Can We Trust Computers to Do Generative Design?


May 29, 2020 | All

In a recent episode of the Bridging the Gap Podcast, Todd Weyandt and Lilli Smith, Sr. Product Manager for the AEC Generative Design Team at Autodesk, discussed the present and future of generative design and its implications for the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. For so long, computers have had little to do with the generation of a design in an architectural project. Since the advent of generative design, many architects are beginning to wonder if their jobs will become obsolete—or even if we should trust computers to complete this type of job in the first place. So, what does generative design imply?

Autodesk defines generative design as a design exploration process in which “designers or engineers input design goals into the generative design software, along with parameters such as performance or spatial requirements, materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints.” The generative design software “explores all the possible permutations of a solution, quickly generating design alternatives” and is even able to “learn” from feedback about which iterations worked and which did not. Generative design software can be utilized for manufacturing, architecture, engineering, and construction.

And how would Lilli Smith define generative design? “That is a good question,” she said. “It’s really about a workflow . . . that uses data and computers that generate a lot of options that you can analyze and compare against each other.” She added that this definition may be “a little misleading” to some people, since computers are not generating designs out of nowhere, but rather the designs are based on the models that a person describes. Todd expanded on this and said, “It’s not a magic button to wipe architects out.”

Generative design has not seemed to “take off” very widely across the industry because, although it has been available in a public beta version (Project Refinery) for several years, the installation process was effectively a barrier. Now that Project Refinery tools can be installed with Autodesk Revit 2021, however, that barrier will be greatly reduced.

Besides that obstacle, architects may hesitate to embrace generative design because they see it as a program which could replace their career and creativity. Lilli suggested that architects should not feel as if they are being replaced by generative design; instead, they should learn about it and partner with it. “It can enhance their design workflows,” she said. “There are still a lot of skills that designers have that are very important parts” of that work. With generative design, the computer augments and studies “more than [a person] could do manually.” Todd agreed: “It’s not taking the creativity away; it’s shifting and adding a whole new level to it that can take your creativity to new bounds.”

Lilli Smith, AIA, is an architect with a passion for re-envisioning the way buildings are designed. After working for several years as an architect, she joined fledgling startup Revit Technology and helped grow Revit to where it is today – in almost every architect’s tool box. She has worked on many Autodesk tools including Vasari, FormIt, Dynamo, Project Fractal, and Project Refinery.

If you’re interested in exploring the possibilities with generative design, contact Applied Software today to talk to an industry expert about taking your creativity to new heights. 

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