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Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars

Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars

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How Stuff work produced this illuminating article on how Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars cannot go noticed. Hence it is republishing here.

Above is this rendering showing another view of Team SEArch+/Apis Cor’s Mars habitat. The unique shape allows for continuous reinforcement of the structure and allows light to enter through trough-shaped ports on the sides and top. TEAM SEARCH+/APIS COR/NASA

Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars

By: John Donovan  |  Oct 11, 2021

Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars
Moon village
This 2020 concept of a moon village created by XTENDdesign is located on the rim of Shackleton crater on the lunar south pole. The Moon Village Association (MVA) is a nongovernmental organization (NGO) whose goal is to create a permanent global forum for stakeholders interested in the development of the Moon Village. NASA

If you’re of the Elon Musk mindset and think that humans, to survive, will have to become a multiplanetary species, we’re going to need a place to live and work. Out there. In space. On other planets.

We’re going to need somebody — a lot of somebodies, really — to build us houses and apartment buildings and offices and space Walmarts and modes of transportation to haul us between all those places. Heck, we’re going to have to build a lot of places to do everything we do here on our rapidly decaying home planet.00:17/01:43

We’ll need architects. A lot of them. We’ll need a different type of architect, to be sure, for our ventures into space. We’ll need … space architects.

Luckily, that’s already a thing.

The Idea Behind Space Architecture

Olga Bannova doesn’t carry a business card that reads “Space Architect,” though she admits that would be pretty awesome. Instead, Bannova’s title (or one of them) is director of the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) — it’s been a thing since the late 1980s — in the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering. SICSA is home to the world’s only space architecture graduate program. A diploma nets you a Master of Science in Space Architecture.

It’s not a huge program yet, churning out only a few graduates every year. It is, like much of the whole idea of multiplanetary expansion, an emerging field.

But for those who believe that our very existence relies on someday moving to a different galactic neighborhood, space architecture has us covered. It is, in a very real way, simply the latest exploratory mission away from Mother Earth.

“You can’t stay in your house forever and think that somehow everything else will be the same … everything is changing, including our Earth, including us, including the solar system, including the galaxy. It’s all changing and moving,” Bannova says. “That’s why it’s important. It’s mostly about understanding more about ourselves.”

Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars
Mars habitat
Team SEArch+/Apis Cor won first place in the Phase 3: Level 4 software modeling stage of NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge for deep space exploration.TEAM SEARCH+/APIS COR/NASA

What Is Space Architecture, Really?

Space architecture, really, is just what it sounds like. Bannova heads an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) committee, the Space Architecture Technical Committee (SATC) that concentrates specifically on the field. The SATC, on the site spacearchitect.org — if it has an internet site, you know it’s a thing — describes it like this:Space Architecture is the theory and practice of designing and building inhabited environments in outer space (it encompasses architectural design of living and working environments in space related facilities, habitats, and vehicles). These environments include, but are not limited to: space vehicles, stations, habitats and lunar, planetary bases and infrastructures; and earth based control, experiment, launch, logistics, payload, simulation and test facilities.

Space architects, then, are charged with designing buildings and houses and offices and a whole bunch of other stuff that humans need to survive — those interstellar Walmarts, perhaps — both here and in space plus devising ways to get between them. All this, not for nothing, while dealing with problems that Earthbound architects don’t even dream about. Don’t need to dream about. Maybe can’t dream about.

Say, for example, a lack of oxygen or atmosphere. Weather patterns that make our current climate-change problems look like a calm day at a sunny beach. A lack of sunlight. Too much sunlight. Microgravity.

A lack of material to build what you need. Or no way to ship material that you need to where you need it. Or no way to get it there in a timely way, considering the vast distances between points in space.

It’s not hard to imagine the problems that space architects will face, now and in the future. It’s not hard to imagine, either that we can’t even begin to imagine some of the challenges they’ll be up against.

Carving out a space in space for our species to continue is a huge undertaking, perhaps the most audacious ever for mankind. It must be what the possibility of flying to the moon — of human flight at all — must have felt like to Galileo.

But, yeah, we knocked those out, didn’t we?

