Democratizing Generative Design with Anthony Zuefeldt

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“The landscape of technology is changing before our eyes,” said Anthony Zuefeldt in the inaugural May 13 episode of AEC Game Changers. Anthony, Senior Specialist at Applied Software, joined Amy Worthy and the rest of the group in a discussion about generative design. With a background in computational design and proficiency in Autodesk Dynamo and Grasshopper®, Anthony has unique insight into the technology of generative design and what can be achieved with the tools already available in the world of AEC.

“When you really take a step back and take stock of what’s happening…it’s staggering. It really is,” he said. “Innovation is exploding, and the way we work is really changing before our eyes.” In the AEC industry, advancements are taking place almost too quickly to take stock of. “We’re kind of at the forefront of a massive paradigm shift in the way we design,” he said.

In regards to making generative design accessible to everyone, or democratizing it, Anthony explained we “need to grasp that we’re in a rapidly maturing boom era. It’s important to understand the confluence of factors that have catalyzed the concept of generative design and make it increasingly accessible and powerful.” At its core, generative design is a human-based strategy that augments human capabilities by using algorithms to automate design logic. You have design ideas, plus building codes, plus sustainability, plus a budget. Using a computer, the algorithms can control and manage much larger portions of functionality, data and analysis than a person can and then present you with hundreds or even thousands of design options.

Another important issue that Anthony introduced during the discussion is acknowledging that generative design is hard. Although it has existed as a concept for a long time, only now are we starting to fully grasp it. “We’ve been talking about this since before I was born, right, for decades and decades,” he said, adding that it really hasn’t manifested in a meaningful way until the last ten years.

To be successful, Anthony reminds us that we need to be intentional. “We have to frame the problem to be solved in the parameters to be manipulated,” he said. “We have to be very targeted with this, but on the balance of that, we have to make it repeatable for many generative design solutions so it doesn’t go too far.”

The future of generative design is something that many in the AEC industry are anxious to see, including Anthony. “We’ll get to see things that we never conceived of, and by doing so, we get to go and try it. We can actually make better design. I think that’s the thing that everybody wants,” he said. “For us, it’s continually saying, ‘what’s the next step?’ and being able to take this a little bit further with some extra effort to gain a lot more.” In the long run, generative design will yield great results. We can already see how much progress has been made in the past few decades, and we are expectant that there will be a great deal more. 

The last decade has marked tremendous progress in these emergent workflows. The advent of open application programming interfaces (APIs) in building information modeling (BIM) technology platforms is transforming the way the AEC industry works. In the recent Bridging the Gap episode with Lilli Smith, the present and future of generative design are explicated for those who would like some more information about it. In conjunction with computational design tools like Dynamo, the promise of increasingly sophisticated and powerful generative design solutions becomes more and more tangible in this changing design landscape.

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