Friday, April 16, 2010

Design Exposed: SOM Blackbox Lecture

Yesterday evening, the AIA Chicago chapter sponsored a lecture conducted by Keith Besserud of SOM on recent work done in the arena of parametric modeling and performance simulation in the Blackbox Studio, which is an in-house group of specialists who focus on advanced modeling, simulation and analysis across a range of scales from urban design, to building massings, to individual wall components.

Description from the AIA Chicago website:

Keith Besserud, AIA, head of the Black Box Studio at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP, will discuss projects on which his group has collaborated and the advanced computational design technologies the studio has developed. What is the role of design research and a specialized in-house “consultancy” within the context of an architecture firm? We will also look at the interdisciplinary approach towards algorithmic/parametric design as well as tools to create and investigate the “optimal” and the “novel.”

Besserud began by giving a general overview of parametric design and diagrammed the relationship between simulation and analysis, data management and geometry control. He highlighted a number of SOM projects undertaken by the Blackbox Studio including the post-rationalization of complex curvature for a feature ceiling in the lobby of the recently completed Burj Khalifa, a parametric roof for a convention center in Tanggu, China that is visually striking while accommodating program and optimizing structural performance and, finally, a more theoretical urban design project titled Growing Cities where the Blackbox Studio simulates the emergent growth of a city based on the "happiness" of buildings as determined by nature of their immediate surroundings.

The conclusion of the presentation and the subsequent Q&A took an interesting turn as questions were asked about the reaction to this way of working among designers at SOM. Besserud responded by saying that the response is generally positive. He went on to say that given the particular culture, it can be challenging to implement due to the front end time commitment to construct the "intelligent framework" needed to work this way. Offices that involve themselves in time-sensitive competition commissions can find it challenging to find the time for this. That said, Besserud remained optimistic going on to point out that SOM is actively pursuing grants to further their research into biologically inspired growth models. Additionally, in an attempt to foster a more robust local community of computational designers, he mentioned the Chicago Computational Design Forum (CCDF) which aims to be a multi-disciplinary forum for professionals that use computational methods in a variety of ways.

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