Space Architects Will Help Us Live and Work Among the Stars
Mars space factory
Team AI. SpaceFactory of New York also participated in NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, and won second place for its space factory habitat on Mars.AI SPACEFACTORY/NASA

The Challenges Ahead

Identifying the multitude of challenges in our move into space, thinking them through, and realizing that so many have yet to be recognized is a sizable part of what space architects now, and space architects in the future, must do. The field cries out for critical thinkers who have an understanding (if not necessarily a doctorate-level degree) in a multitude of specialties; not only architecture and its different branches, but the different areas in engineering (industrial, aerospace, systems and aeronautical, to name a few), physics, geometry, mathematics, logistics, computer science, human biology and many more.

In meta terms, architecture embraces both art and science. It addresses how we build, how we live, in the space we inhabit. You don’t build a library without figuring out how we move about it, where the books go, where the light comes in.

If our living space is to become outer space — a habitable space that humans have been learning about, up close, for at least 20 years — well, we better start cracking the books.

What’s a habitat on Mars to look like? How do winds there affect what you build? What about gravity? How do you construct a farm, if one can be built, with the radiation of another planetary body beaming down? How do we build living quarters on a ship that may take decades to get where it’s going? How can we make sure that a flying habitat flies?

What can we learn by building these habitats on some of the less-hospitable areas of Earth? How can what we learn help us while we’re still here?

You want to be a space architect? Get yourself a planet-sized toolbox.

“Space architecture is not for the technically timid. To play this game, one needs to educate oneself about the harsh realities of life beyond Earth, and the science and technology for fashioning habitable bubbles in deadly environments,” Theodore Hall, a former chairperson of the SATC and an extended reality software developer at the University of Michigan, said back in 2014. “Only then is one prepared to stand toe-to-toe with the engineers and strive for architectural aesthetics that treat the human as more than a deterministic biochemical subsystem of a soulless machine.”

Those still interested in space architecture — and, again, we’re going to need a lot of forward-thinkers to sign up — shouldn’t be intimidated, though. Plenty of problems are there to be faced, certainly, and it will take all kinds to determine how our species can best live away from home.

But we have cellphones now that are more powerful than the computers that sent men to the moon. We’ve been on the International Space Station for 20 years and counting. We’re exploring Mars and other deep-space outposts at this very moment.

Problems in finding a new home among the stars? Space architects are on the job.

“It’s impossible to predict everything, in space especially. It’s hard to design some close-to-perfect habitat even on Earth,” says Bannova, who carries an undergraduate degree from the Moscow Architectural Institute, dual masters degrees (in architecture and space architecture, both from UH) and a doctorate from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology. “We have more questions than answers. It’s the nature of the profession. But it gives you an opportunity to see and decide for yourself where your passion is.”

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From Dubai to Southland: a Striking NZ architectural mesh

From Dubai to Southland: a Striking NZ architectural mesh

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A New Zealand Stuff article elaborates on how from Dubai to Southland this striking NZ architectural mesh on Invercargill CBD rebuild is getting the attention it deserves. But what is all the fuss about?

The above image is for illustration and is of Stuff.co.nz.

Dubai to Southland: Striking NZ architectural mesh on Invercargill CBD rebuild

From Dubai to Southland: a Striking NZ architectural mesh
SUPPLIED The colourful facade which will go on the Invercargill Central is made in Wellington. The same company has produced a similar product for Expo 2020 Dubai. [Artist impression of Invercargill project]

Tens of millions of people will walk underneath a striking Kiwi-made canopy at Expo 2020 Dubai, and the same product will adorn the Invercargill city centre redevelopment.

Petone company Kaynemaile​ make a polycarbonate architectural mesh, which has been used in a 12,000-square metre canopy at the Middle Eastern expo, which is a six-month world fair, involving 192 countries.

The same mesh product will cut a similarly striking figure when it is wrapped around the car park of the redeveloped Invercargill CBD.

About a tenth of the size of its Dubai cousin, the Invercargill facade will feature 1200sqm of the polycarbonate mesh, which will be lit with programmable lighting.

Invercargill Central project director Geoff Cotton said it would wave in the wind, as a moving piece of art.

The mesh would screen the development car park, face Tay St, and Cotton said it would go up towards the end of winter 2022.

