Generative Design

The future of CAD

What CAD companies mean by – generative design

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In my previous article on why generative design means different things to different people – I had left out the views of CAD companies. Companies are profit oriented and their take on  generative design is different from the rest.

CAD is sold on efficiency

Efficiency is about eliminating all that is stupid and unnecessary. There is merit in that. CAD companies like it too. They have an interest in improving efficiency and the and gaining greater market share. These two pressures drive them and their  interpretation of generative design.

If you were a CAD salesman, you could only say two things to tell your prospect :

  1. It will save you time and money
  2. Because you can do cooler than your competition

Now, with those who are using the stuff that your company created (and if is quite crummy) an upgrade is an easy sell. They will complain about the price, but will ” make the investment ”  – in the hope that it can be recovered through efficiency gains, especially if they are convinced that it is the “standard”. Bill Gates did well by doing that.

The efficiency argument

Now, if your company is into the cooler stuff then it all depends on whether you are with the big league or a one person show. If you are in the big league – you got a team with experts using different CAD packages. Integration then is a big problem.  It you are alone, then there is no problem, because your brain is already integrated. And, it if is in good working order, you will connect online to others like you and benefit from their codes, methods and  thinking that is increasingly shared.

integrative efficiency

Much of design effort is dissipated on establishing connections. Connection between design data and connections between packages. Autodesk has shown some consideration here. They  bought up all the software that designers use, so that we can go from one to the other without fretting.

modeling efficiency

But when you re-size the roof – the gutter does not fall off. There is no logic behind haw design is authored. By building logic into design – you eliminate the irrationality and gain efficiency. When you consider the cyclic nature of design the redesign effort is signficant. It makes good sense to work on paper first and then pout the stuff on a computer. This is what was done. But now the younger generation of architects have begun to tweak stuff on the computer early on. This is painful in current architectural CAD.

Build History

Mechanical engineers figured how to avoid such pain decades ago. They use CAD packages with build histories so that designs can be authored with a logical structure. They knew for example that the gutter is attached to the roof. Architects discovered such conveniences far too late – when the amount of data has ballooned to unmanageable limits. BIM appears to be a very thick plaster. So are the diagrams external to CAD aimed at stitching up things that were misconceived. When design moved from paper to the screen few realized that game has changed.

So when CAD companies talk about generative design – they are selling you efficiency; ways of making you more efficient. So that when you make some late stage design – you don’t have to re-draw the damn thing again. So – this is what they mean by generative design. Because, before  that CAD was supposed to draw stuff that you drew. Ok, now that has changed.  The new version you bought  kind of generates your design. The CAD aint generating the designs – you are. Now if the CAD gets on with it. It will be scary. But it will be generative design. We aint there yet.


Now for the cooler stuff

Old CAD was the representation of the drafting board for authoring decent building  with straight  lines that no body will want to look at now.


You now want to stuff like this. If your client does not like it, the next best thing is to curve every line that you can. The old CAD ain’t good for this. Just imagine drawing up all those scales one by one.  You need a program to do that for you. Thanks to scripting you can do it now. Understandably, for some CAD companies generative design is about being able to skin your buildings like fish.

But you are being set up

Despite the miss use of the term “generative design”, CAD companies are setting you up for more exciting times.  Their fight for gaining turf in early stage design and curvitecture, is now pushing  CAD where it has never been before. CAD is now being used in early stage design for exploring different alternatives. It can now manages changes  more efficiently than ever before. The pay back is significant as performances of designs may be improved as  the effect of these changes can now be measured through the use of analytical packages. Performative design – is all about this. Design fundamentally about exploration. It is about the consideration of possibilities. That is what generative design is all about.

The extent and efficiency with which we can consider design possibilities it is the holy grail of generative design.

But the business of generating these possibilities – is not the business of CAD companies yet. It soon will be.


Written by Sivam Krish

February 3, 2011 at 11:00 am

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