Olivia Pearson, Studio Director of Architecture, GHDWOODHEAD creativespaces

The iteration of design – Future architecture lies in embracing computational design

How many numbers of design iterations can you come up with? 5 – 10? 100 – 1000? 100,000?

Implementing advanced technology within organisational structures is an age-old conundrum. One GHD is addressing by creating GHD Digital. GHD recognises the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This blurs the lines between biological, physical and digital innovation. Some people embrace technology with open arms, while others avoid it.

Olivia Pearson, GHDWoodhead creative spaces Studio Director of National Architecture NZ, discusses some of the topics around the upcoming panel topic at the Computational building design conference in New York, through a series of questions and answers

Q: What are the benefits of computational design for companies?

My understanding of computational design is it is the application of technologies. This enables the application of generative computer design to the design process. It is like BIM in that you can create options quicker using a computer than you can with hand sketching. This generates a much large number of options and scenarios than designers can think of. It assists them to design, produce and modify complex forms of design.

We can create more iterations and more accurate designs faster using computer software. No longer do you have to do manual calculations, the software does it for you. The process is outcome driven with designers telling the computer what to do, not how to do it. Using computation design presents designers with an almost infinite number of solutions to choose from. Broadly, benefits are time and money savings for a firm and better solutions for clients. Other benefits include:

  • designs/solutions that are not constrained by the imagination/creativity of the designer
  • automating repetitive tasks during the design process
  • rapid prototyping to explore all design possibilities quickly
  • rapid iterations to test and refine designs
  • evaluating design concepts for teams to make informed decision early in the decision-making.

Q: What are the different organisational structures currently being implemented?

Over the years I’ve seen a couple of different approaches to organisational structures. Currently I believe there are two types:

  1. Type 1. Type 1 is the architecture firm where they embed a mix of specialist staff within teams. This approach can result in upskilling more staff. The danger is they can become so delivery focused that tools and software does not get developed.
  2. Type 2. Type 2 is the firm that creates a technology wing that has all the experts embedded within the group. The risk is the wing keeps the expertise locked within its own department and few designers upskill as they have no insight into the creation of tools or how to modify them. What the group offers depends on the aims of the firm. There are three main offerings:
    1. An internal focus where they only create tools for the firm they work for.
    2. Focused externally where the firm only offers tools to external clients with no focus on their internal clients.
    3. A mix of external and internal, where the focus is more balanced.

Both types of firms have their challenges. I believe there needs to be a middle ground. Meaning, upskilling staff and encouraging them to contribute to creating tools even if they are not in the expert specialised team. This allows a true collaboration between industry people and software developers while staying project and client focused.

GHD is a Type 2 organisation with its new arm GHD Digital. Where it is different from other firms is its focus is both internal and external. This creates new opportunities for our people as well as our customers.

Q: Who is doing this?

Most firms presenting at the conference and a range of others attending the conference. Some of the world’s most famous architects have used computational design for years. Zaha, Norman Foster and Grimshaw, for example, use it due to the complexity of their designs. I think while their designs are outstanding, computational design contributes to their success.

There are other small pockets of firms and architects within firms using computational design in the US, Europe and UK. But, it is still not a commonly used tool.

Q: What are the roles and responsibilities in adopting computational design?

I am not sure yet what the roles and responsibilities need to be for adopting computational design. Industry created multiple layers of roles for BIM implementation. Doing this, so far, has introduced more costs without realising the success expected. But, it is still evolving.

We definitely need our specialists that can help produce the tools required to advance the use of this technology. GHD Digital will provide these specialists.

While firms talk about implementing the software and solutions, it rarely gets past management level. GHD Digital aims to change this mindset. Computational design needs to be part of the everyday toolset used by team members at every level. Its success rests with project leads encouraging and demanding its use on projects. Graduates within firms also need to be able to use the software and promote its use on projects

Barriers can be the age of staff who can see learning something new difficult. There are two types of these people. Those who want to ignore technology, and those who allow younger staff to embrace and learn how to use new technology.

I think the main role and responsibility of a firm is enabling the use of computational design.

Something to consider. How do you think computational design fits into the roles and responsibilities of the company you work for?

Q: What does the workforce of the future need to look like?

The workforce of the future looks very different to what it is today. Designers will need to become a lot more computer literate.

Because I have a flair for technology, I ended up focusing on wanting the modern design tools so I could use them to design. Then realised I needed to learn how to code and understand the concepts of writing programs.

This crossover into programming will become more common. Recently I interviewed a graduate. He knew how to write two different computer languages as well as how to use all the other software we use for design.

Q: What are the enabling conditions that allow one to become involved in this?

It is about creating organisational structures that ensure the roles and responsibilities allow people to work with modern technology or computational design tools. Firms and project leaders need to allow staff to explore computation design on the job. People need the time to train and upskill.

A challenge with computational design is it is front end loaded. While programs or solutions are being built it is weeks before something tangible is seen. This needs to be overcome by generating awareness of this different design approach.

Organisations need champions, or influencers, who embrace and promote a change of culture from within. How successful they are will depend on how good they are at influencing others and the respect staff have for them.

Q: How you do you create awareness?

While champions can help to change organisational culture, I find presentations are a great way to communicate. I have used presentations in the past to demonstrate the application of BIM to projects. This is similar to how I see we can communicate the use of computational design in future.

But, presentations need to use real life case studies that show the benefits of the tools. Project examples and how the technology applied created benefits for our clients and users gives people real insight. We need to talk about how we use computational design. This shows its advantages in ways people can grasp in a tangible way.

Q: Why the decision to create GHD Digital

GHD is a forward thinking global organisation that transforms itself to future proof its operations. The creation of GHD Digital is an example of the organisation’s philosophy.

The digital era offers huge growth opportunities. And we understand the consequences of not transforming quickly enough. Digital transformation is necessary for the organisation to stay relevant.

Our goal is to find new ways to engage with customers and our people using our understanding of existing and new technologies. GHD aims to continue to deliver unprecedented value for our clients.

This is an exciting time for GHD Digital as we explore new opportunities to upskill our people to create new opportunities. If we do not digitally transform our business we risk becoming uncompetitive.

This is an opportunity. If we embrace it we can be more successful than ever before. It is an opportunity to outshine all our past successes. If we stand back, we risk being taken over by everyone else.

Find out more about GHD’s approach to digital strategy development and transformation through GHD Digital.

#design #computational #digitaledge

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