From Dubai to Southland: a Striking NZ architectural mesh
SUPPLIED Petone firm Kaynemaile made the canopy at Expo 2020 Dubai from polycarbonate architectural mesh.

Kaynemaile’s chief executive officer Kayne Horsham​ designed chainmail costumes to be used in Lord of the Rings, which inspired the architectural mesh.

All their products are made in Wellington. The mesh in Dubai forms a canopy to the entrance of the expo, which is expected to host 25 million visitors over its six-month duration.

The expo was delayed a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic but kept the 2020 moniker, and began on October 1.

READ MORE:
Lord of the Rings chainmail inspires Dubai Expo canopy
Southland welcomes Level 3 in with coffee and catch up on CBD block development
Invercargill CBD block rebuild boss hopes lost time can be made up

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To give architecture political clout we must engage with ordinary people

To give architecture political clout we must engage with ordinary people

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The Architects Journal with Leanne Tritton, author, elaborated this article on how to give architecture political clout, we must engage with ordinary people.

To give architecture political clout we must engage with ordinary people

The architecture and built environment sector has a poor track record in communicating with the general public, something those in power are all too aware of, writes new chair of The London Society Leanne Tritton

My business is communication. I love working alongside built environment professionals, and in my day job I am fortunate to see at first hand how architects and developers are working hard to positively design and build better places.

But, sadly, few members of the general public see our sector in the same light. It is not surprising, given that the media generally focuses on the negative and the sensational. That’s just a fact of life. But we haven’t gone out of our way to help ourselves and present the other side of the story or co-ordinate campaigns that inform opinion.

For obvious reasons, central and local government is preoccupied by the feelings of the nation. It seems the built environment’s only meaningful connection with the population of this country is via a series of consultations that accompany proposed development. As these make their way through the planning process, such efforts often descend into almost hand-to-hand combat.

Put simply, we’ve not had strong enough links with either the general public or government to promote effectively what we do.

It also does our industry no credit that we have such a poor track record when it comes to engaging with the country’s political leadership and working to influence policies that will not only benefit our sector, but the greater good.

Politicians know that we have limited ‘clout’ and so have been able to dictate the pace and degree of change that takes place, and do so on their terms.

This needs to be put right, although it’s not to say there aren’t those who seek to engage with ordinary people about the buildings all around them. I have long admired the work undertaken by Open City, which, as well as running a series of events highlighting the architectural wonders of the capital, also organises the annual Open House festival. This event, which lasts for just a few days every year, gives people unparalleled access to some of London’s finest buildings.

It is also hugely encouraging to see Simon Allford, co-founding partner of AHMM, elected as president of the RIBA. Allford will not only be able to offer the institute effective leadership, he is the type of person who can walk into a room full of government ministers and have an immediate and positive impact.

Then there is The London Society (TLS). Established in 1912 by a group of Londoners concerned about the lack of planning in the capital, its theme 110 years on will focus on the connections among communities and those organisations that sit beyond those of built environment professionals and which have the potential to make the city stronger.

Having recently joined TLS as chair, I believe the organisation has a unique opportunity to present the built environment’s case outside the industry bubble.

Members of TLS come from all walks of life, not just the professions. All share a passion for the city and want to engage with the debates about its future, while also recognising – and indeed cherishing – its past. It is an organisation for all those who love London, forging links with underrepresented communities across the capital and, usefully, having the ear of MPs, sponsoring as it does the All-Party Parliamentary Group on London Planning and Built Environment.

The time for engagement is upon us and we need to fund those organisations that give us critical mass and help the public understand that we are on their side.

Leanne Tritton is managing director of ING Media and chair of The London Society. As part of the AJ100 Festival, she will be speaking at the panel debate COP26 – How can we get better at influencing government? at 9.35am on Monday 20 September.

Future of Design: Towards smart urban environments

Future of Design: Towards smart urban environments

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Architecture Now Practice elaborated on the Future of Design as a trend towards smart urban environments in today’s world. It is by Gabriela Mazorra. The above image is Guest columnist Gabriela Mazorra who argues, “Architects and designers are key players in devising liveable urban environments consisting of resilient designs and spaces that cater for the wellbeing of the community and support the green shift.”

