Generative Design

The future of CAD

The Computational Con

with 2 comments

The more I get into discussions about computational design, the more I realize that it is a waste of time. It is a waste of time, because computational design is not something that academics of architects care to define yet insist on talking about. Not because they have time to waste, but because it is an important con. It is a con that is deeply rooted within the history of architecture, from the day emperors hired the porto-architects to fashion in stone representations of their cosmic connections.

The Mythology of Mathematics

Few would fail to see the mythology of mathematics embedded in architecture. Secret proportions, magic ratios and Sustras for cosmic orientation continue till today. Architects are burdened to carry such secret knowledge that can give their patrons an edge over others. A long long time a go, they did have a genuine edge in terms of their understanding of mathematics materials and construction. But those centuries have passed. The profession has greatly matured and diversified. Architects have  lost the intellectual edge – as know all’s. They are no longer at the cutting edge of science. But they desperately need to be seen at that edge. It is this pressure,  that has forced them to embrace the use of computers in design  and also to make its use mysterious –  giving rise to computational design.

But this too, just did not happen. Most architects detested CAD when it was first introduced. The big battles in the faculties of architecture in the 80’s was about “should we use computers in design” or not. The promoters were few, but they persisted and soon they became professors – just for saying that computers are good for design. They keep saying that, and that is about all they have to say. Because they have nothing to say – they invent langues and field in which they alone are masters.

Professors of Computational Design

This is not to say, that there weren’t those who genuinely saw the trasformative potential of computers in design. They were a few. They too unfortunately had to connived the faculties imbued in Greek mythology that computers can be used to give architectural grammar a boost. By doing so, then they opens the flood gates for the dullest and the most opportunistic of architectural academics.  Some even obtained professorships by connecting Chinese history with high-school quality animation. Conferences after conferences helped give each other credibility. Some academics prided themselves in publishing over 500 papers – that is more papers than one would visit the toilet in a year.  Yet, it hard to find a professor whose work in this area has had the slightest effect in the way buildings are designed. In sharp comparisons members of the faculties of mechanical engineering and computer science created a wealth of new possibilities on which our CAD systems are now based.

Cultural Capital

But there is another aspect of the profession best explained by Garry Stevens in his book “The Favored Circle” that finally clarified for me, why such a heavy load of theoretical nonsense enjoyed such credence. Garry explains that “Institutionalized Cultural Capital is constituted by academic qualifications and educational attainments, knowing things and being certified as knowing them” making it possible to conjure into existence make belief knowledge , that is only now beginning  to be questioned.Computational Design has become some sort of cultural capital of the field. Garry introduces the concept of “field” which may help understand the particular nature of this field.  He sates that ” as a conservator of societies cultural capital, the educational system of necessity changes slowly….” and this slowness arises ” from no particular defect in architectural training, but from the very structure of the field ”

The New Dynamic

While architectural academia is being increasingly forced to accept the paradigms of performance measurements and search for global ratings – it is most likely to intensify it current publication obsessions, while an entirely new world of knowledge structure is emerging in parallel. User communities around CAD companies, open source intransitives and the vast amount of education material is is now openly shared is creating significant amounts of new knowledge and skills without formal frame works. These have now pretty much overtaken universities as the primary creators of skills and knowledge in this area. It lacks however, methods of authentication and compilation of knowledge that university based knowledge systems provide. It will be interesting to observe how knowledge emerges withing this highly distributed network. And there is hope in it because it is live with activity driven by people who are passionate about what they do.


Written by Sivam Krish

April 18, 2013 at 11:52 pm

Posted in Architecture, Education

2 Responses

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  1. Yes. Can-do-ism plus marketing. That’s all there is to it. Thanks for the good discussions here and on Linkedin over the last four years, the discussions themselves were worthwhile.

    Andreas Hopf

    August 3, 2014 at 1:28 am

  2. Hello Sivam Krish,

    The more I read about your blog on Generative Design the more I see you leaning towards the negative side of Generative Design, as in “Nature does not design”, because evolution is “as is”. “So we should stop calling it nature’s design?” But if Generative Design links to algorithms and algorithms to the shape of roots of a tree. Then I can only conclude that optimization equals evolution. But I am skeptical about GD too.

    Designs nowadays are more concentrated on function rather than aesthetics (at least it is in my country, where costs became more importantly after the financial crisis), ultimately, logarithms help optimize multiple parameters in a process called Multi-Objective Optimalisation (MOO). What if we design a building that has functionality in mind, but uses Architecture Design to concisely fill in the gap between subjectivity and performance?

    A computer cannot call a design “beautiful”, it has a neutral standpoint. Designers are preconceived of how a building should look like and mostly that’s OK. Because the client lives in the same environment as the designer, both have learned through education and culture that bricks are the traditional way of building a house. A computer does not think that way, which can be seen as a con. Concluding that, there will be no interest in Generative Design on a small scale. Only bigger projects where cost optimization and design collaboratively leads to better projects.

    There is no standard platform for optimization for parametric play. Like Autodesk’s Dreamcatcher project has no definite outcome, but was created as a promotional project. Autodesk’s iteration of GD: Dynamo is as much as a conceptual program. It has visual programming to a basic extent, which is problematic. GD is seen as an overhyped solution in the next generation in the CAD world. Just so much that people think that robot’s will replace humans in the future, GD is just an imaginary subject that has it’s use in the small side of things. But there is no solution to transform the standard platform like the current CAD systems like Revit into self-drawing machines.

    There probably (and there is already) plugins for CAD systems that adds parameters that help to define room space or thermal efficiency. For another 10 years it will stay that way. We keep optimizing CAD systems instead of parametric systems…


    August 21, 2015 at 11:55 pm

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