April 15, 2024

Past, Present and Future: Generative Design — who is it for?

Sofia Malmsten

CEO & Architect

Who is Generative Design for?

Generative design has traversed a fascinating journey, evolving from a novelty to a necessity in the realm of creative exploration. Initially hailed as a revolutionary concept, it soon encountered skepticism as users grappled with the overwhelming abundance of options it presented. However, as we stand on the precipice of the future, generative design is experiencing a resurgence, driven by advancements in artificial intelligence and the insatiable appetite for innovation.

In its infancy, generative design captured the imagination of designers and engineers alike. The prospect of leveraging algorithms to automatically generate countless design alternatives seemed like a dream come true. It promised to democratize creativity, offering a means to rapidly explore a vast array of possibilities and push the boundaries of conventional design.

Generative design applied for generating a multitude of design options for unit distribution on a normal plane

Generative design applied for generating a multitude of design options for unit distribution on a normal plane

The paradox of choice

Yet, as the initial excitement waned, a new challenge emerged — the paradox of choice. With generative design tools capable of producing hundreds or even thousands of alternatives, users found themselves inundated with options, struggling to sift through the noise and identify the most promising solutions. What was once hailed as a boon quickly became a burden, prompting many to question the utility of generative design in practical workflows. In examining the diagram below, it becomes immediately apparent that by exploring just three options for site division, we unlock numerous possibilities for each potential division. Furthermore, when we introduce extrusions into the mix, the design scope expands exponentially, leading to a multitude of solutions. Consequently, the task at hand quickly grows in complexity, and the sense of control over the process may begin to feel uncertain.

Massive data sets

However, as we look to the present, a paradigm shift is underway. Artificial intelligence, fueled by massive datasets and sophisticated algorithms, is redefining the landscape of generative design. No longer confined by the limitations of manual input or predefined parameters, AI-driven generative design systems have the capacity to autonomously explore and evaluate an unprecedented number of design possibilities.

Generative design is making a comeback not just because designers and engineers want it, but also because AI is asking for it. As machine learning algorithms hunger for vast quantities of data to fuel their insatiable appetite for learning, generative design emerges as a means to construct rich and diverse datasets. The process of building a robust data infrastructure becomes not just a means to an end but an end in itself — a prerequisite for unlocking the full potential of AI-driven design systems.

Paradox of choice: Several design proposals for unit distribution generated by generative design algorithms

Paradox of choice: Several design proposals for unit distribution generated by generative design algorithms

Combined potential

Looking to the future, the question arises: who is generative design for? The answer lies in its inherent versatility and adaptability. Generative design is for the designer seeking inspiration, the engineer striving for optimization, and the AI hungry for data. It is for the visionary who dares to imagine the impossible and the pragmatist who seeks to realize it.

When AI and generative design come together, we can envision a future where the design options produced by algorithms better match what users desire. AI can serve as a digital assistant, helping users explore the vast array of design possibilities created by generative design algorithms. Furthermore, we can use generative design to train and improve AI capabilities within the AEC industry.

Is generative design reliable?

Yet, amidst this boundless potential, challenges persist. As generative design continues to evolve, it must confront questions of ethics, accessibility, and accountability. How do we ensure that generative design remains inclusive and equitable, accessible to all regardless of background or expertise? How do we navigate the ethical implications of AI-driven design systems, ensuring that they prioritize human values and well-being?

Architects in charge

To address these challenges, the solution lies in the interface between industry expertise and technology as an assisting tool. By providing a simple user interface, we believe we can offer a tool for architects to validate, explore, discard, and evaluate solutions. That’s why we built Hektar. It consists of an API for generating proposals and creating a wide dataset. In parallel, we offer a simple, friendly user interface to support architects, developers, and municipalities in interacting with generative design.

In the end, the true promise of generative design lies not in its capacity to generate a multitude of alternatives but in its ability to inspire, empower, and catalyze creativity. It is a tool, a medium, and a catalyst for innovation — limited only by our imagination and ambition. As we embark on this journey into the future, let us embrace generative design not as a means to an end but as a gateway to new possibilities, new horizons, and new realms of creative exploration