As our regular Future of Design columnist, Maria Mingallon, takes a break to pursue further study, we hear from guest contributor Gabriela Mazorra, who recently completed a Master of Technological Futures at the Tech Futures Lab. Mazorra is a data expert and, here, she explores what the cities of our future need in order to create healthy environments and inhabitants and how some urban areas around the world are leveraging data to meet these needs.

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, with the total urban population expected to increase to 68 per cent by 2050 according to a 2018 UN report. To meet this demand, address environmental sustainability and deliver public services, cities have turned to technology and started developing innovative solutions to become “smarter” in the use of their infrastructure. In doing so, cities are increasingly becoming urban laboratories and testing grounds, with contrasting outcomes, as envisioned decades ago by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).

Without a doubt, achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 requires comprehensive mobilisation. Amongst this guiding framework for thinking about the future of place, SDG 11 seeks to transform the way we build and manage urban spaces to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Architects and designers are key players in devising liveable urban environments consisting of resilient designs and spaces that cater for the wellbeing of the community and support the green shift.

Future of Design: Towards smart urban environments
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations.

The 4th Industrial Revolution, a term coined by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, keeps reducing the gap between the digital, physical and biological worlds. Amongst the enabling technologies of this sweeping transformation are artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D/4D printing (3D shapes able to morph into other forms in response to environmental stimulus over time), the Internet of Things, augmented and virtual reality, advanced wireless technologies, and Big Data. The convergence of some of these technologies, and an effective use of information obtained from pairing the physical and virtual worlds, are the drivers of the digital twin concept. Following its origins in NASA and successful implementation in manufacturing, digital twins promise operational efficiencies as well as dynamic decision making and better social, economic and environmental outcomes for citizens.

As Maria mentioned in her article “Seeing is believing“ in this series, data is the new black and it is the fertile soil required for smart urban environments to flourish. This idea is also embodied by WeWork’s mantra, “buildings equal data”, and the idea that data is becoming an essential ingredient to the traditional brick and mortar recipe. The ability to capture and use the feedback loops that data provides to shape spaces will continue to gain importance in the industry. And, while this is how nature works as argued by Scott Turner in The Tinkerer´s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself (2007), architects like Marc Kushner go even further and promote tapping into the wisdom of the crowd years before a building is created with the help of social media. If you have not watched it already, in his TED Talk “Why the buildings of the future will be shaped by … you“, he explains the centrality of the public in the design process.

In this context, you might be asking yourself: how are these principles being applied beyond individual buildings and to the scale of cities; how are smart urban environments developing? There are multiple shades of “smart” and a wide-ranging group of cities experimenting with smart solutions in critical areas such as urban planning, sustainable energy, social integration, transport strategies or talent attraction.

Since 2019, The Institute for Management Development, in collaboration with Singapore University for Technology and Design, has released the Smart City Index every year with profiles and historic evolution of each of the cities featured. The survey collates information gathered from hundreds of citizens from 109 global cities and focuses on five key areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities and governance. In 2020, Singapore, Helsinki and Zurich finished at the top and we saw several European cities falling in the rankings as well as significant changes in underdeveloped cities. The following video summarises the results.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/GvLas51tOV4?start=12

Some cities are innovating from scratch and creating custom build environments. A great example is Kalasatama: once a brownfield district in Helsinki (Finland), it has been transformed into an avant-garde city district and an experimental platform where new solutions resulting from the joint collaborative effort of residents, companies, council officials and researchers are piloted. Based on the idea that time is residents’ most valuable resource, the co-created vision is for everyone to gain one extra hour every day to spend on whatever brings them joy. They propose to achieve this by improving the flow of traffic and logistics and aiming to deliver quality services to the public instead of the other way around. The goal is for smart services to  improve both quality of life and time management.

The City of Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney (Australia), is another test case with the capacity to influence the future planning and architecture of cities. In 2015, it became the first local government in New South Wales to adopt a Smart City Masterplan which outlines a number of projects that leverage data and technology to become future ready and improve citizens´ lives experiences.

Future of Design: Towards smart urban environments
Parramatta´s Smart City Framework from the Smart City Masterplan 2015.

