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6 ways smart AEC firms are using computational design methods

Rapid prototyping, custom plug-ins, and data dashboards are among the common applications for computational design.

June 07, 2016 |

A project team at HDR collaborates on design solutions for a sports facility project with the help of data-driven design tools. The firm has been using CM tools for several years. Photo courtesy HDR

A growing number of firms, including HDR, NBBJ, and Thornton Tomasetti, are investing in talent and training to advance their computational design capabilities. Here’s a roundup of the clever applications for CD:

1. Rapid prototyping. Why design a few prototypes when you can create thousands to find the ideal solution? Algorithm-based design processes allow teams to develop and explore dozens, even hundreds, of prototypes in a matter of hours—something that would be impossible using traditional methods.

2. Rapid iteration. Similarly, computational design is being used to more efficiently test and refine particular design schemes through rapid iteration—design, test, refine, repeat, in quick succession.

3. Data dashboards. Data can be an incredibly helpful resource for Building Teams, especially if it’s readily accessible and real time. Progressive firms are using CD methods to extract vital data from, for example, BIM models to feed custom Excel dashboards. Other firms are investing in more scalable platforms, such as Web-based data visualization, to gain insight into their data. 

4. Automating repetitive duties. From mundane tasks like renaming files to complex projects like calculating the walking steps in a hospital floor plan, computational design tools can be used to automate the grunt work in the design process. 


Using computational design tools, a team at HDR created an iterative process for building on-the-fly parametric models directly from sketches.


5. Creating custom plug-ins for existing software platforms. Need a tool that doesn’t exist on the market? No problem. Just code a solution. An extreme example is Thornton Tomasetti’s TTX database, which provides real-time read, write, and sync capabilities across six software tools: ETABS, Grasshopper, RAM Structural System, Revit, SAP 2000, and Tekla.

6. Evaluating the performance of early design concepts. Energy analysis, daylight modeling, even cost and schedule impacts—CD tools allow teams to make informed decisions much earlier in the design process.

For more on computational design, see BD+C's feature story, “Conquer computational design: 5 tips for starting your journey.”

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