Generative Design

The future of CAD

Adoptation : why only in Architecture ?

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It took 20 years for CAD practices to replace the drafting board. That transition was not without pain. The vast majority of draftsman/designers did not see the benefit of using CAD which was then, still in its early stages of development. Many opposed it vehemently. Is it the same with generative design ?

Significant changes normally induce an equal and opposite reaction. It seems not the case  in architecture.

Generative Design, in its core – is a very radical concept

entailing significant changes in the way we think about and practice design. Yet, the architectural community seem to have embraced it without throwing a major tantrum. I have, for some times wondered why ?

Here, I think are the four main reasons:

  • Development of the intellectual frame-work
  • Publicly by established firms
  • Adoption  of  easy to use tools
  • Rapid knowledge and skill creation through social networks

There has been many for many decades serious work by academics on computational design theories, though its impact on design practice is questionable (as it was mainly focused on other academics)  it lent credence to the idea; that perhaps, there are other approaches to design. In this context, the bigger firms, in their attempt to optimize designs (often at the latter stages) and execute projects with complex geometries made claims (with scant details) that they are using new design technology . Fortunately, they  called it “Generative Design”.

But the most impact full of all were the easy to use tools such as grasshopper with active user communities – with the capability to develop and propagate knowledge and skills rapidly and efficiently.  This made all the difference. These communities  drew the most talented and passionate students and young architects who are open to exploring new ways of designing and  more importantly, willing to share what they know. Thanks this, parametric design (precursor to generative design) is onto a flying start in architecture.

So adaptation did not just happen.

The ground was prepared, the tools were ready and abundant energies were mobilized for this to happen, in way that was different from the time in which CAD was introduced. The internet was not present then. What we are witnessing now is the exponential nature that accompany online community based phenomena.

But, things are different in other areas of design, especially in product design. I have for many years,  engaged the Industrial Design Community, mainly through Core77 a prominent US-based Industrial Design portal on generative design, initially in 2005 and five years later in May 2o1o. The experience was not very different from talking to industrial designers  – who seem to be in consistently in violent opposition to the idea of computers generating designs. Though in 2005 the discussion attracted little interest in 2010 it drew over 230 comments and close to 4000 views making it one of the most engaging discussions in Core77. But most of the comments were accusatory and negative in nature and  the role of the false prophet of generative design was promptly assigned to me; generative design being the nasty stuff that going to make all designers redundant – was the view that was assumed by most.  There was however,  a clear sense of  fear and overriding anger at the very thought that computers can be creative.

The discussion fortunately or unfortunately turned into an instigation, with me claiming  Industrial designers  to be laggards in the adaptation of design technologies;  drawing angry responses demanding the demonstration of generative design in industrial design, unknowingly reinforcing  the very laggardness that I was pointing out, in wanting to adopt technologies once every one else has adopted it. But more importantly and interestingly for me, it brought out into hot debate some of the fundamental issues that seem to have been subsumed in architecture.

It made me wonder, if the ready embrace of cool CAD tools and the resulting eye candy  has distracted architects from deeper discussions  of a method of design that is fundamentally different to all what we know.

Written by Sivam Krish

June 10, 2010 at 3:55 pm

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