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The emergence of computer software in architectural offices most-

Generative Design

Interview

Design Digitally,
Make Digitally
Where Codes and Algorithms are the New Tools of Architecture
Zubin Khabazi interviewed by Hannaneh Sobhani and Peyvand
Yavari
Creativity always starts by sketching some ideas and then jumping right into the drawing of plans, sections and three-dimensional
models on our laptops. But the conventional approaches do not fit
the ever-expanding technologies anymore. Generative design has
started to change the face of architecture recently, and as a matter
of fact, it is going to pervade more in the world of architecture in the
near future. Architect Zubin Khabazi explains the general principles
of this new field, in a simple language.
What is the general, principal difference between the process of
design in classic architecture and generative or algorithmic design?
To make a short statement of the difference, I would say that
the use of computer software actually started to change the way we
design spaces and also it affected the way we make architecture.
Fabrication is the new term that we use in this field. We started to
design everything by digital media and to deliver this design to the
machines that could make architectural products by means of digital
code. So in a way, we are trying to make a building made by digitally
designed and fabricated pieces.

ly affected the formal representation of architectural design. So what


we are looking at is a long history of architectural representations
using 3D software. It was the very first step. During the time a style
of architecture arrived that we called blob architecture or blobitecture.
The difference between classic architecture and this new movement
was the incorporation of curved surfaces. But most of those projects
remained on paper and have not been realized because of the building
technologies.
Gradually, the process of digital design shifted towards digital
fabrication. Therefore, the idea is to design something and then try
to make it with digital machinery. The moment that architects were
mostly engaged with only form has now passed. They are trying to
develop systems to implement other issues like climatic themes or
adaptability. I know a couple of projects where they are trying to deal
with planning issues by optimizing the surfaces, better views to the
outside and accessibility on the inside, but at the moment there has
only been a small step taken in that direction. But I think there are
going to be quite a lot more taken in the near future.
About identity in architecture: Is it possible to put factors of context
in the process of this kind of design?
What I see in the current catalogue of contemporary architecture
is pretty much the same type of architecture everywhere. I would
say that the aesthetic factors are derived from software generators.
Architects tend to use curved surfaces and component-based design,
using almost the same types of software and algorithms. So design
outputs are almost the same. But the general process of algorithmic
design and fabrication is not only in the direction of designing new
buildings; it is a very general tool, capable of cooperating with classical
architecture as well. For example in the [morphogenesism] laboratory,
we have designed and fabricated a couple of traditional Iranian domes
like a Karbandi dome; all made by patterns generated by classical
Iranian geometry and the fabrication process was also a combination
of modern and classic methods.

As this method is quite newly introduced, we are curious to know


how this system deals with the practical aspects of traditional architecture like planning or circulation.

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About the interviewee


Zubin Khabazi, architect, researcher and writer, is
the founder of [morphogenesism]. He studied Master
of Emergent Technologies and Design (EmTech) at
the Architectural Association, School of Architecture
(AA) London. He has taught and lectured at different
universities and schools of architecture but recently
broadened his research and design investigations
through publications of Generative Algorithms worldwide. Generative Algorithms as a design research
medium in the field of parametric architecture and
algorithmic solutions has gained global attention from
students and architects.

A set up to construct the final shell


of the workshop, after material
system development and tests.
AA Visiting School in Lyon, Les
Grands Ateliers. Image courtasy
of [morphogenesism].

