Technology Meets Architecture: An Introduction to Design Computation

Technology is radically changing the ways in which we live, work and play—from smartphones that allow us to stay in touch anytime, anywhere; to the advent of social media which is playing an increasing role in how we communicate and learn about the world.

Therefore, it’s probably no surprise to you that technological advances are also radically changing how my colleagues and I at NBBJ are designing buildings. In fact, we have evolved from using the drawing boards and 2D CAD systems of the 80’s and 90’s to more recently adopting Building Information Modeling or (BIM) to use on our projects. This tool allows multiple designers to work on a central 3D building model that contains key data to help teams design and construct a higher quality, more cost effective building.

The next step in our technological evolution is the use of design computation: software programs that use algorithms to link geometry with data to address specific problems. This new approach provides unprecedented opportunities to design higher quality buildings; optimize efficiency and creativity; and provide a much higher level of service to our clients.

For example, ten years ago design teams would take weeks or months to develop design ideas: brainstorming concepts, testing ideas against project requirements and producing graphics and drawings to represent their ideas. Today, using design computation we can develop intelligent, flexible building models that provide instant visual feedback along with key supporting data to help us ‘prove’ our design concepts at the earliest possible stages, decisions can be made faster, with better information. This computational approach enables NBBJ’s designers to explore a wider range of design variations in a shorter amount of time, ultimately improving the quality of the buildings we design.

At NBBJ, design computation is understood as not just a tool for optimizing quantitative performance or cost, but also as a way to optimize the human experience. For example, computational design can be used on a courthouse project to ensure that every participant has a good view of the proceedings. Also, the tool can be implemented on a corporate project to analyze walking time within and between buildings to ensure maximum connectivity between employees and amenity spaces. In each case, these techniques are helping to ensure we consistently deliver the highest possible value to our clients.