One of these initiatives is The Melrose Park: Smart Planning for Climate Responsive Neighbourhoods pilot project involving the installation of a network of 70 environmental sensors throughout the site and nearby streets. These sensors will monitor conditions such as temperature, humidity, air quality, noise and stormwater before, during and after construction to help improve the area’s liveability and inform future planning. In this 25-hectare industrial site, the construction of 5,000 new residential dwellings is projected over the next 10 years.

Not all cities have the ability to start over and many inhabited cities need to strike a balance between their heritage and demands from residents and visitors. Interestingly, some cities are making the most of the “old meets new” concept. In Italy, the cities of Bari and Matera were early adopters of the 5G wireless technology. This has enabled remote visits to Matera’s main tourist attractions and archeological sites using virtual reality that allows visitors to enjoy an immersive experience following the directions given by a local guide. In Bari, workers involved in the maintenance of ship engines receive remote assistance and training using a Smart Helmet built with augmented reality.

Moreover, there are case studies on urban and educational hackathons in smart cities with a heritage context like the one that took place in the city of Rauma (Finland) that show the possibilities of integrating the historical uniqueness of this Word Heritage Old Town with modern city services. Urban innovation is not reserved for the new and shiny elite, and cultural heritage may contribute to sustaining productivity and enhancing the livability of certain places.

Closer to home, the Wellington City Digital Twin Project developed a digital cities twin tool that utilizes advanced gaming technology to create large-scale city visualizations comprising integrated and real-time data. It is also pleasing to know that both Wellington and Auckland are amongst the 50 Champion Cities selected for the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge, a global innovation competition aimed at identifying and accelerating ideas to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finalists are busy refining their ideas and still have work to do until October. The list of the fifteen winning cities to receive a $1 million prize along with multi-year technical assistance for the implementation and scaling of their idea won’t be published until early 2022. 

Clearly, cool gadgets and technology will not fix cities’ complex problems, and some believe the conversation needs to shift towards openness instead of smartness. As author Ben Green warns in The Smart Enough City (2019), “…contrary to the fables told by smart city proponents, technology creates little value on its own—it must be thoughtfully embedded within municipal governance structures.” As proposed by Paula Kwan, former Director of the Civic Innovation Office for the City of Toronto, among others, the conversation needs to be focused on advancing a community’s experience, using technology to serve our lives – not vice versa – and making cities better for people and business by encouraging citizen participation and transparency.

And because what is not measured cannot be improved, the UN’s United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative developed a set of 91 international key performance indicators to capture a city’s performance in three dimensions: Economy, Environment and Society and Culture. These have already been implemented by 100 cities worldwide and provide cities with the means for self-assessment and monitoring of their sustainable development progress to achieve the SDGs. There are city snapshots available on their website, which are worth taking a look at. Among the cities featured you will find Esperanza and Santa Fe (Argentina), Gjøvik and Ålesund (Norway), Moscow (Russia), Valencia (Spain), Pully (Switzerland) and Bizerte (Tunisia).

On the other hand, the World Council on City Data led the development and implementation of three international standards on city data that have been published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO 37120 Series includes ISO 37120 – Indicators for Sustainable Cities, ISO 37122 – Indicators for Smart Cities, and ISO 37123 – Indicators for Resilient Cities. As the scrutiny and oversight on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) impacts evolves and becomes more rigorous, the importance of this criteria to evaluate the contribution of information and communication technologies to make more efficient and sustainable urban environments may also increase.

Before I go and hand over back to Maria, it is worth pointing out that data security and privacy concerns derived from smart cities initiatives and governments adopting open data platforms are not new, particularly due to the over-collection and subsequent sharing of data with third parties. Part of the success of these projects will depend on addressing these concerns and consistent public policies that provide suitable guarantees over time. No need to go any deeper on the subject but certainly something to bear in mind insofar as the current solution, usually in the form of a data-sharing agreement exclusive between the parties, will probably not stand the test of time. For anyone interested in the subject, I recommend you head to literature on data stewardship and data institutions from The Gov Lab (New York), the Open Data Institute (UK) or the Aapti Institute (India).

In conclusion, the train has left the station. Harnessing the great wave of urbanisation that lies ahead depends on our ability to have an open mindset, embrace community-driven innovation and rethink the future with citizens at the centre. As recognised in the report published last May for the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission, Preparing for technological Change in the Infrastructure Sector, developed by Beca Ltd and Polis Consulting Group, the opportunity is there for those that are ready to embrace it with the Government expecting to spend over $21bn in the short to medium term. Are you ready to take action?

