My most recent academic explorations focus on Computational Design and Pre-Design Visualization. Both, in my opinion, are important methodological innovations that pose to trigger a paradigmatic shift in architects’ workflows. Embracing different digital technologies, computational design and pre-design visualization are intimately related and mutually reinforcing at the practical level. Synthesis of computational design and pre-design visualization in architectural design can bring many unique values to architects, environmental researchers, as well as other actors involved in or concerned with building and urban development projects. In studio projects or complex, real-world design scenarios, adoption of computational design and pre-design visualization can augment formal generation and evaluation, facilitate interdisciplinary communication, and encourage community participation. For environmental design research, computational design and pre-design visualization inspire real-time, parametric simulation methods, promoting Pre-Occupancy Evaluation (PrOE) of user performance that requires massive simulation data about person-environment interactions. Such studies help researchers to better describe and understand the transactional, reciprocal relationship between users and the built environment.
Leveraging varied scripting tools that automate certain aspects of scheme generation and evaluation, computational design readapts architectural design workflows. Systematic adoption of design computation technologies incorporates generative and analytical computational processes, assisting the designer in making optimal design decisions that are responsive to changing design conditions and goals. For example, architects can build computer algorithms that implement standardized (consistent), parametric procedures for automatically generating and evaluating enormous amounts of candidate design forms. In terms of the usage of computers, computational design is essentially different from that of classic Computer-Aided Design (CAD). For typical CAD workflows, computers are mainly for helping human designers do drafting and 3D modeling without direct engagement with the basic loop of design decision making. Computational design, in contrast, places computers in such a pivotal position in the design process that they practically mediate and augment human creativity.
A sophisticated computational design workflow is prone to espouse pre-design visualization. As principal design communication means, architectural visualization has long been a “post-design” endeavor after major design decisions have been made and the design proposal reaches a certain level of maturity. During the past decades advancing 3D rendering technologies have demarcated a digital turn in the production of media for visualization. Yet post-design visualization holds sway in the digital age: architectural visualization remains an overdue, post-design action absent in the fuzzy, early design stages devoted to problem framing and prototyping. With computational design significantly accelerating the cyclical formal development and evaluation process, the demand naturally heightens for high-quality, instantaneous visual simulation data that can supplement quantitative assessments in all design stages. Being an omnipresent, pre-design action, architectural visualization can help bridge the cleavage between human-centered, subjective evaluation that is dependent on visual feedback and objective analytical procedures automated by scripts. Pre-design visualization, therefore, is indispensable for building productive dynamics between human designers and computers in computational design.
Capitalizing on contemporary gaming technologies, I have been researching and developing interactive design games that fuse computational design and pre-design visualization. These games afford highly interactive 3D design environments for algorithmically initiating, developing, and optimizing building or urban forms with real-time access to abundant visual perceptual and numeric data. The games considerably sponsor the reflexive dialogue between the designer and the formal scheme under development, facilitating informed decision-making. With compelling data visualization plus human visual and behavioral simulation capabilities, these design games can serve as a communication nexus for the generation, interpretation, and distribution of ad-hoc design knowledge across disciplinary borders, helping the exchange of expertise between architects and non-designers. The games also empower clients and public stakeholders and encourage them to be more participatory in the design process, which is particularly valuable for community-based projects. Developed with Unreal Engine, these games can efficiently interoperate with conventional parametric design applications such as Rhino Grasshopper and Revit Dynamo. They also boast of flexible form factors, supporting the deployment on web pages, PC, or mobile devices.
Below are the demo videos of my latest Unreal Engine design games that showcase a fusion of computational design and pre-design visualization.