Revolutionising building design with generative AI

The use of generative AI has the power to unleash human creativity in the field of the built environment, transforming the collaborating disciplines that deliver the design vision, argues Augmenta’s Francesco Iorio

Generative AI is poised to transform building design, fundamentally altering how architects and engineers conceive, visualise, and realise structures.

The ability to create an endless array of design options while considering sustainability, efficiency, and human-centricity will make it an invaluable tool in shaping future cities

In this article, we delve into the exciting world of generative AI in automating building design and explore its tremendous potential.

A world of change

Can you imagine a world where, despite incredible advances in technology, your profession is still doing things the same way as decades ago? Such is the situation today’s architects and engineers face as they strive to design modern, efficient, and future-proof buildings.

Despite innovation in many areas of building construction, the design process has remained largely unchanged for far too long.

Architects, engineers, and professionals across disparate trades do their best to build plans based on available information, best guesses, and unvalidated assumptions. The process of refining those designs to something truly constructible takes months, and in practice much of the final design happens in the field during construction.

Inevitably, design modifications and rework are required downstream in the process after construction has already started. The end-to-end process is fraught with productivity loss, massive time/materials waste (up to 30% on average), and many sub-optimal designs that have to be scrapped or band-aided on the fly.

Until recently, efforts to improve building design workflow have had limited success due to the inherent complexities of MEP (mechanical/electrical/plumbing) systems, and the lack of a feasible way to achieve accurate, valid designs before on-site work begins.

Fortunately, new generative AI technology can solve these problems and offer an overdue elevation to the design process.

Using a series of machine learning models coupled with sophisticated mathematical modelling , AEC professionals will be able to create, validate, and refine compliant design and engineering plans before project sign-off and well ahead of on-site construction.

Equally game-changing: They can complete this within hours or days, not months.

By inserting a layer of abstraction and automation upstream, AEC teams will work smarter and faster, leading to extreme time and cost savings, reduced waste, and improved delivery times.

Unleashing creativity for high-performance, purpose-built designs – and “what if?”

Generative AI will empower architects and engineers to break free from the constraints of traditional planning methods, and avoid losing time iterating on building designs that are not feasible for construction.

Instead, they can spend more time thinking creatively and exploring design alternatives, each of which – thanks to the technology – is accurate and validated across mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural (MEP/S) systems from the start.

This shift from best-guess planning to strategic innovation and “what-if” thinking holds immense potential and will enable the industry to accelerate innovation at a time when the world needs it most.

Today’s buildings account for 40% of global energy consumption and one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. By optimizing for factors like energy consumption, sunlight exposure, and material efficiency, generative AI helps engineers design buildings that are not only visually striking, but also ecologically sustainable.

More flexibility and choice enable contractors to invest more time in understanding and addressing customer requirements.

For example, owners of a new factory seek an open floor plan that will adhere to specific safety requirements; a hospital in a hurricane zone requires unique HVAC systems, storm drainage, and extra power redundancy. Using generative AI tools, engineers can tailor purpose-built designs that cater to specific needs, optimizing every aspect to the smallest detail.

Re-imagining industry collaboration and scale

In addition to expediting innovation and savings, generative AI will catalyse improved collaboration across disciplines.

Early in the project, architects, engineers, urban planners, and other community stakeholders can collectively define a project’s objectives and constraints. Together, they can refine AI-generated designs, fine-tuning them to align with specific requirements.

The positive impact extends to the broader supply chain, from insurance companies to suppliers, as each party can work smarter and make better upstream decisions. The collaborative approach breaks down silos, resulting in better communication and more holistic designs that resonate with the entire project ecosystem.

Generative AI also paves the way for industry scalability. In the face of an all-time high demand for construction, the sector is grappling with talent scarcity.

According to ABC News [in the United States] the construction industry will need to attract an estimated 546,000 additional workers on top of the normal pace of hiring in 2023 to meet the demand for labour.

The integration of generative AI into the design workflow will solve part of this problem by eliminating the time-consuming and tedious process of creating constructible designs. Thanks to automation, junior staff will be able to swiftly generate code-compliant designs, while experienced professionals can focus on strategic thinking and exploring novel approaches.

The industry is thus equipped with a greater capacity to respond to rising demand and scale without compromising on quality or creativity.

The future is promising for the AEC industry, thanks to generative AI’s ability to revolutionise design processes, foster creativity, and enhance collaboration.

As this technology continues to evolve and be embraced by more professionals, we can look forward to a world where buildings not only meet today’s needs, but also stand as testaments to sustainable innovation and human ingenuity.

The possibilities are boundless, and the journey towards a smarter, more interconnected, and ecologically conscious built environment has only just begun.

Francesco Iorio is chief executive of Augmenta

Read next: Holcim opens new hub for sustainable building innovation

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