Read more from the Future of Design series here.

How Spacemaker AI Optimizes Architecture Development

How Spacemaker AI Optimizes Architecture Development

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INSIDER: The Fourth Revolution—How Spacemaker AI Optimizes Architecture Development

26 July 2021

Spacemaker AI doesn’t threaten architects as we know them. It simply makes Architecture even more impactful.

THE PROFESSION OF ARCHITECTURE is at a crossroads. According to Carl Christensen, co-founder and CTO of Spacemaker AI, the whole building industry, while digitized, lacks critical building blocks that would enable the AEC industry to make big leaps.

Describing his initial reactions to how architects deliver value in early-stage development for clients, he says, “I didn’t really see the building blocks. People worked in digital tools, but some stakeholders work in drawing applications while others work in Excel.”

New to the AEC industry and with a background as a computer scientist, Christensen used the word “shocked” when he met Spacemaker CEO and co-founder Håvard Haukeland. When Haukeland, an architect, explained how architects deliver early phase work for clients, Christensen assumed Haukeland was doing something wrong.

Driven by Experience

“I was basically working [as an architect] with the kinds of projects that users today are using Spacemaker AI to solve,” says Haukeland. “I was really frustrated that I was not able to deliver what the clients really wanted, and I started discussing this with Anders, who I had known before.”

Anders Kvale is the third co-founder with a business background who saw Haukland’s problems—which involved working with clients who have either acquired a building site or evaluating one—as an interesting problem to look into.

 

 

This is a global problem; we need to build so much more in every city. When we build more densely, it is technically more difficult. There are more stakeholders and with them comes complexity.

 

 

The core challenge was how to optimize the development potential of building sites by breaking free of the traditional toolsets and processes that were leaving Haukeland disappointed. Kvale introduced Haukeland to Christensen, who has deep experience in software development and the digitization of industries.

“So the problem definition was really very clear,” says Christensen. “However, the more you looked into it, the more the complexity grew.”

A Worthy Global Goal

This complexity seemed ideally suited for AI and machine learning, but larger than that, the timing to help urban and architectural development make a big leap was now. “This is a global problem; we need to build so much more in every city,” says Haukeland, referring to massive urbanization change taking place around the world. “When we build more densely, it is technically more difficult. There are more stakeholders and with them comes more complexity.” (Image 01)

01 – A view of Spacemaker’s user interface, this one looking at the effects of noise on building design and parcel development decisions. Noise is just one of the dozens of technical issues impacting urban development that challenges AEC design and development teams to optimize architectural solutions.

But the development process today needs re-engineering itself, and the Nordic team knew this. “So architects have their knowledge expertise, and so too do engineers, and the developer is focused on their goals, but none of them are really communicating in any kind of shared space where they can understand each other in any meaningful way,” says Christensen. “So we figured we needed to bring all this information together in a way that is transparent to the other stakeholders.”

With a clarified vision of the problem Spacemaker AI was aiming to solve, the company began developing its namesake solution and directing it to architects. But that is not where they found success. Architects’ usage of information technology at a budget level is less than 1.5 percent of revenues in some cases, so Spacemaker AI found greater success going directly to large property development firms, who passed Spacemaker technology on to their internal designers and architects, and external consultants.

Value in the Early Phase

Spacemaker AI describes itself as “early-stage planning reimagined.” The cloud-based solution centralizes the various knowledge and issues typically siloed by the A, E, C, and O professionals in the AECO world. It empowers stakeholders to optimize the development potential of building sites. And it uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to achieve this.

Haukland told me on our call that a McKinsey report says that only 20 percent of technology investment in the building industry is directed at early phases. Still, he notes another report that finds that it is the early phases where 50 percent of the value creation happens.

 

 

You mentioned the revolution of hand drawing to CAD, from CAD to BIM, from BIM to Cloud. And now we have ‘outcome-driven’ design. And that’s now the fourth revolution.

