Tools that enable rapid feedback

Sustainability Report 2015
by Reinier Zeldenrust, Head of Building Physics

Making something is easier when you can tinker as you go along. For example, when making pasta sauce, you can taste the sauce, and immediately know whether you need to add a pinch of salt or some lemon zest. Even in product design, you can make a prototype and feel the shape. Buildings are different – it can take years to design and construct a building. Many clients and architects aim to be like chefs, in the sense that they want rapid feedback to tune their development or their design. So engineers rely on intuition and tools to evaluate design options and answer questions like:

  • How much plant room space can we save if we go with all recommended passive design options?
  • Is it possible to use floor-to-ceiling glazing in Chicago and still be comfortable on a cold winter day? No? What if we use triple glazing?
  • How often will occupants need to turn on the light if they are sitting at the fifth desk from the window?

However, a lot of time gets wasted transferring information, rebuilding models and extracting and packaging the results. This means architect ‘chefs’ cannot taste and readjust as quickly as they would like – in our industry, feedback loops have been typically counted in weeks, not hours.

To enable more rapid feedback, Atelier Ten have been working on new tools and methods to shorten these cycles. In the early design stages, we focus on enabling exploration – we simulate tens of thousands of possible solutions, and use tools like D3 parallel coordinate charts or platforms like Speckle to allow designers to make their own design trade-offs (e.g. window-to-wall-ratio vs façade overhang vs window g-value). Recently, we worked on a daylight exploration tool that allows testing of various façade options in terms of daylight performance and glare probability in seconds instead of hours.

Once the design is more established, the focus shifts to optimisation. Often, there is a particular trade-off (such as solar gain versus daylight) that benefits from a highly optimised solution and relies heavily on architectural choices. In this situation, we create custom tools to evaluate the trade-off in architectural design environments such as Grasshopper. With the compliance calculation happening in seconds instead of days, architects can fine-tune their design without sending information back and forth. When packaging of the results is not an option, we work with Flux to facilitate easy exchange of the most essential data.

As designers and engineers, we love problem solving. And thanks to the tools we develop and the platforms we explore with our design partners, all of us can focus on just that – solving our part of the design puzzle to ensure a great overall end product.

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