DeepDive: Computational design is climate smart design

Aware architects and engineers, construction companies and property developers, politicians and experts work towards the same goal: a better development of society through smarter processes, methods and tools. But how do we best combine the potentials of technology with our own abilities? And, how can the computer’s power to process extreme amounts of data be combined with the traditional expertise of the architect?

The escalating resource consumption caused by humanity and the release of greenhouse gases has led to a climate crisis that drives the development of new technologies. Complete industries are forced to change direction or intensify already existing processes of change. How can a conscious exploration of dynamic workflows create sustainable and expressive buildings and cities?

Computational design is one way forward – design processes governed by computational procedures generating climate smart buildings and construction processes. Advanced design tools allow specialists and stake holders to formulate, simulate and assess the outcome of the different decisions of the design process. According to the architect and researcher Jonas Runberger, Head of Computational Design at White Arkitekters’s digitalisation practice Digital Matter, the processes for the creation of the architecture of tomorrow are already in use today.

Computational design speeds up the transformation to a more sustainable society. The processes enable a more innovative architecture, allow us to measure and quantify the effects of different resource efficient solutions that put the right materials in the right place, and help us minimise the climate impact of the built environment.
Jonas Runberger

– This is particularly important for us at White Arkitekter, where the vision is to offer climate neutral buildings through design excellence by 2030, Jonas states.

Jonas Runberger. Photo: Anders Bobert.

Powerful techniques demand new competence

Computational design brings together many concepts with scientific-sounding names that are increasingly becoming common practice, led by developers of the built environment, e.g. parametric modelling, generative design and evolutionary programming. Powerful techniques that require advanced expertise in the design team, through competence in both architecture and programming. The focus shifts from the creation of one architectural form (often with unclear climatic impact) to the creation of processes that can generate many forms linked to the possibility of finding one that performs better than the others.

We use computational design to build informed digital design systems that generate solutions. These systems enable us to collaborate more effectively with our clients, and we can harness everything from form to sustainability and cost simultaneously and in real-time.
Jonas Runberger

– And we do not need to start from scratch if the conditions in a project is changed at late stages, we can simply adjust the parameters. This saves vast amounts of time, Jonas reflects.

Årstafältet, Stockholm.

Informed landscape invigorates Årstafältet

Computational design has often resulted in unconventional structures or radical designs. In recent years, efforts have increasingly focused on the broader architectural challenge, and the benefits are also found in projects where advanced form is central. One example is Årstafältet in Stockholm. The development of residential projects on the perimeter of the field requires removal of large amount of soil. Instead of moving the soil to off-site deposits, the architects considered the possibility of retaining it on Årstafältet in a new form. This reduced the costs and negative environmental impact of transportation.

With the help of informed design systems, we can create nature-like ridges on site. We optimised the shape in real time during meetings to save costs, reduce noise pollution, make it accessible to all and create more experiential views.
Jonas Runberger

– The design process became much more efficient with faster design decisions, a unified view among stakeholders and a lower risk for the completion stages, Jonas comments.

Forumtorget, Uppsala. Photo: Måns Berg

With a linear design process, it is difficult to handle complex conditions. The architect’s design process can become inefficient. The longer a project progresses, the more expensive late-stage changes become.

Computational design allows radical changes to be conducted also at later stages of the process – which can be needed in complex projects with high demands on form and structure as well as production. Jonas mentions the 65-meter-long bench on Forumtorget in Uppsala as a good example.

– The bench is the main attraction of the square, especially in the evening when it gets dark and coloured light filters through the 6,726 unique quartz composite and glass slats. We made the final alterations to the design just days before the production documentation was sent to the manufacturer, says Jonas.

We were able to do design iterations all the way to the last moments of the design process, without any delays. This would not have been possible without computational design.
Jonas Runberger

The Sheaf (Kärven), Varberg.

A challenging design concept is born in Varberg

Many design concepts are abandoned due to high costs or difficult constructions. Computational design is on the way to ensuring that more sustainable and innovative concepts can be implemented. The winning competition proposal for the new observation tower at Getterön in Varberg used computational design to carry out analyses of complex geometries. The proposal would not have been possible if the team of architects and designers had not created an informed design system to generate the form.

– It would likely have been too expensive. The design system behind the tower is based on a large number of beams twisting around an axis, similar to the formation of a sheaf. The relationship between the beams and the achievement of stability of the geometry are advanced balancing acts, Jonas comments.

Without computational design it wouldn't just have been more difficult to test alternative concepts at an early stage – it would have been very time consuming.
Jonas Runberger

Generative workflows are already here

Jonas initiated Dsearch, the structured computational design initiative at White Arkitekter back in 2010, long before the concept was adopted in the Swedish context. Today, computational design is well established at White Arkitekter, where the methods are used to design landscapes and cities as well as buildings and interior spaces. The development of the field also continues in a research context, with Jonas’ role as a professor at Chalmers as an example.

– Computational design is a very powerful way for all developers of the built environment to work towards a transformation to a more sustainable society. We need to design buildings that reach the climate goals and at the same time provide a high value to society, Jonas argues

70 percent of the SDGs can be achieved through increased digitalisation. The broad application of computational design gives us a good chance to succeed. This is not a vision of the future, but a way of working that can be implemented immediately.
Jonas Runberger

Do you want to know more about computational design and informed design systems? Contact Jonas Runberger, Head of Computational Design at White Arkitekter: +46 8 402 26 94.

Please share!