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Big data in architecture

Big data in architecture

Defne Sunguroğlu Hensel defended her PhD thesis ”Convergence. Materials Adaptation and Informatics in Architecture” at AHO on Friday 3rd November 2017. Her trial lecture entitled Tools, Evidence, and Meaning of Material Adaptation. Three Case Studies. 

The disputation took the audience and the Adjudication Committee through her dense, complex and innovative work. The committee praised Sunguroğlu Hensel’s dissertation and her rare combined focus and aptitude, for her ability to understand and to deftly convey technology, the anthropocene, philosophy, the materials, environments and their adaptability, architectural and cultural history.

Organizing big data

Architects need to expand and access advantageous alternative or new pathways available to design, to increase choice and to better adapt select materials and local environments to different multiple requirements particular to each individual project. This existing and growing information has to be stored, organized and made accessible with the aid of computers for reasoning and retrieving correct information to achieve targeted adaptation, and to explore and innovate our design space.
Accumulating, organizing and integrating process data to facilitate Computer-Aided Adaptive Architectural Design (CAAAD) opens up an option to discover information. Information that configures, relates and integrates architectural traits functionally for addressing multiple design criteria using a biomimetic, Artificial Intelligence model based on convergence and computational ontology.
“This approximate and granular data model and informatics tool can support experimentation, targeted development and better localized application and environmental impact by opening new directions for design. CAAAD models and tools can support the identification of important variables and what needs to be changed in materials and environments or how to manipulate information to make necessary adaptations. This increases and improves performance, fitness and the impact of design”, said Sunguroğlu Hensel.

Complex design challenges and limited design spaces

“Existing architectural solutions provide a wealth of information but not necessarily the comprehensive answers tailored for our specific design inquiries and challenges. Complex design challenges are inherent to architecture and by necessity they have to be approached by way of a multi-scale, multi-domain and multi-dimensional design inquiry. Currently, we do not have the tools to guide us in the design space. Not having these tools we may limit ourselves in the wrong way. We may not explore the whole spectrum of available choices”, she said.
Architecture has evolved over thousands of years through adaptations to changing design requirements. Still, there is no way to systematically access this architectural evolution. - What has already been explored?
“Access to all available data shows us what already exists, and indicates new approaches. It gives feedback and new knowledge, which can fill holes in the history of architecture. Big data mapping, biomimetic model and informatics tool provides feedback and new knowledge that can introduce new design solutions. Just as traditional architecture, biology is an exemplary model for adaptive design and a critical source that can provide useful information for architects. From a sustainability point of view and with increasing importance of the ecological role of architectural design, the potential of a common CAAAD data model will increasingly be focused on interdisciplinary transfer of knowledge”. 

Convergent traits and evolution

Another challenge to the design process is that functional architectural traits are not always obvious. A given trait may be good for one purpose, but not for another. Figuring out the best way is a necessity. The integration of multiple criteria is a challenge.
“I think of it as a trade-off: Architecture is not always really searching for the optimal solutions. It is also about advancing what already exists, about finding the changes that makes it more adaptive to our specific challenge. Some properties have not been correlated earlier. If architecture is able to access functional and adaptive traits it will have access to key variables that will assist the design purpose and development of better or new correlation of properties that are of interest for architecture. The architect will be informed from the start of the project. We can continue to limit our design space within the given or existing information or we can innovate through discovery of new information”, said Sunguroğlu Hensel.

Defne Sunguroğlu Hensel.

Read thesis summary