Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Decoding Computational Geometry

Info & Images: Courtesy Ar. Vignesh Kaushik
Read Time: 3 mins
"WOWAD parametric design indiaartndesign"

With a marked spate in iconic architecture and organic built forms that hold us in awe, IAnD talks to Vignesh Kaushik, Architect & Computational Designer of WOWAD to understand the basics of computational design.

“Parametric design introduces a shift in the mindset of the designer from producing a single state design to exploring a family of possible outcomes,” informs Ar. Vignesh Kaushik. To put it in simple words – “It is a strategic modelling process used to generate building geometry based on a set of rules or inter-related parameters. By varying any parameter in the model, the entire model is regenerated automatically in much the same way that an excel spreadsheet automatically recalculates any numerical changes.” 

Intrigued by this simplification that technical jargon only tends to complicate, IAnD delves deeper into the subject. Excerpts from the conversation:

IAnD: Is parametric design purely cosmetic? How does it benefit the end user?
VK: Often mistaken as an emerging architectural style rather than a method or process, parametric design is ascribed a false, skin-deep character that is believed to generate sculptural form at best.

But then, whenever a new technology is introduced, there is this period of awkward discovery, where designers tend to push the technology to its limit just to see, what it can do. This creates a body of work that may appear irrelevant and cosmetic. Gradually, the work matures and a more pragmatic attitude towards the technology develops.

"WOWAD parametric exploration symbiosis foundation indiaartndesign"

With parametric design, such pragmatism is already being witnessed in work that is driven by sustainable design strategies that benefits the end user directly: Parametric design process allows for integration with performance analysis tools (solar gain, glare, daylight, wind flow, vantage views etc.) and provides a rapid feedback loop between building geometry and measurable performance data. This helps architects quickly evaluate multiple options and make an informed design decision, using performance as a guiding tool.

IAnD: Is geometric complexity the main reason to choose a parametric design process? Can it be used for creating everyday objects?
VK: The overarching idea behind creating a parametric model is exploration of building form regardless of geometric complexity. But for complex geometry, a parametric model is absolutely necessary since it will save enormous time and effort down the line in the design process.

"WOWAD parametrics bottle example indiaartndesign"

You can apply parametric thinking to design any object that you see around you, as long as you are able to identify the relationship among the various elements of that object. For eg., you can define the shape of a water bottle as a revolution of a sectional curve interpolated through five points. By varying the value of any of the five point parameters, new design variants are generated.

The complexity of a parametric model is not in its geometry but in its relationship constraints. In this case, what would be complex (and interesting) is to create a relationship constraint between the five points such that it produces bottle variants of a fixed volume only, say 1 litre of water. Such constraints help designers eliminate undesirable design variants.

"WOWAD parametric exploration symbiosis foundation student accomodation indiaartndesign"
Parametric exploration of student accommodation at Symbiosis Foundation
"WOWAD parametrics illuminance levels indiaartndesign"

IAnD: What software and tools do you use in the parametric design process?
VK: The most widely used parametric design tool by architects is Grasshopper (Gh), which is a plugin to 3-D modeling software called Rhinoceros. It has become the preferred platform
because it has an easy-to-use GUI, requires low level of technical knowledge on programming languages and has a huge collection of additional plug-ins for design simulation and analysis. Another tool that is quite useful is a plugin called Dynamo that connects parametric models to Revit BIM.

However, both Grasshopper & Dynamo doesn't necessarily scale well for certain real life design problems. So I am increasingly adopting a much more powerful tool called SideFX Houdini, advanced Visual Dataflow Modelling software used in the VFX/Animation industry. This tool is capable of producing highly complex parametric procedures in really short time span.

"WOWAD parametric exploration residential building indiaartndesign"
Parametric design applied to a residential bungalow
Parametric design applied to a single element of design

IAnD: How do architects/designers, who do not have the expertise with such tools, implement parametric ideas in their design process?
VK: Among the many specialist roles that support the architect, and one that is proving effective in the AEC industry is that of a computational design consultant, who can be brought in during different stages of the design process. His primary focus is to iteratively develop, evaluate and share geometric information with other members of the design team to ensure that multiple design variants are explored and the best options are developed further at all stages of the project, thereby allowing a high level of resolution of the design problem.  In short, he is responsible for creating computational procedures that drive ‘Design Optioneering’.

Vignesh Kaushik is an architect focusing on the use of computational design to generate architectural concepts. He also curates a weekly newsletter called Thank God It's Computational (TGIC), where he shares the top content at the intersection of Design, Computation and Technology.

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