Generative Design

The future of CAD

End of the road for the turbo-charged drawing board?

with 6 comments

We are now amidst an interesting change. The era of automating the drawing board seems to be drawing to a close. The architecture of today is increasingly difficult to draw with straight lines. There are many repeated components of various sizes. Fabrication companies are now able to crank out shapes that were not possible before. The cost of customisation is also continuously reducing. The virtues of a straight line – sung by the modernist architects inspired by an ancient geometric legend, seem to interest nobody. It has now lost its rationality and more importantly its appeal.

The rise of curvitecture

What’s interesting about design are trends. Because each trend destroys a previous trend and with it, the tools designed to author it. Curvitecture is primarily a result of a reaction to a Euclidean trend that swept the world – as the “modern movement” which imbued mass manufactured forms with aesthetic and rational qualities.  Its overwhelming success,  the mass confusion of what is considered bio and curved and overriding attention seeking the goal of architects has helped fuel trends that have now wrecked the Euclidean sense of Geometry. Its forms, rationality and aesthetic will soon be buried in architectural history.

Anything is possible now

Being creative is about moving to the edge – especially the edge that is being extended by new technology, engineering and manufacturing capabilities. Architects entertain the attention-deprived world by authoring unseen shapes of great complexity – which mostly do not relate to increase in performance despite their significant cost.Being and looking “bio” is certainly a justification that works because now being bio is being good and also being efficient. So there is a case for funny forms.

Why programs need to draw

It is impossible to draw a rat’s nest on AutoCAD. But it is possible to do so using programs that can handle the geometry of individual elements. Each element has common attributes that can easily be created by programs. Incidentally, we were built that way. We are a result of genetic constructional programs that told our cells how to and when to design themselves. Drafting board-inspired CAD packages are unable to handle the complexity of the kinds of shapes that are now being authored. A reassuring reaction is that only a small portion of the building are funny shaped and the bulk of what is built can still be drawn with a drafting board.

In the name of efficiency

The era of the turbo-charged drawing board is not to end too soon perhaps the way drawing boards themselves vanished from design practices. To prevent is pre-mature demise, a late but smart decision has been made to marry it to databases so that it can better handle the grunt work of design. This strategy seems to be working. BIM is breathing new life into old CAD. It is bringing obvious ways of working with computers (long obvious to companies like ArchiCAD) into mainstream use.The associated cost savings makes it an easy sell. The advantages are significant and architects are too busy either singing its praises or getting on board. But the age gap is catching up with them; because of the next generation designs very differently.

Cheap, smart, socially authored software

The design schools of today will give you a better glimpse of the future of CAD in architecture. They are now skewed towards scripting based tools – where designs are more transparently authored by programs. In the case of grasshopper, these programs are disguised as drag and drop boxes – giving late teenagers the thrill of connecting them with wires. The network around the grasshopper community is a global collaborative R&D team that is continuously developing new ways of authoring design. Many of them can program too.

The turbo-charged drawing boards, though now newly married to databases, and renamed  BIM certainly is a late stage marriage of significance to the those who are in mature practices, whose choice of CAD is skewed towards realizing designs. But those who wish to use CAD as a creative tool need to look elsewhere.

Written by Sivam Krish

July 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

6 Responses

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  1. Hi Sivam, you’re quite boldly claiming that “The virtues of straight line – sung by the modernist architects inspired by an ancient geometric legend, seem to interest nobody. It has longlost its rationality and most definitely, its appeal.” Now, from what I see being built or scheduled to be – I’m not so sure that this is the case? Is what you claim the case in a particular region of the world? At this time, I’m receiving quite opposite signals from the creative class…

    Andreas Hopf

    July 28, 2011 at 4:23 pm

  2. Hi Andreas, I am making this judgment from seeing studio work of students which give an strong indication of trends. In the mid eighties when I went to school – there was virtually no curivitecture. I now observe here in Australia significant amount of contorted architecture in studios. On the other hand the bulk of what is being built for commercial and residential purposes belong to the older geometric typology.

    Sivam Krish

    July 28, 2011 at 10:30 pm

  3. Sivam, I would be interested in your thoughts concerning how Euclidean geometry is less generative than the more curvy design approaches. I would also be interested in your thoughts about how approaches like interactive genetic algorithms might figure into the co-design possibilities of humans and computers. I’m not an architect and don’t know much about grasshopper but your earlier post on Digital Sketching is intriguing as well.

    Do you see a time when non-architects will drag and drop house or office designs set up to calculate for code, engineering and basic infrastructure parameters (perhaps this already happens).

    Milton Friesen

    July 30, 2011 at 1:36 am

    • Milton,

      What we see in magazines are architectural forms that are competeting for attention. The built world is currently saturated with Euclidian forms and variations of Euclidean forms do not grab attention. It is easier to grab attention with non Euclidean forms.

      I am not saying that Euclidean form is less generative but I am saying that the creation of non-Euclidean forms requires different type of CAD software – which is often mistaken to be generative software, mainly because these curvy shapes are driven by equations than by point to point straight lines.

      Yes, intelligent models will drastically reduce the level of skills required to design complex artefacts. Spore ( is a good example. The genetic structure of the creatures allows kids to create what was previously created by expert animation artists. Buildings will go this way for sure. It does not mean that there will be no role for architects.

      Sivam Krish

      August 1, 2011 at 12:51 am

  4. Nice article and full of truth. My only comment is that smart and partially automated drawing boards married to databases are maturing towards solutions that enable complex form finding while requiring the author to make more informed decisions(aka designing). BIM, in my opinion, in the process towards a new approach to architecture, at least as used by mature design practices and contractors, not an extension of the old drawing board.


    August 14, 2011 at 4:09 am

  5. William,

    Your observations are accurate, in that fully developed information models are useful in exploring variations – of a very limited kind. But nevertheless, very useful. Significant exploration can only be made at early stages where there is insufficient information. So BIM in its current form is of no use. But what we will see for sure is the evolution of both ends early stage methods and late stage information management systems to connect at some point, enabling designers to seamlessly explore, develop and finalize their designs. This is the dream of some researchers in generative design.

    Sivam Krish

    August 14, 2011 at 10:31 am

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