February 21, 2011
The Future of Design and the Overlap of Design and Computation
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News
The Future of Design and the Overlap of Design and Computation

By Susan Smith

The evolution of design computation has been years in the making. Dr. Robert Aish, chair of the Design Computation Symposium at Autodesk University for the past three years, has spearheaded the vision of computation in design, from its birth at Bentley Systems where he architected their GenerativeComponents (GC). He was also one of the founders of the SmartGeometry Conference, which focused on the use of generative design in buildings and other structures, and attracted some of the most innovative architectural talent in the world.

Before GenerativeComponents, many architects used mechanical engineering 3D modeling tools to achieve their complex design shapes. Software such as CATIA, Rhino3D and others were routinely cast in the role of serving architecture. Although those products have powerful parametric capabilities, they are not easy to use and require some customization, plus there has always been the challenge of making the free-form architectural design able to translate to the rigors of structural analysis.

Autodesk has a number of creative design tools including Maya, 3ds Max, Alias Studio and even Inventor to meet some of these architectural and engineering challenges. But with that approach of using a number of tools and making adaptations to them, the process of design computation has not been seamless or easy.

After years of development, GenerativeComponents is now free inside Bentley's flagship product, MicroStation. To date, it is available to everyone, but requires training. GC does work with Bentley BIM, and since it officially became a product in 2008, its potential has blossomed exponentially to be used in structural engineering as well as in architectural design and analysis.

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Design Computation Evolution

Design computation at Autodesk is not really there yet. We are invited to look for its appearance on Autodesk Labs, where it should first show up. Evidence of its use was shown at the Symposium at Autodesk University in December, in such showcase projects as Buro Happold SMART Solutions' design for the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Waagner-Biro Stahlbau AG's Yas Island Race Track Hotel; Philip Beesley's sensor lashes with shape-memory allay mechanisms for the Hylozoic Ground Project, and the Robofold patented robotic metal folding in façade fabrication process presented by Gregory Epps for building effective and complex cladding.

Louvre Abu Dhabi - Located on Saadiyat Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, the new Louvre will provide an inspiring, high-quality space for stunning works of art from around the world, many on loan from the Louvre in Paris.

In a later interview. Dr. Aish talked about the migration from handcraft to industrial craft to digital craft. He said it is not so much about how to use digital tools but how a user can program tools and present algorithms in order to realize his design intent.

“I'm working on a new language called DesignScript which enables this to happen in a much more compact code, it's also associative so if you change something, dependent code will update,” said Aish. “It's a different programming paradigm to writing a formula for example; we're looking for what type of programming helps design. It's not just about what you have done before, it's enabling you to do things that were previously impossible to do.”

What will be different about Autodesk's “DesignCraft” as it is currently called, is that it will be able to be accessed by users who are not professional programmers. As a new language, it will hopefully be able to bridge the gap between Autodesk's products that are not all interoperable.

“We want to create design tools that not only create the geometry but gives the control mechanisms,” said Aish. “If I want to change radius of something here, I don't want to go through and hand edit these panels, but do I want to run the program again, or just change one parameter, and the system propagates that change throughout the program, and updates, not only in our software but in the language itself.”

The new language will combine relatively “new” program paradigms such as functional programming, object oriented programming, and associative programming to make the language more powerful and expressive but also to make it more accessible to the end user.

Aish said the less code you have the easier it is to change the code. “We're working on an actual program that has many different uses, for those who don't know how to program,” said Aish. He describes the need for programmative results, so the design language will capture what the user draws, so it is “programming without programming.” The user will get the program he actually wrote and see what the model and code looks like. “We are particularly interested in how people learn, as some of our users are not professional programmers, they learn on the job,” said Aish. “The end user programming is a continuum between the professional and end user program; we want to make it easy for people to program.”

In universities today, architectural students are taught programming, so they arrive in practice with this knowledge. There will be others who have focused on programming at a deeper level, so that practices will embody those who have some programming training and others who are experts.

In keeping with the vision of creating DesignCraft for a broader audience, Autodesk is building this functionality on top of AutoCAD. It is to drive AutoCAD as a host, said Aish. It could be detached from it and drive some other platform.

For other AutoCAD products, there is the need to retrofit them to have commonality between them. DesignCraft will start from scratch as one language commonly recognized by all different platforms.

Wonderful aesthetic tools are not enough, Aish pointed out. When the design goes to the structural analysis and fabrication it should already have synthesized the various constraints of structure, fabrication and aesthetics.

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