What is generative design?

Spacemaker Team
Spacemaker Team September 21, 2021 6 min read

There’s been a lot of buzz around AI and generative design recently and the potential it has for revolutionizing the way we work in architecture and construction. Often used for optimization in manufacturing and engineering, generative design looks set to join the designer’s toolbox now that it’s accessible to a wider audience.

At Spacemaker we talk about the benefits of generative design in site planning and development, and our generative design tool Explore. But you might be wondering, what exactly is generative design and what’s in it for me as a designer? In this blog post, we’ll look at the basics of generative design and what it means in Spacemaker. Read on.

What is generative design?
Generative design opens up new insights and possibilities to designers as it lets them explore more options than ever before – and fast. Using a generative design tool, designers can quickly sketch out a multitude of solutions within the given goals and constraints. This empowers designers to push the boundaries of a concept to see what’s possible or not.

Let’s make a comparison:
* A designer using the computer as a manual design tool is limited to creating a handful of concepts within a certain time frame – even after a few too many all-nighters, there’s only so many options a person can produce.
* A computer can generate hundreds or even thousands of alternatives in seconds thanks to AI algorithms and the unlimited power of cloud computing. This gives the designer access to a much wider pool of options to explore and minimize the risk of overlooking any potential challenges and their solutions.
* The designer then reviews and shortlists the most appropriate options, and continues to tweak them through an iterative process to reach the most optimal solution based on the outcome they’re aiming for. This ease of iterating is the opposite of today’s workflow where decisions need to be locked in early, risking that a site is not fully explored, and changing these decisions later on, which more often than not is a costly exercise.

In essence, it’s a co-creation process where the design and computer join forces to achieve more than what was originally possible.

What is generative design in architecture?

The creative process of exploring and creating options is an essential part of architectural design. In continuation of that, generative design enhances and speeds up this process, so that designers have a tool to create the variety of options they need much easier and faster – this becomes a game-changer for meeting deadlines on time and improving workflows to ease the workload.

While architects have already been using generative design tools such as Dynamo or Grasshopper, they’re complex to use and require a high level of digital literacy. As a result, generative design remained niche and made little impact in the industry. However, at Spacemaker, we believe that’s about to change (see below).

Think of AI and generative design as a new team member that helps you explore beyond the traditional confines of design. It unlocks your creativity to find surprising new solutions to the increasing complexities of planning and construction today. These complexities involve many parameters, which you as the designer ask the generative design software to consider when it suggests options. For example design goals, regulations (e.g. heights, site boundaries), commercial requirements (e.g. GIA, number of apartments), performance (e.g. structural and thermal) and liveability factors such as daylight, views and sun. In other words, the options generated by the computer must meet your requirements which you specified.

While generative design can be used at any stage of the design process, it’s often useful at the beginning to kickstart the creative process and get a feel for the direction you want to take, and at the end to refine a design to optimize for a specific outcome.

What does generative design mean in Spacemaker?
In short, Explore, Spacemaker’s generative design tool helps designers answer the question, what if…? It lets designers quickly create different versions of a site proposal through Site Studies (layouts) and Height Studies (volume/height). Explore then makes an initial selection of a range of proposals for users to compare. This allows users to discover, evaluate and test way more options for their sites, and through this, make better informed decisions for their feasibility studies. During this process of optimization, designers can work with the confidence that they’re making the most of their site in terms of both livability and value.

Optimizing building heights in Height study

What’s important to add is that Spacemaker doesn’t take a ‘black box’ approach to generative design that magically creates the perfect proposal with the push of a button: we believe it’s an incremental and tangible process where the journey of discovery is equally important, and where designers steer the process by combining both manual and automatic adjustments to create a proposal that meets their standards for the architecture, feasibility and compliance.

In Spacemaker, generative design becomes an even more powerful tool for early stage planning when paired with real-time analysis. This means all the generated concepts can be tested e.g. for noise, daylight and views and the impact can be seen immediately. Designers can explore many different options at once and check them all, at the same time, for buildability and compliance. This enables them to design in a more outcome-driven way, where decisions are made based on the desired goals they want to achieve.

Five benefits of Spacemaker’s generative design

→ Save time: create and test more options easily and quickly to speed up the planningprocess.
→ Better decisions: make better informed decisions by having access to morepotential solutions at hand and real-time analyses.
→ Meet project goals: all solutions are immediately backed up by figures andtesting, helping ensure buildability and compliance.
→ Resilience: easily make iterations at any time, so that projects become moreresilient to change.
→ Creativity boost: explore new solutions previously unimaginable and enjoymore time for creativity as the computer automates the boring number crunching.

In the bigger picture generative design, and AI as a whole, is a key part of Spacemaker’s iterative workflow. In combination with analysis, assisted design/drawing tools which help designers create site concepts in a few clicks and collaborative possibilities through an open platform accessible to all stakeholders, it all comes together to create a seamless and efficient way of site planning. As it’s easy to make changes and discover new options at any point in time, decisions don’t have to be locked in early on. This makes the planning process more resilient to change. This new workflow is a significant improvement on the current sequential way of working which we call a waterfall model and consider a main cause of inefficiency in the building industry.

Spacemaker was the first company to successfully make generative design so easy to use and accessible to everyone – our users don’t need to be computer programming experts. The goal was to offer fast results – you can test different designs for your site feasibility studies in seconds and minutes, not days or weeks.

When it comes to site planning and AI, we see Explore as a powerful tool that provides inspiration and enhances creativity. It opens up a whole new world of perspectives to architects, urban planners and developers for site acquisition and site development while helping them tick the boxes they need to successfully meet their project goals.

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