Bringing the drawing board into the digital age

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Many architects prefer the analogue feedback of a pen on paper. Can this experience ever be replicated digitally?

Digital tools unleash creativity and opportunity. The more-skilled you are at using today’s advanced design tools, the more they can influence your creativity, and the more they unlock new creative thinking. They can be catalysts for new designs, new intellectual property, and new ways to engage with clients – if you know how to use them.

It’s the desire to equip architects, designers and engineers with the skills they need to be more successful that drives architect-turned-specialist-training-designer Ben Coorey.

Originally an architect himself, with a Ph.D in architecture specialising in the use of digital design tools and methods, Ben today runs an online training company, The Institute of Digital Design (IDDA).

When lecturing as part of his Ph.D, he realised that students were constrained by a lack of skills needed to get the most from the digital tools available to them.

As Ben himself notes, “The difference between successful companies and those that might be struggling can often be the perceived barrier to becoming proficient in new tools: they may even already have them, but they can’t train their architects or employees fast enough. We remove those barriers.”

The Institute of Digital Design provides training in specialist architectural and design software, giving the employees of architect practices, design firms and engineering firms the skills they need to be productive on new software.

Having these skills is essential, according to Ben – for reasons that go beyond simple proficiency. “These tools allow you to create designs for buildings in new ways – for example, using what we call parametric design principles. Parametric design is essentially visual programming for architects. It lets you think about design as flexible objects rather than one-off designs. You can now create a modular design, with a single source of data for every aspect of that design. As a designer, you’re no longer constrained by having to create each design from scratch. and the software automatically recalculates costs and bill of materials, for example, as you update, refine or change your designs.

“Imagine you’re an architect working on the outside façade of a new building, perhaps using a panelling system. With a parametric design approach using parametric design software, you can iterate a large number of designs, and then apply any of them to any building you design in the future. You have a flexible way to capture knowledge, for example, about the effectiveness of sun shading for a given latitude or building orientation, and you can automate your design process in the future.”

“In computer-programming this is called object-oriented programming, so you can think of this as ‘object-oriented architecture’.”

He’s seen an explosion in the use of digital design software. And the more-skilled designers are at using advanced design software and methods, the more-advanced the software products themselves become. IDDA addresses this need – by presenting the training from the designer’s perspective, not that of a software engineer.

“This has led to something called generative design – the ability to create hundreds of alternatives. An architect or designer can now show a client new ideas that may well stimulate new concepts and new designs, all of which can be visualised within the software.”

Once agreed upon, designs can be filed in the system as client benchmarks, saving time and cost in the future.

“Many new design tools lead to a highly-analytical approach to architecture and design,” says Ben.

This design approach also leads to the “Internet of buildings” – smart structures that analyse lighting, heating, room occupancy, systems use, and more. All this data is then used by the design software on future designs.

This analytical approach to architecture increasingly extends to bespoke, short-run, specialist and even standardised fabrication using laser-cutting systems, 3D printers, and other digital output and computer-controlled devices.

Ben also sees these trends embracing embryonic tools such a virtual reality in the near-future: “Imagine using these data to drive a HoloLens render of a building design in which you, the client, are immersed. That would be exciting!”

As to the Microsoft Surface Studio, Ben is enthusiastic: “It brings the drawing board into the digital age. I say that because of its size, flexibility, and the way you use it. Many architects prefer the analogue feedback of a pen on paper when creating their design, especially in the early stages. One limitation with traditional CAD methods is that you have to connect two points in space, and to do that, you need to know the location of the points. ‘Freehand’ development lets you draw your lines until you see the design you wish to conceive. The Studio lets you do this.”

“The flexibility between the screen and drawing board is impressive. As new CAD systems take advantage of that, I think we will change from using the mouse and keyboard to using a touch-and-feel-approach to designing. It will lead to a much more tactical style of design and architecture.”

“I think it will be the future of how we design.”

In an industry in which fully-integrated digital collaboration is still fairly recent, the use of devices such as the Surface Studio will, as Ben believes, “be a game-changer. Collaboration was traditionally difficult. Everyone involved with a building has traditionally had their own set of drawings for example, and we’ve all seen how that can lead to mistakes on-site on any number of television programs! Using these advanced digital tools means we all work off one set of data. Collaboration improves, but not at the expense of the design process or of creativity. Architects and designers can focus on meeting clients’ briefs, and on creating new statements through their work, in exciting new ways.”

To learn more about the Microsoft Surface Studio visit our website.

 

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