Generative Design

So you are using it as a tool for now, but if it becomes smarter and
more responsive then it will actually become a design method, not
a tool. Am I right?
Yes, even at the moment it is a way of designing, but there are
few people who can develop design algorithms. Lots of people are
using these software packages but they are all using the same methodology, which they have learned in tutorials or from known projects.
But if these new design technologies expand a little bit, I am sure we
will see more of peoples backgrounds or different impacts of classical
geometry or their methods of construction and this would change the
catalogue of forms we are looking at.
How about the role of the architect in the process of parametric
design? Is the architect an operator or a person who gathers information and puts it in the software? Or can he choose to put identity
and creativity into the process?
Of course the architect is still there, but instead of designing on
paper, you are using a different medium. In order to arrange your
ideas you need to code and you have to be capable of using design
algorithms through computation, knowing how your design will be
generated in a computer scheme. Still, there are many steps that the
designer should take, but the design medium has changed. So the
complexity of the project that requires an information process has
shifted from your mind to the computers mind and it helps you to ask
its power of data processing to think instead of you, but you define
almost everything for it.
This question has another aspect. Would all architects then be
creative? Or are some of them going to use the predefined algorithms
that are available from some online plug-ins? There are photography
apps that can change the look of photos on your iPhone, so now we
can do something that a professional graphic artist was doing ten years
ago! It would happen in architecture as well. It would be possible for so
many people to use these software packages just by using prepared
algorithms and systems.
It has been said that this design method would be so sustainable
and there will be no waste of energy and material. But on the other
hand, custom-producing every element requires a large budget.
What is your attitude towards this production method?
Theres a difference between what is happening now and the
ideal approach that we are working towards. At the moment it is not
really economical because we are using high-tech machines and
lots of materials.
I would say that what superstars like Zaha Hadid are doing is not
sustainable. But since these projects are mostly museums, high-quality
hotel projects or stadiums, lets say iconic projects, they have funds
from the government or investors. Maybe in five or ten years we will

Final shell of a digitally designed fabric form work in combination


with raw earth. AA Visiting School in Lyon, Les Grands Ateliers.
Image courtasy of [morphogenesism].

see that these algorithms can deal with all the aspects of the building
at the same time to prevent the extra costs and be more sustainable.
Can you explain the term non-standard architecture, which every
component is going to be designed in the most efficient way, so there
wouldnt be any specific standard component anymore?
In standard architecture each component, for example doors
and stairs, is fabricated in factories by t method of mass production.
As personalization or customization appeared, industries decided
to change the quality or the appearance of the products based on
customers desires. So the idea of mass customization happened.
Digital machines were used to mass customize the products based
on market demand. Architects started to design complex projects,
which were not standard and then they subdivided these non-standard
projects into pieces that were similar, but not exactly the same and
digital fabrication machines were used to cut and make these building
pieces. These machines use digital codes and they cut shapes based
on these codes, so changing a code and asking for a different shape is
easily possible. It is actually happening now for wall systems of interiors
and faades. But I would say that those parts of the building that are
based on human needs like toilets and doors will not change that much.
Can you also explain the approach in your workshops? Do students
gain basic knowledge about generative design and will it be practical
for them in the future?

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Generative Design

Digitally designed and fabricated Karbandi dome (a Structure from old Iranian Bazaar). Karbandi Digital Design and Fabrication Workshop, 2012. Image courtasy of [morphogenesism].

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Computational design is somehow new all around the world. When


you go to different universities you see that still, even in the UK, there
are lots of universities that have conventional design approaches.
When I was studying at the Architectural Association, School of Architecture (AA) in London, I started to develop the generative algorithms
online book, which was quite new in terms of the methodology at the
time. So it was also a sort of non-standard education! And I realized
that the computational design technique is not really at the core of
educational agendas either in Europe, or Iran or the USA. So I started
these types of workshops, which are happening in Iran, Europe and
the USA. This is quite a non-standard way of educating people who
want to learn this new design approach but do not have the opportunity
in their university courses. We teach students how to combine the
physical production of architecture with digital design techniques on
the computer with simple outputs, medium or small-scale prototypes
and models. It really helps students to see how the progress of their
design could be completed through the parallel work of the computers
and their hands.
For example in our recent workshop we designed a Minaret prototype (minarets are the cylinder-shaped elements in Iranian mosques)
we started by researching traditional minaret types and their faade

pattern. Then we designed a simple prototype of a minaret on the


computer and subdivided it into solid components, which were later
fabricated using plaster. It is a technique to see how we are able to
digitally generate the classic elements of Iranian architecture. The
students found it interesting that how a complex design project could
happen during a one-week workshop, while at their universities they
still have to sit down and design on paper without really touching any
materials or real work with machines.
And finally, how do you usually start a design process? By sketching
or do you just put everything into the computer at the outset?
No, we still use hand-drawn sketches, meetings and discussions
when we are in a group. We discuss the design strategy, we sketch,
we use even physical models and gradually try to understand the
problem and develop the responsive approach. After that point we
use computers to develop algorithms. I always ask my students and
colleagues to first realize and understand problems analytically to
see what we are dealing with, and then go through designing with
software computationally.