2022

MCHAP

Re-Usable Design Workflow

The Living

Toronto, Canada

February 2018

PRIMARY AUTHOR

David Benjamin

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR

CLIENT

Alexander Tessier, Autodesk

PHOTOGRAPHER

Ben Rahn/A-Frame Inc.

OBJECTIVE

In many ways, a large office is like a city. It has a wide variety of functions that should be provided, and it has a diverse group of people with different needs and desires. So an office could be organized like a city—with a network of major and minor streets, with public spaces and private spaces, and with neighborhoods that each have a common set of services and at the same time have a distinct character based on their unique residents.
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We designed this office as a city, and our design workflow is re-usable on other projects at multiple scales.
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Our workflow involves defining high-level goals and constraints, then using the power of computation to automatically explore a wide design space and identify the best design options. It is well suited to complex design problems with diverse stakeholders.
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The design of any architecture project involves a complex, multi-dimensional set of preferences. Rather than interpret these preferences in a general and intuitive way, it is possible to organize them in a specific and quantifiable way by gathering data from multiple stakeholders.
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After creating a diverse office space, we re-used this design workflow to create both an engine factory in Hamburg and a zero-energy affordable housing community in Alkmaar, Netherlands. By re-using the design workflow, we avoided starting from scratch, and we applied learnings from the office space to new typologies. This allowed us to manage more complexity, include more stakeholders, discover new design options, and create verifiably more sustainable buildings.
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The workflow shifts the architectural creativity from forms to systems, reduces the need for mundane tasks, and results in more relevant and flexible buildings to meet the demands of society and the planet.

CONTEXT

By 2050, global population will grow from 7 billion to 10 billion. This will require the construction of 13,000 buildings every day for the next 30 years.
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Also by 2050, global carbon emissions must cease to avoid the irreversible impact of drought, floods, migration, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. And this reduction must be rooted in architecture, which accounts for more than 40% of greenhouse gas emissions.
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In this context, the way we design and conceptualize buildings must be radically transformed.
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Buildings are not static objects dug into a single site. Rather, they are dynamic systems connecting many different locations.
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Projects are not closed and total works of genius. Instead, every project is an open prototype for action and scalable impact by many others. Individual “one-off” projects are insufficient. Architects should work collaboratively and act collectively.
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In this context, architects might focus on designing and sharing re-usable design workflows that address sustainability, complexity, and the immense amount of buildings that the people of the world require.
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In this project, we created both a specific office space and a generalizable workflow.
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The office space involves 60,000 square feet for a large technology company in the MaRS Discovery District of Toronto. MaRS is one of the world’s largest urban innovation hubs, located next to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, University of Toronto, and many world-class medical facilities. MaRS supports research that addresses societal challenges related to health, energy, data, and materials. It brings together government, academia, and the private sector in the spirit of sharing and collaboration. Our office includes work space for 300 people and a street-level event space to engage the MaRS research culture and the broader public community.

PERFORMANCE

Our re-usable design workflow involves balancing trade-offs, promoting a more inclusive design process, anticipating change over time, and combining human creativity and computational intelligence. It aims to enhance imaginative results rather than to achieve cold-blooded efficiency.
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We start by asking each individual and group about their visions for the project; about the people, equipment, and spaces that they want to be near; and about the type of environment they prefer.
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The data from hundreds of people is complex. For example, in our office space, people have different and often conflicting preferences, which makes a one-size-fits-all approach inadequate.
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Our workflow incorporates this input from multiple stakeholders, and explores a wide space of design options. Each potential design offers a schematic floor plan layout of all meeting rooms, equipment, and individual desk assignments. Some of the design solutions from this process meet the complex preferences of the employees in non-intuitive ways.
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We use data-science techniques such as clustering to sort design options. In working with project stakeholders to select a final design, we make trade-offs based on beliefs and qualitative factors, which gives us the best of both worlds: human and computer.
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The result is more fine-tuned than a lowest-common-denominator approach, and it is also a building that is designed to adapt over time to changes in use and environment.
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In the future, the signature of each architect may be defined more by the exact way he or she re-uses design workflows than by the exact form he or she builds.