- Revolutionising the design process
- Zaha Hadid Architects embraces generative AI as a source of inspiration
- How generative AI is used to optimise building performance
Every once in a while, a new technological development comes along that changes everything. It gradually embeds itself into almost every aspect of our lives — transforming the way we live, work, and interact with the world around us — until we start to wonder how we were ever able to live without it. It happened previously with the invention of the printing press, which democratised access to written knowledge and paved the way for the modern age of information. The arrival of the internet had a similarly transformative impact on our society, fundamentally altering communication, social interactions, and commerce. And now, the same thing is happening with the emergence of generative AI as well, whose uncanny ability to imitate human creativity and produce original content in the form of text, images, audio, and video within seconds has captured the imagination of the entire world practically overnight.
As is often the case with new technologies, younger generations played a key role in the accelerated adoption of generative AI. Armed with an inquisitive mind and a genuine desire to experiment with new things, they were quick to recognise the potential of pioneering generative AI models like ChatGPT and Midjourney to revolutionise the fields of art and content creation. However, it wasn’t long before the initial curiosity of a small segment of the population turned into a global obsession, and now generative AI has also found its way into many other sectors. According to some estimates, the market for generative AI could reach a staggering $109 billion by 2030, offering yet another reminder of the technology’s capacity for disruption. In this article, we will discover how generative AI is slowly but surely revolutionising the world of architectural design and building construction as well.
“Think of it as augmented intelligence instead of artificial intelligence, where it’s augmenting our skill sets and giving us the data we need to make good decisions”.Mike Lawless, senior director of innovation at engineering firm IMEG
Revolutionising the design process
One of the fields where AI and machine learning have taken on an increasingly prominent role lately is architectural design. A growing number of architecture and engineering professionals are now using generative AI models like ChatGPT, Midjourney, and DALL-E to streamline a wide range of everyday tasks, such as 3D rendering and specification writing. “It’s a matter of understanding how you can leverage and empower yourself as a designer to use these tools to create better architecture and design — and liberate yourself as well”, explains Yehia Madkour, a principal at architecture firm Perkins&Will. Instead of spending days crafting design concepts manually, an architect could leverage generative AI to produce hundreds or even thousands of designs in mere moments and then pick those that best align with their vision and project requirements. “It is a matter of defining what the value is, where we stand as designers, and what we can contribute within the different changing tools that we have”, adds Madkour.
However, it’s important to point out that generative AI should not be seen as a replacement for human expertise but rather as an assistant that can help designers improve their efficiency and realise their vision more easily. “Think of it as augmented intelligence instead of artificial intelligence, where it’s augmenting our skill sets and giving us the data we need to make good decisions”, says Mike Lawless, senior director of innovation at engineering firm IMEG. Many architecture and engineering (AE) companies are already experimenting with generative AI to streamline administrative tasks like drafting emails, project proposals, and marketing materials. For example, Perkins&Will is working on a tool that uses AI to improve communication between architects and their clients by translating their conversations into corresponding visuals in real time. This could prove particularly useful for clients who may have difficulties expressing their ideas verbally.
Zaha Hadid Architects embraces generative AI as a source of inspiration
Even some of the world’s leading architectural firms are jumping on the generative AI bandwagon. One of them is the British firm Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), which is famous for its futuristic architecture characterised by curved shapes and sharp angles. Patrik Schumacher, the firm’s studio principal, admitted as much at a recent roundtable discussion on the impact of AI on the world of design. He revealed that ZHA uses text-to-image generators like DALL-E 2, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion to come up with new design ideas for projects. While not all ZHA projects employ generative AI, according to Schumacher, a substantial proportion does. In fact, he actively encourages the use of the technology, especially in the early ideation phase. The generative AI tools are capable of producing some very intriguing concepts and original forms, which can be used as preliminary illustrations for client presentations.
Despite some criticism, Schumacher maintains that the striking images generated by AI can serve as a source of inspiration — not only for clients but also for the design team — due to their compelling use of light, shadow, and geometric patterns. For him, there isn’t much of a difference between the traditional brainstorming sessions and the way his firm employs generative AI. “For me it’s always been very similar to verbal-prompting teams, referencing prior projects and ideas and gesticulating with my hands”, he explains. “That’s the way of generating ideas and I can do that now directly with Midjourney or DALL-E 2, or the team can do it as well on our behalf, and so I think that’s quite potent”. During his presentation, Schumacher showcased a plethora of AI-generated images depicting imaginary buildings, all of which bear the hallmark ZHA style. He further revealed that about 10-15 per cent of the output generated by AI is selected to proceed to the 3D modelling stage.
“DAISY allows us to test thousands of combinations at the earliest stages of design, when we can have the biggest impact, to understand the interaction between architecture, structures, building services and facades”.Diego Padilla-Philipps, global decarbonisation lead at WSP
How generative AI is used to optimise building performance
Traditionally, building design follows a rather linear process, where each stage is completed in a predetermined order. While this approach does have certain advantages, it also prevents architects from optimising building performance in terms of carbon footprint, energy efficiency, and spatial daylight autonomy. However, that may be about to change, thanks to a new computational tool developed by WSP, one of the world’s leading engineering and professional services firms. Named DAISY (Digital, Artificial Intelligence and Sustainability), this innovative tool employs parametric design and machine learning to generate a myriad of design variations within seconds. It then assesses each design to determine which combination of size, shape, and building orientation will result in maximum sustainability and user comfort. “DAISY allows us to test thousands of combinations at the earliest stages of design, when we can have the biggest impact, to understand the interaction between architecture, structures, building services and facades”, says Diego Padilla-Philipps, global decarbonisation lead at WSP. By running these calculations at the early stages of design, DAISY can help architects identify parameters that will not only optimise the building’s performance but also meet environmental standards and ensure maximum long-term savings.
Generative AI has already had a significant impact on various sectors, dramatically altering the landscape in creative fields like content creation, art, and architecture. Its application in architectural design enhances both efficiency and creativity, streamlines tasks, and revolutionises design processes. It facilitates an almost instantaneous generation of countless design variations, driving both innovation and sustainability in the field. Notably, some leading architectural firms are integrating this technology into their ideation processes, employing AI-generated imagery as a source of inspiration. Moreover, new tools are emerging that can optimise building performance from the earliest design stages, promising more sustainable and user-friendly architecture. And while it is paramount that these developments are pursued with care and responsibility, the future of generative AI is undoubtedly very exciting and opens many new doors for human creativity.