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Data-driven design: where AI meets architecture

Artificial intelligence is all around us: in our phones, our computers, and increasingly on the roads and in our homes. Billions of dollars are flowing to companies furiously working to develop the first truly creative, independent AI. For design and real estate construction these changes are poised to transform the market, offering an unparalleled opportunity for companies willing to tap into this new technology.

But when it comes to design and architecture, AI is only partly about robots and automation. It’s also about learning how to use an endless stream of information to help build useful, efficient and beautiful structures.

 

The power of data

Companies track our grocery purchases, map Apps track where we drive, and websites track what we shop for. Right now most of this information is being used to market specific products, but what if it could be applied to design?

“Think of the way UX designers track how a user interacts with a website,” says Ariane Truong, architect and Associate Director of Design Strategy at Montoni. “AI gives us the opportunity to gather data on the way people interact with existing spaces and use this information to inform future designs.”

It’s all about pattern, Ariane points out. AI is about making the invisible visible and therefore useful to designers. In the same way pedestrians will create desire pathways in freshly fallen snow, there are patterns in the way we interact with the world.

AI gives designers the power to analyze data to find the pattern and then use that information to determine the best outcome. In UX design this means the website that has the highest conversion rate. In architecture this means a design that’s perfectly calibrated to the needs of a client.

 

Designing for a microclimate

“For example,” she says. “Airbnb can scan its photos and analyze the design elements against their booking data to see what design features offer the highest returns. The same can be done for real estate portfolios.”

This kind of data has the power to expand the architect’s toolbox, redefining what it means for a project to be built to specifications. “We know that building in Montreal is different than building in Toronto or New York. And building in Laval is different than building in Ville St-Laurent,” says Ariane, “but AI gives us the power to analyze a portfolio and relate it to a microclimate.”

In other words, architects and designers won’t just be making recommendations based on the needs of an office building in New York. They’ll be able to make informed design decisions based on the needs of an office building on your block of New York taking into account a thousand other factors that are specific to your company’s needs.

 

Economics of design

Some might consider this reliance on data to be at odds with ideas of pure design. But it’s also putting power into the hands of architects by giving them the power of evidence-based decisions, a power long held by other fields but harder to quantify in design. And there are the economics to consider as well.

“There’s always a struggle between design and the economics of building as a long term investment,” says Ariane. “We invest in design without necessarily being able to point to a specific outcome. But the more data we have, the easier it is to see the correlation between employee retention or happiness and investing in good architecture.”

 

An elegant solution

So the big question: will AI put designers out of business or give them more tools to work with?

“AI is really in the early stages when it comes to architecture and design,” says Ariane, “but there are some really exciting possibilities we’re starting to tap into. Look at generative design.”

Generative design, a process that uses cloud computing software to mimic evolution at a grand scale, allows designers to input constraints such as materials and cost and use AI to explore the endless possible design solutions.

“As an architect, AI lets you create and endless array of solutions to a problem,” says Ariane. “And that’s really what great design is about - problem solving in an elegant way.”


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