The Future of Generative Design: Autodesk on Architecture and Machine Learning
Autodesk has quickly become an industry standard for architecture and engineering software. Bringing together a range of tools and programs with resources like Autodesk University and the Autodesk Foundation, the company is exploring the future of how we design and build. In an exclusive interview with ArchDaily, we explore the company’s thoughts on generative design, machine learning and new emerging technologies.
As the Vice President of Building Design Strategy at Autodesk, Vikram Dutt has held various roles, from Industry Strategy and Marketing to Product and Strategic Planning and Operations. He is joined by Lilli Smith, Senior Product Manager AEC Generative Design, who brings more than 20 years of history and insight into software and product design.
Can you tell us a little about the generative design technology at Autodesk?
Vikram Dutt: At Autodesk, we view generative design technology as a tool to help our customers adopt more automated ways of performing design exploration. Initially, our generative design-based initiatives were focused to the manufacturing industry, but now, with the introduction of Autodesk Revit 2021, we’ve expanded this powerful technology to the industries of architecture, engineering and construction. We believe the introduction of Generative Design in Revit will allow AEC professionals to explore, evaluate and identify solutions tailored to project goals and constraints – considering a wide range of factors like density, aesthetics, efficiency and sustainability along the way. Through generative design technology, we’re striving to help these professionals spend less time on tedious tasks and, instead, focus their expertise on more complex design challenges.
Autodesk has helped leverage generative design within the manufacturing industry; how can new tools like Generative Design in Autodesk Revit 2021 help create design ideas based on project goals/parameters?
Vikram Dutt: We’ve collaborated with globally recognized manufacturing companies like Airbus, Volkswagen Group and others for years to explore complex design problems with the assistance of generative design technology. Building on these years of experience, we’re excited to expand generative design workflows to the industries of architecture, engineering and construction, now available in Revit 2021 for AEC Collection users. What this expansion means is that architects and designers within these fields now have access to the scale, speed and precision of generative design and can apply its algorithmic problem-solving to their design processes. Similar to the manufacturing space, Generative Design in Revit allows these AEC professionals to generate and explore as many design solutions as they’d like in a matter of minutes and make data-informed decisions.
Lilli Smith: This expansion and launch of Generative Design in Revit is motivated by the universal challenges that architects and other design professionals experience on a daily basis – balancing multiple concerns, client wishes and design constraints all at the same time. We want our AEC Collection users to think of generative design as assistive technology that helps make parts of their job easier – a tool for quickly gathering data, assessing potential solutions and confidently moving forward. Through its simple interface, designers can use Generative Design in Revit to launch studies directly from their Revit ribbon in any model view. From there, the software will return potential solutions based on the inputted parameters and help designers visualize a range of options.
In Revit 2021, we’ve included three design sample studies to help AEC users get started, including Three Box Massing, Workspace Layout and Optimize Window Views. Dynamo users can also connect different elements from the Revit model to create custom studies, shareable across firms to help meet the specific challenges and standards of a given design studio.
Over the last few decades, Autodesk has had a major impact on the architecture and construction industries. The company has become synonymous with a range of design and engineering software. Can you tell us a bit about Autodesk’s lesser known projects or endeavors, like the Autodesk Foundation and Autodesk University?
Vikram Dutt: Across the company, our Autodesk team believes in the power of design as a medium for positive change and it’s important to us that our tools help others create a more sustainable and resilient future. The Autodesk Foundation serves to champion these core beliefs by helping impact-oriented nonprofits, social enterprises and startups maximize their efforts through funding, software, training and related support.
One great example of this is MASS Design Group, an organization based in Malawi, Africa that’s working to increase accessibility of health services for women in labor. With the Autodesk Foundation’s ongoing support, MASS Design Group creates short-term housing near hospitals – safe and sanitary maternal waiting villages that welcome women approaching the ends of their pregnancies. We’re incredibly proud to work with organizations like MASS Design Group and many others, providing support via funding donations, product donations as well as employee volunteering.
Autodesk University, on the other hand, is our flagship conference that takes place all over the world – Las Vegas, London, India, Japan, Germany and the Middle East. Each AU experience is rich with industry specific content for professionals looking to upskill, innovate and learn. It provides a great platform to connect with peers, hear from Autodesk Partners and explore the latest technology. Perhaps more relevant than ever given the current global public health emergency, industry professionals can explore previous Autodesk University sessions online from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
What advice would you give to architects and firm leaders looking to implement new technology and generative design into their practice?