 

 

The problem is that value creation can be higher and achieved at faster rates if machine intelligence can augment the heuristic processes human designers employ. Spacemaker AI’s goal isn’t to replace human architects, planners, and urban designers but rather augment them with “over the shoulder AI,” as Haukeland and Christensen call it.

Christensen says of today’s workflows for this early-stage work, “there is a lot of manual labor inside a digital tool, but there is no added value across projects, everything is bespoke.” This takes us back to those building blocks he says the industry is missing. He means that without digital connections between data from various stakeholders and the meaning and values of that data from each stakeholders’ perspective, there is no value-chain present, no value creation. “It’s really hard to extract value and knowledge from such a disconnected process,” he says. “If you are trying to analyze processes and systems, that is just shockingly far from what most industries have already accomplished.”

The Fourth Revolution

Indeed, the AECO industry is profoundly behind taking true advantage of the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) revolution. (see: Architosh, “Perspectives on BEST of SHOW 2018: Perez’s Model of Technological Revolutions—BIM, CDEs, and VR,” 12 July 2018) But the current constellation of digital technologies, particularly when paired with AI and machine learning, may finally offer a step-change in productivity gains.

“You mentioned the revolution of hand drawing to CAD, from CAD to BIM, from BIM to Cloud. And now we have ‘outcome-driven’ design, says Haukeland. “And that’s now the fourth revolution.

Spacemaker AI helps users arrive at optimal outcomes for given building sites, tuning development projects to particular sets of criteria in optimized formations that will yield better outcomes. (Images 01 – 02)

02 – An image of Spacemaker’s interface showing slider controls on the right and data and results options at the bottom.

The software does this by both generating and evaluating designs against inputted criteria. The system can analyze solutions for sunlight, daylight, views, wind, traffic noise, energy efficiency, and all the zoning setbacks and FAR (floor-area-ratios) impacting projects. (see Image 03 for Wind)

Spacemaker AI can optimize designs for over 100 criteria types, including doing all the boring calculation work like tenant lease area and building area calculations. The user inputs the criteria but also determines which criteria to emphasize. You let Spacemaker AI help solve for quality outdoor spaces, for example, by emphasizing sunlight utilization and controlling shadows. It can solve for microclimates and views to the river, for example, and at various combinations of importance.

 

 

It’s really hard to extract value and knowledge from such a disconnected process. If you are trying to analyze processes and systems, that is just shockingly far from what most industries have already accomplished.

 

 

As for the AI, Christensen says, “it is incrementally supportive of what you want to do but not taking over the wheel,” making a driving analogy. So, in other words, in the same manner, that a Tesla can provide some autonomous driving functions with human oversight, Spacemaker uses artificial intelligence to augment human designers but requires human oversight at multiple levels.

The software is flexible in terms of how it can relate to existing urban design and architectural workflows. “Users can import previous designs in SketchUp or Revit format and run analyses on them using the systems’ AI-based engine for testing scenarios,” he notes. “And once completed, users can export their project out to more precise design programs like SketchUp or Revit.”

Designed to be interactive as part of the overall process, Spacemaker AI enables the designer to generate and test in multiple iterative steps, fine-tuning both criteria and possible design options. The system isn’t there to find the ultimate solution for you by itself.

Christensen says there is confusion in the industry about solutions like Spacemaker AI. He says that “black box AI seems very attractive at the onset,” but that is not what people really want. “You cannot iterate on it,” he says, referring to the way the designer can take what Spacemaker AI has produced and understand why it got there.

The Autodesk Acquisition

Last year Autodesk acquired the Norway-based company. Over the past few years, the US design software giant largely focused on construction professionals within AEC—with a series of stunning acquisitions. In the area of new software for designers and architects, the Spacemaker AI buy was seen as a positive move.

03 – An image showing Spacemaker’s wind analysis functions in action.

“We never talked about an acquisition,” says Haukeland. We always planned for a standalone journey.” He says the company, at 115 people as of the time of our conversation, has been solely focused on its mission. “We are driven by that story. Everyone on the team is driven by how we can optimize the process.”

With that focus, Autodesk is leaving the company to operate very autonomously. The company stays in Norway, though it has staff in remote locations globally.

“Right now,” Haukeland adds, “the obvious synergy with Autodesk is on the mission of being part of that fourth revolution and of making a digital tool that everyone uses.”