Generative Design

The future of CAD

Archive for the ‘Genetic Design’ Category

Why co-creation and mass customisation will rely on genetic modelling

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Customisation is often an afterthought necessitated after the product is launched, bringing with it  the pains of late adjustments.

This is now changing.  Due to market saturation products and services are being designed for customisation. Generative Design has a defining role to play in this.

CAD was first developed to replace paper based design. A piece of paper can hold only one design at a time. But nuts, bolts and many mechanical parts shared similar geometry and were only differentiated by dimensions. So engineers got efficient. They created table driven configurations. Then, marketeers found going back and forth between engineers accountants and production managers a drag. Online configurations were stitched together based on existing work process to help customers wants to what companies can offer. But underneath it all, an even greater, more powerful phenomenon  was simmering.

Consumer Creation

In its ideal form, it would eliminate altogether the human involvement in mitigating between what consumers want and what companies can produce. The growing collection of web-based configuration technologies can now ensure that Joe, the customer, can create something that is both useful for him and viable for the company to produce and support – all by himself. But it is possible mainly due to a series of hidden rules that prevents Joe from doing the wrong thing; so that Joe does not configure a laptop  that he cannot carry home. Most customisation solutions today are based on rules.

Why rules are bad

It is known that even simple combinatorial design problems can lead to not millions but trillions of possibilities. Currently, this nightmare of choice is narrowed down by writing rules. Often, hundreds or thousands of rules will be required to produce a decent set of viable designs.

Rules are there to avoid confusion. They need to be simple and straight forward. Hence they are crude. They are good when the context of its application is simple. If it is complex (as in design)  you need to make exceptions (or clauses). Therefore, rules tend to  multiply rules. Worse still, difficult to judge the effect of one rule on another or on the design itself. Rules written in one domain will affect another. Worse still, only experts know how to write rules. Even if you mange to write them – you are left with another big problem.  You need to generate the designs out of these rules. But despite their limitations, rule based configurators are very much in use – because that is currently the only way to trim solution into a viable range.

Setting limits is easier than setting rules

What is now achieved though patchwork methodologies may be achieved much more elegantly – if the problem of configuration is resolved at conception – directly on the representation of the product. Genetic modelling can do that. It will allow designers to conceive designs that are fundamentally configurable. Genetic modelling will allow them to represent 100o’s of design possibilities based on a single CAD model. Instead of waiting for customer requirement (that now force companies to create variations) it is now possible to create ‘variable models’ as part of the design development process.

The walled garden

The holy grail of consumer creation is for companies to provide the greatest choice to consumers, allowing them to design/configure products according to their own individual requirements. The danger here is that consumers may come up with designs that are dysfunctional, un-manufacturable or beyond their means. Hence, companies provide not only choices but methods by which consumers can make intelligent choices. A combination of genetic modelling, filtering and performance measurements working jointly can crack this problem elegantly – keeping Joe within a walled garden of constrains.

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Written by Sivam Krish

May 31, 2011 at 11:18 am

Nature of Order

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Generative Design has an unfortunate start. Its early promoters developed their thinking based on the medieval concepts on the nature of order. Architects have been long obsessed with the aesthetic rationality of order, which formed the central tenets of architectural  philosophy. A tenet that is now being shaken at its very foundation, bringing down with it the validity of centuries worth of interpretation of the nature of order that once formed the core of Western science and civilisation.

An Iraq born Professor Prof. Jim Al Kahaili traces the story of its dismantling.

What struck me most was this  profound statement :

Design does not need active interfering designers. It is an active part of the universe

We need to think deeply about this. It prods us to think through a monumental question : What it is to design ?  It is the  very same question that obsessed ancient architects as they developed a rationality that suited them and their monarchic sponsors. They built their design philosophy on the platform of geometric logic that was then prevalent.

The new understanding of the nature of order has profound implications in every field of human endeavour. In architecture, I hope the implications are clear. It disconnects rationality from the aesthetic fundamentals that we have grown up with – assumed to be universal and on which the modern architecture was built. We now discover its logical foundations to be flawed.

This leads architecture into a catastrophic intellectual vacuum.

Is the orderless form langauge that we see in architecture today an expression of this  ?  Or is it a juvenile reaction to it ?



Written by Sivam Krish

February 27, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Code against Code – a Darwinian theory of software development ?

