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[With Video] 4 reasons we’re excited about our new automated design tool

April 20, 2022

By Aeron Hodges

Design automation could help drive housing affordability

This article first appeared as “Design automation is here” in Stantec Design Quarterly, Issue 14.

Design automation is transforming the design industry. How designers evolve and adapt with technology will define how we continue to drive innovation and create value for our clients. For years, I have led a research group searching for design solutions that drive housing affordability.

As we began looking beyond the typology of housing (compact living, cohousing, etc.) as a solution to creating affordability in the housing market, we started focusing on the process of developing housing. We were interested in the ways we could expand or streamline our design and production process.

Our design team can use AUDET to quickly design for a desired mix of unit types and total units per building within specified site parameters.

We thought a digital tool that quickly takes a development site from initial feasibility through design, documentation, all the way to construction might be useful in multifamily residential development. It was a tall order. The tool would need to distill a great deal of design knowledge and react instantly and intelligently to project data and limiting parameters (cost, code, etc.) for a project or site. Our team, comprised of architects, engineers, and our digital practice technology group, spent well over a year developing and testing this tool. The result is AUDET, a new design automation tool. AUDET is currently programmed to quickly generate floor plans, 3D massing diagrams, and data visualization for residential projects, but the applications for AUDET extend to any building with repetitive space typologies (think hospitality, student housing, and even some types of healthcare).

Here are four reasons we’re excited about AUDET.

1. It facilitates real-time collaboration with clients

Typically, designers generate and then fine-tune three or more design options for presentation to the client. But what happens when they don’t hit the mark? The whole timeline resets. Designers go back to the drawing board. Time is lost.

With this tool, however, we can close the timeline between design, presentation, and client feedback. The designer-client conversation becomes a dialogue. We can get immediate feedback.

With AUDET, we can start designing with the most basic project information. We can collaborate with clients in real time. We can begin to draw the basic building shape together. Then, the tool populates it with unit details automatically, generating multiple design solutions within a much-reduced time frame.

As we pull together a visual representation of the emerging project from the data, we can ask: “Is this what you’re looking for?” If we need to try something else, we can adjust a few inputs in our algorithm. This dialogue can help clients make decisions on the fly.

Clients, such as developers, can see how many units fit into a design scheme in progress. We’ve tested the tool at client workshops and have seen how clients appreciate the ability to compare an early stage design with their project goals.

The AUDET automation doesn’t dictate a design outcome, it just gives the designers more options to consider.

2. It helps us avoid roadblocks and ripple effects

The design process is iterative. Adapting to changes or roadblocks that occur throughout the design development timeline is a reality. A variety of circumstances can necessitate a change in direction for a client’s project plan, which requires us to revamp our design. Every time we make those changes, there is a ripple effect on the entire project.

Roadblocks in the design process slow it down. Typically, every time we make changes based on those roadblocks, we’re making manual revisions to our design, backtracking, and redrawing.

Instead of drawing the same units over and over every time small details change, what if an automated tool, programmed with all the site and budget parameters, could redraw the design quickly? With the right parameters, we can automate the conventional mundane aspects of the documentation process, and spend more time focused on design activities which suit our clients’ project objectives. That’s the beauty of AUDET.

With this tool we can close the timeline between design, presentation, and client feedback. The designer-client conversation becomes a dialogue. We can get immediate feedback.

3. It’s designed for multifamily residential design … but could go anywhere

There is a simplicity in multifamily residential design that can be more easily codified than with other project types. Multifamily residential projects feature many repetitive elements—units of a similar size connected to a corridor which is connected to a core with elevators, lobby, amenity, and social spaces. There’s a logic to it. We have designed AUDET’s automation around these interrelated elements.

Likewise, hotels and student housing have similar repetitive rooms across a building, which makes them great candidates for the markets where we could apply AUDET next.

In recent months, the AUDET team joined forces with another Stantec research project: Mass Plan led by Steven Park Chaffer. Mass Plan is a design-assist tool that automates some aspects of multi-block, multi-program planning. We’re working on combining these tools in a new application that can include additional programs such as office, parking, retail, and beyond.

Our plans for AUDET include implementing the ability to compile data on building façade, the window opening percentage, daylight, thermal performance, and other specifications that our sustainability specialists can use in their carbon analysis.

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AUDET can automate solutions to a given site boundary and target mix of unit types.

4. It has plug-and-play features but doesn’t dictate design outcome

You won’t know an AUDET project simply from its look. That’s because the automation doesn’t dictate a design outcome, it just gives us more options to consider.

AUDET’s plug-and-play features allow the user to quickly arrive at design solutions, which can then be customized further to suit client needs. It gives designers a default library collection of grids, unit sizes, and building systems.

The algorithm simply pulls from the library based on what is appropriate for the desired floor plan and plugs it into the space. While the tool provides a visual representation of certain design metrics (building size, number of units, etc.), it doesn’t reflect all the details in a completed design. By giving designers an early and accurate picture of a project’s parameters, AUDET can help rightsize systems.

AUDET’s customizable features give the designer control over massing, expression, and building system, so each project is unique and contextual. We implement the tool within our typical design process and collaboration with the client, where the key drivers of the project are articulated. The tool aims to empower designers in this collaborative workflow and helps us think holistically and see the project clearly.

A bold step into the future

Technology like AUDET that automates the repetitive aspects of our work represents a bold step toward a fully data-driven design framework. It also frees up designers to concentrate on the human aspects of design and achieving responsive, efficient, and contextual solutions that help our clients do what they do better than before.

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  • Aeron Hodges

    Aeron believes that all architects are an integral part of that, whether they’re working on buildings, infrastructure, public art, or even social policy—each is intricately connected

    Contact Aeron
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