Computational Design and the Generated Form

Dana Tănase, Ionuț Anton
”on Form and Pattern” conference by Humboldt Club Romania

This presentation is focused on how architects devise form and how we can use computation in design (meaning using a computer as more than a simple drawing tool). In the first part we will talk about architecture and design as a process. In the latter part of the presentation we will describe some of our own work using computational design and digital fabrication tools.
Generally the way that architects devise form can be divided in two: form making and form finding. In architectural practice form is imposed by the will of the architect. He imagines the shape and takes all the decisions implied in the project. What we want to present is another approach in which the form is a result of a design process. The resulting form is no longer imposed, it is a result of a form finding process.For us the architectural form should be an interaction and negotiation between forces and criteria. These criteria, just to list a few of them are: function, structure, environmental, esthetical …
In the traditional way of thinking the architect was the only one responsible to design the project as a whole and all of its parts. He had to simplify some aspects of the project in order to manage all the complexity of the project. Doing so some relevant information can be lost. Another problem is also the fact that is very difficult to make adjustments along the way, incorporating a certain modification in all aspects of the project.
Now we have the opportunity to use computers as an integral part of the design process. Using computation we can handle all the data in a project and multiple layers of information at the same time. We can use analysis and simulation tools early on the design stage, while devising the form. By means of a feedback loop we can incorporate the results of these analysis and simulations as formal inputs in generating the form.
We can say that this process of design can be called Computational Design. The building brick of this design process is an algorithm, it’s the means by which we translate the design intent into a computational model. An algorithm is in fact an abstraction of a design process. First of all we look at other design processes to see the logic of form and to see how that particular logic can be adapted to architecture. So we turn to nature. But we don’t intend to copy the forms of nature as such, even though the natural forms can be very seductive.We try to go deeper and understand the way that nature thinks and develops its forms, to understand the process in which natural forms emerge.
And from all the processes in nature we focused on auto-organiation processes that you can find in nature. A auto-organization process determines the overall shape by means of simple rules governing a systems internal behavior that is exposed to external factors that act upon it. Such examples we can find in the way that snowflakes crystals are formed in similar manner, but always different. We can find similar processes in the way that earth cracks appear after the soil dries or in the way that hydrologic basins appear to be a tree like structure.
This idea of auto-organization processes is not new in architecture and has been pioneered by Antoni Gaudi and Frei Otto as a physical form finding process. Here material computation of physical models derive the form. Gaudi, the famous architect of the Sagrada Familia, used a system of hanging chains to find the shape of his building that unloaded forces in a optimal way. Another form finding process, for example, we can find in the work of Frei Otto in his research for tensile structures in which the form is found by means of pelicular soap bubbles. The shape that the soap bubble form is called a minimal surface and is a surface of minimal energy that is a result of equalizing pressure forces.
In the second part of the presentation, we showcased our design studio recent developments in the use of digital technologies in object design, education and research. Our work focuses on a process that we call digital form finding. We use computation to explore the creative potential of digital design and fabrication tools in making architectural artifacts. Firstly we presented the result of two of our workshops that explored a hand-on approach on digital design and fabrication means.
The idea behind the Component Build workshop starts from investigating a basic architectural principle; that architecture is built on discrete elements. Most of the times, for an economy of construction the building components were identical. Today’s architects can work with construction components that can be unique, each one different than the other, but a product of the same technological chain. Therefore we can argue for the possibility of building with components that are different, yet similar at the same time. The workshop offered attendees an opportunity to design objects by modeling a single parametric element that would populate a surface. By formally adapting to local conditions, each component contributes to a general shape.
The Informed Geometries workshop focused on digital form finding and generated geometries influenced by real data, performance analysis and physical forces simulation. One of the generative drives for the workshop was the use of a 3d printing technology that allows the making of small scale objects with a very high degree of complexity. The resulting geometry was similar to forms found in nature, at the same time are meant to be architectural objects. The workshop focused on both the control of a geometry informed by real data, and the control of the 3d printing process and its limitations. The proposed image is willfully pushed to the limits of reality, challenging the capabilities of digital tools.
QUAD_LIGHT is a design object developed using digital tools, with a shape that is not imposed, it is searched for. The computational environment is used for performance analysis and simulation of physical forces and uses this information in the form generating process. The resulting shape is developed so that once assembled it will hang gravitationally and take the shape of the digital model. Using an algorithm for design allows the customization of the form for each user and the generation of the fabrication information for each component. The algorithm allows the direct transfer of the information from the digital model to numerical controlled machines for the production of each individual component. Components are then manually assembled, therefore combining craftsmanship with the digital production.
SOFT_GEOMETRY collection explores the transformation of complex models from a very rigid state into a soft shape by means of deformation. The whole system is subject to external forces that induce variation in each element. Each cell negotiates its form and position in space as a result of interaction with its neighbors. The collection explores various geometries and deformation rules. The resulting shapes are different, but similar, each time.
ROBO_CRAFT is a series of research projects that aim to explore the use of industrial robots in the creation and production of architectural artifacts. The research is focused on using on exploring the creative potential of industrial robots in architecture and design. In other industries industrial robots are part of a highly rigid and automatic production chain. They perform the same repetitive task. Our intention is to make the robot perform a different task each time. We see in robots the potential for becoming highly customizable tools. The first project in the series develops an application of robotic hot wire cutting of a parametric object formed by 81 volumetrically different components. Although the geometry of the components is different, once assembled the general form appears as continuous. Using parametric systems, both for formal generation, and for fabrication (Rhino + Grasshopper + HAL Robot Programming & Control), ROBO_CRAFT implements a full digital workflow from the form generation to the parametric control of the robot and the fabrication of each individual volumetric components.