance and environmental responsiveness. Often we are brought into the discussion after many of the design decisions that matter most are locked in, and we are only able to trim around the edges to improve performance.

Another aspect of this is the perception that designing for building performance is restrictive of architectural freedom. However, by using computational design to explore many possibilities and identify trade-offs, we often find there are actually a number of different solutions that can provide good performance. Using performance as a driver of the design can actually become a creative process that generates architectural forms to respond effectively to the environment.

We are trying to make progress on these challenges by illustrating what can be done with computational design to inform the building through environmental considerations. By demonstrating how we have leveraged these workflows to achieve successful architectural and performance outcomes on projects, we hope to promote their use.

The environmental problems our society faces are complex and the building sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.  By creating buildings that respond appropriately to the climate, we can reduce our energy consumption and impact on the planet. We can also create buildings that provide a better interior environmental for their occupants in terms of daylight, views, and thermal comfort. Computational design can help us account for complex environmental factors and help generate high-performance solutions for all these considerations. As the technology continues to evolve, the range of possibilities are expanding. We want to stir the imagination of the industry to think about how an integrated, performance-based design process can be used to inform 21st century architecture and lead to a more sustainable built environment.

Take a look at Advancing Computational Building Design 2018.

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