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The mechanical era produced many marvelous characters, Charles Darwin being my favourite.  Admired by me for his  great contribution to the theory of design and also for his marvelous beard. Always wondered how he found the time to groom it ? amidst his all-absorbing work. I guess, it must have helped him preserve his dignified composure as he reeked havoc amidst the  Christian community,  the biologists, zoologist and geologists of his time.

His then controversial theory is now used by scientist of all hues to understand and interpret how things evolve. We have discussed in this blog how his theories of evolution applies to design. But  since software plays a defining role in generating designs, should we not stop to think how this  theory may apply to the tools of design ?

a community of code ?

Code  now plays a critical activity in the determination of architectural form. Its effect on architectural form is now apparent. Its evolution and its use within the younger architectural community is beginning to play a defining role in architecture; mainly because designers have now started to play with code in a way they have never done before.

Now does this require us to assume that this code needs to be open sourced ?  cranked out mainly by hippie types? argues not ; an, an  interesting article –  A Darwinian theory of open source development strategies. It argues for a healthy co-existence of proprietary and open source software each building on the strength of the other each having particular advantages that is necessary and healthy for the development of software.

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Written by Sivam Krish

February 12, 2011 at 7:24 am

What is generative design ?

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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 :

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Written by Sivam Krish

January 29, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Cambrian architecture ?

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Are we in the midst of an architectural Cambrian explosion  – where weird and wonderful forms have suddenly emerged ?

” Beginning around 540 mya, there was a vast and sudden explosion of bilaterian/metazoan diversity and complexity that appeared multi-regionally throughout the oceans of the Earth within 5 million to 10 millions years. Without any evidence of intermediary forms, over 32 phyla suddenly evolved, many with the complex eyes, nervous system structures, and body plans seen in modern animals “.(Journal of cosmology )


Many of these creatures were very complex and bizarre in appearance and immediately died out. Vast numbers would evolve and just as suddenly become extinct.

New technological possibilities, new social-economic conditions and the revolt against established  aesthetic frame works seem to have brought about an explosion in architectural form. Building forms that we see today have never been seen before.

Biologists are still arguing amongst themselves as to the causes of this sudden explosion of biological form. The Cambrian period marks a critical point in the evolution of life forms. It produced the ancestors of virtually all the creatures that swim, fly, and crawl today in a relatively short period in time. It is here, that biological architecture passed a  critical threshold.

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Written by Sivam Krish

November 27, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Generative cells

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A few moons ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the lab of Jon McCormack. In the vast campus of Monash University, I was surprised to find it located with in the department of computer sciences; I had expected it to be within the  department of architecture. I had known of Jon’s work as I had seen online – some of his beautiful generated rendition of unique Australian native flowers that grace the landscape that I now live in. But, what I found was far more interesting.

His research student Benjamin Porter demonstrated some interesting work that mimics the embryonic development of chicken limbs. A fascinating area of research that had long intrigued me. It demonstrates how cells without over all process control can form complex geometries orchestrated by a symphony of chemicals released in a coordinated sequence.Developmental biologist now understand the  diversity of life forms in terms of the exquisite variations of this orchestration.

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Written by Sivam Krish

October 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Breeding better designs : the comming age of Genetic Algorithms

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The shoveling of genes is what created all of us and all life around us. For some times now, researchers have been able to use the virtues of this method through a technique called genetic algorithms; creating designs by breeding them. But so far, such breeding (or designing) happened only within research labs, producing remarkable results confined again within the walls of the academic world except for solving rather boring problems in optimisation, where minor improvements are made by mindless churning. But,  its prospects in design are  tantalizing.

This technique is based on creating code that represents the design and subjecting it to breeding and selection, often through the use of single criteria called fitness function. Thousands of designs are then breed and the best are chosen according to the fitness function to breed further. But all this, requires programming skills and other skills that are beyond most designers. But this is about to change.

Tools like Galpogas, by Rhino makes it now possible to implement such schemes directly on CAD.

It is also possible to implement such schemes on top of other CAD packages, provided that the design data is appropriately structured. Designers can now drive the evolution of their designs – easily. They will soon be able breed their designs.

The ‘gene’ of genetic algorithms is about to escape the labs

In the hands of designers, it will soon do amazing stuff.

Written by Sivam Krish

July 25, 2010 at 11:49 am