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What tickles your algorithm?

What tickles your algorithm? Did you know our existence & aspects of our very beings are being farmed online? This fact has since moved from the realms of science fiction into reality and growing at rapid pace.

It’s something in recent years the tech giants haven’t even kept a secret in that we, our data, is now being stored, sorted, and redistributed for others to use. This is certainly bordering paranoia, but we are indeed being asked to ensure our firewalls and cookies are monitored as permissions are nearly constantly required when browsing the world wide web.

We could opt out of course, go off grid, Jason Bourne style, to that ‘good luck’. Advertising industry & political leverage benefits aside, a recent conversation with a design colleague raised whether we could harness this data for good.

Could an algorithm be created that is able to design our ideal home, work environment or learning facilities, specifically concentrating on the developing spaces and shapes in the physical world.

Well, essentially yes; Silvio Carta, head of art and design at the University of Hertfordshire has recorded this example.

‘My colleagues and I recently showed how algorithms could create a self-organising floorplan for a care home, laying out the rooms in the best configuration to improve the experience of dementia patients. To do this we combined three types of algorithm, inspired respectively by ant colonies, artificial intelligence systems based on the brain, and crowd modelling.

We built our algorithms to follow design criteria based on numerous previous studies and projects, condensing them into four main rules for the algorithms to follow. The building had to be divided into units of maximum given sizes. And each unit had to have an accessible functional kitchen, a dining room not used for other activities, and multiple lounges or activity rooms of a variety of sizes.

Care home layouts proposed by algorithm

Figure 01 – Care home layouts proposed by algorithm. Silvio Carta, Tommaso Turchi, Stephanie St Loe and Joel Simon, Author provided

The result was a new layout for a care home that arranged private rooms and common areas in the most convenient way to make residents’ journeys around the home as short as possible. This shows how the right combination algorithms and, crucially, input from designers can help produce self-organising designs that would otherwise require a huge amount of laborious work or that might otherwise not be possible.

Rather than replacing architects, as some have pessimistically predicted, algorithms are becoming an important tool for building designers. This is reflected in the technology’s growing prominence in postgraduate courses, research centres and international firms. More and more we see designers investing in the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence in architecture.

As advancements in computer science and technology are growing exponentially, it is difficult to imagine now how algorithmic design will evolve in the future and how the building industry will change. But we can certainly predict that we the use of algorithms will soon be a standard way of augmenting our ability to see the invisible and design the unthought in our buildings.’[i]

In season two of ‘The World According to Jeff Goldblum’, he explores, in the episode ‘Tiny Things’, why exactly we like to collect and see aspects of our reality and observe them from a much larger perspective. The fractal nature of our environment is just too detailed to comprehend. Therefore, we like to break down what we see into manageable chunks. The architect, with the aid of machine learning, could indeed start to develop a work method that informs new user tailored designs, making pivotal changes to the larger scale whilst simultaneously seeing the consequences at the smaller, and vis-versa.

[i] https://theconversation.com/algorithms-are-designing-better-buildings-140302

Having worked in Plymouth, London and Hamburg leading large mixed use and small scale schemes, David has helped both clients and the design team through gaining confidents in their Building Information Modeling (BIM) understanding. With Over ten years’ experience at the forefront of BIM he is keen to see its full integration into the design process, enhancing both early concept design to delivery and beyond. David enjoys living in his hometown with wife and son, and spends as much time outside as possible climbing, hiking and cycling.

david.applebee@architects-adg.co.uk