Lilli Smith: With the introduction of new technology comes unlimited opportunities for the AEC industries to evolve processes and improve outcomes. While we’re dedicated to working with each customer to determine the best recommendations for their individual firm’s needs, I think it’s important to keep the following considerations in mind:
Talk to your team and technology partners. Consistent communication and collaboration with different team members is vital when adopting new technology – Generative Design in Revit included – because it provides a diverse range of perspectives and ensures everyone is set up for success moving forward.
Start small and scale with confidence through different internal taskforces and prototypes. Then, start with a project and evaluate if the process is adaptable for scaling in future projects.
Learn from others. There are so many resources out there to help teams implement new technology like Generative Design in Revit. A few great examples include the Autodesk Architecture Learning Center, product forums and the Autodesk Knowledge Network. We also have the Generative Design Primer which is there to help AEC professionals automate the design exploration process and optimize those designs to achieve better outcomes.
Looking at the influence of artificial intelligence and machine learning, how do you think these broader fields will shape architecture and construction in the years ahead?
Vikram Dutt: Today, designers spend significant time with manual workflows – especially those that are tedious or repetitive and could easily be automated with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning. This technology gives designers the opportunity to focus their expertise and efforts on solving complex design problems, rather than work through the same small adjustments or challenges time and time again. AI and machine learning aid through learning from past behavior and capturing data – so the promise this technology brings to design is the ability leverage that data to automate processes moving forward.
Machine learning in construction is showing great success. For example, one construction customer realized a 20 percent increase in quality and safety, and an estimated 25 percent increase in worker productivity by deploying Autodesk BIM 360 Construction IQ, a part of the Autodesk Construction Cloud.
What are some generative design projects that you find inspiring?
Lilli Smith: Stamhuis is an Autodesk customer leading the way in retail shop design and renovation. In addition, their team was also one of Autodesk’s early beta users and provided critical feedback throughout the development of Generative Design in Revit. Like many within the AEC industry, they operate under tight timelines for clients with razor-thin profit margins, so the use of generative design technology has proven to be exceptionally helpful for both time and cost-savings.
When Stamhuis incorporated generative design at the start of a retail project, they were able to optimize designs – boosting efficiencies for the location and size of the cash register area, ratio between the shop and inventory storage, shelf spacing, aisle size and more. Their team truly embraced the automation that generative design technology offers and, as a result, they were able to explore highest-performing solutions and create added value for their client.
The positive results were clear. As Ron Rijkers, Team Manager for BIM and Innovation at Stamhuis said, “It would take one of our designers four hours for a typical design of these liquor stores and the standard layout. Now, in the span of 15 minutes we can gather the information, run the script, and receive 40 optimized design options.”
As you look to the future, are there any topics you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?
Vikram Dutt: Our Autodesk team is working around the world to help customers design and build a better future. Collectively, we have the power to push design to a place where performance and creativity adds value at scale to address global trends of urbanization, diminishing resources and labor shortages. More than ever before, we’re navigating a highly varied workforce and fragmented project delivery processes, which only increase the critical need for efficiency and improved design delivery. In partnership with technology, we can co-create the future of design to meet the ever-expanding challenges ahead. Architects and designers are well-aware of these various challenges, but here are a few areas that should be kept in mind moving forward:
Generative Design and Automation: Autodesk is working to democratize technologies that can help professionals automate the creation of design options and optimize those designs to achieve better outcomes. These technologies can help minimize waste and deliver a greater range of innovative solutions that allow architects and designers to spend less time on tedious tasks and, instead, focus their time on adding real value during all phases of the design process.
Sustainability: Informed design has a tremendous capacity to help create sustainable, healthy and resilient communities. At Autodesk, we’re empowering architects to evaluate and analyze building performance and energy analysis earlier in the design process. We support better integrated processes across architecture and engineering disciplines that are enabling the design industry to be more successful in building a sustainable future.
Big data and analytics: As data continues to come at us in unprecedented amounts of volume, Autodesk is looking at how to make data more accessible and easier to interpret throughout different phases of design. To us, the future of design is data connected design. We must leverage data driven insights to inform better and more efficient design decisions.
Industrialization: As the influence of manufacturing on the construction industry continues, the future of architecture will expand and be increasingly directed towards leveraging creativity to designing systems for constructability.
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