Generative Design

The future of CAD

What is generative design ?

with 8 comments

I have been asking this question my self, for quite some time.

My attempt to find out has led me through hundreds of published papers, books, blogs and endless discussion that opened even more questions.

What is generative Design?

I have come across many attempts of defining what it is. Many of them are absurd – especially those published in journals that seek to define generative design within tiny niches of  reserch interests. Outside their confines, I have found some good ones that capture the spirit of generative design – I list them here :

Some good definitions of Generative Design

Generative design is not about designing the building – Its’ about designing the system that builds a building.– Lars Hesellgren

Generative design systems are aimed at creating new design processes that produce spatially novel yet efficient and buildable designs through exploitation of current computing and manufacturing capabilities– Kristina Shea

Generative design approach works in imitation of Nature, performing ideas as codes, able to generate endless variations ”  – Celestin Soddu

A basic form, pattern, or object is automatically modified by an algorithm. The result: infinite random modifications of the starting solution (within a solution space set by the designer).– Frank Piller

Generative Design Processes is about the modeling of initial conditions of an object (its “genetics”) instead of modeling the final form.– Paola Fontana

“An over aching computational method; in essence an incremental specification of design logic in a computational form that eventually yields with a design space open for exploration of alternatives and their variations.– Halil Erhan

While these definitions collectively help describe Generative Design, I have always wondered if there is a better way of defining it – Perhaps defining it at a higher level of abstraction, where it floats above methods and captures its higher purpose.

Natures answer

Nature is a master practitioner of design. She does not practice it –  in our  it in our sense of the word , but in her own way. She achieves outstanding results. It is difficult to believe that she is a  mindless tinker. She has been tinkering for eons.  It is only now we are beginning to understand the wisdom in her method.   She does not design. She codes her designs. She even invented sex, so that the codes can be shovelled – causing great confusion amongst higher primates disorienting them for irrevocable follies that are required for the codes to continue their  long journey. Her ways are weird, but always brilliant and at every turn.  Some times it i s stunningly simple. The code that ain’t sexy does not get passed on.

A generative process at work

Let’s look at lower organisms where her process are easier to comprehend. What you see is petri dish of bacteria. They engage in successful re-design activity every 20 minutes. At this rate of multiplication (which involves re-design)  they would produce a colony of the size of a sugar cube on a day or two and if not limited by resources they consume, they would approach the size of the earth in a week or so. Such is the intensity of  the design processes that surround us – keeping the developers of vaccines constantly busy to counter them as they evolve.

Nature designs by billions of computational experiments. Billions and billions of them. So design in nature is an intense, never-ending, ever evolving computational activity of a non medieval kind – that may not appeal to those immersed in classical mathematics. She has gone well past that. Design in nature is powered by massive amounts of computational energy.

Can we then re-define generative design as :


a way of translating computational energy into creative energy  ?




Written by Sivam Krish

January 29, 2011 at 3:51 pm

8 Responses

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  1. one of the best answer i read is a phrase that my Co-de-iT collegue Alessio Erioli did x a lecture about the prominent role of information as matter of digital processes.
    “the ambition of generative design and digital
    tools in architecture is to build set of relations,
    which ultimately lead to a digital metabolism.”
    You can find the lecture (x a better comprehension) here:

    Andrea Graziano

    January 29, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Z Outten and Andrea Graziano, sivam krish. sivam krish said: What is generative desing ?: […]

  3. Great post!


    February 9, 2011 at 5:54 pm

  4. […] What is generative design ? « . This entry was posted in English, Generative Design. Bookmark the permalink. ← How Bin […]

  5. […] Further reading: Genius and scenius – their contribution to generative space. See an earlier post in the WELLth Blog: Scenius intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene Generative design with regard to building architecture: […]

    Generative Space

    December 22, 2014 at 10:59 pm

  6. Hi Sivam Krish, I have been looking for a definition of Generative Design and a good amount of web sites refers to this article when they define Generative Design. I would like to know if you (or someone who is reading this) could provide a source, references of the cites you are including on this article. I specially need the one of Lars Hesselberg for my research. Thank you.

    Avatar Flores

    January 11, 2015 at 7:29 am

    • We are continuing this discussion in the linked in group on Generative Design. Pls join us there.

      Sivam Krish

      January 12, 2015 at 12:58 am

      • Hi Sivam! I’m also very interested in definition of generative design. For my research I’m also looking for reference especially behind that definition you may find on wiki. It seems like it should be taken from “Generative Gestaltung”, but I still can’t find any proofs of that. Anyway, I’m very interested in discussion you mentioned and just can’t find the link) Could you help me?

        Sergei Pogorelov

        August 31, 2015 at 4:35 am

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