Leading Japanese Architect Foresees Computers Unleashing an Era of Design Freedom

By Akio
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clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Computers are unleashing an era
of #design freedom in #architecture -@KengoKuma

Kengo Kuma’s architectural designs range from the whimsical (Asakusa Cultural and Tourism Center, a wildly stacked pillar of houses) to the dramatic (the steamship-shaped Victoria and Albert Museum rising in Dundee, Scotland), to the deceptively simple (Great (Bamboo) Wall, a house in China).

Through them he has discovered his calling – celebrating natural materials and creating human connections – and learned that a computer can be an architect’s best friend.

China Academy of Art’s Folk Art Museum (Image © Eiichi Kano)

In the years after World War II, Japanese architects grappled with building homes and businesses to replace what the conflict had destroyed and accommodate booming post-war growth. Japan needed fast recovery as its top priority, and its “first generation” architects delivered.

Kengo Kuma, founder of Kengo Kuma & Associates (KKAA) and one of today’s most celebrated Japanese architects, reveres that generation.

“The first-generation architects basically had to reconstruct Japan, and that sense of responsibility had a big bearing on everything they did,” he said.

Kenzo Tange, who designed the Yoyogi National Gymnasium built for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, the building that inspired Kuma to become an architect, is a particular first-generation hero.

Thanks to Tange and those who came after – Arata Isozaki and Fumihiko Maki of the second generation, and Tadao Ando and Toyo Ito of the third generation – Kuma said he feels empowered to pursue a design freedom his predecessors never had.

“Japan’s a wealthy country now, rivaling the United States and Europe,” Kuma said in a wide-ranging interview. “For our generation, I’d say the main thematic question is what kind of architecture we can create in that context of comfort. I think this generation is trying to redefine architecture as a medium for people to connect with each other.”

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “#Architecture is a medium for
people to connect with each other” -@KengoKuma

REDISCOVERING NATURE WITH A COMPUTER

Soaring buildings with swooping curves and awe-inducing metal façades – the type of architecture that has dominated for nearly two decades – create a sense of wonder, but don’t promote human intimacy or comfort. Instead, Kuma believes that natural materials create the peace that humans instinctively crave.

His most iconic designs – beginning with his award-winning guest house in China known as “Great (Bamboo) Wall” – prominently feature wood and bamboo.

Even the stadium he designed for the 2020 Olympics in Japan – the first Olympic stadium built in his country since Tange’s 1964 project – is defined by its wooden details.

Ironically, however, Kuma’s transition from the concrete, steel and glass of the Industrial Age to the traditional, natural materials that define KKAA’s newest and most iconic projects has been enabled by the leading symbol of the modern age: the computer.

Celebrated Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (Image © K.K. Human Centrix)

“It’s really difficult to use natural materials, to be honest,” Kuma said. “There is so much variability. No two pieces are the same, first of all, and you always have to deal with each material’s size restrictions. The challenge is figuring out how to get all those pieces to fit together and create a functional structure, and that’s where computers are so helpful. It seems to me that you need computer technology to bring natural materials to architectural fruition. Otherwise, they are just too diverse and complicated to orchestrate.”

AUTOMATING THE ROUTINE RELEASES CREATIVITY

By managing many of the critical but routine and time-consuming tasks – from verifying structural integrity to compiling precise lists of materials to managing budgets – advanced computer technology, especially Building Information Management (BIM), actually frees architects to focus on creativity, Kuma said.

“Technological progress had had a big impact. We use CAD to design things in 3D now, for example. With computers, we can dream up virtually any architectural space and convert those ideas into actual drawings. As technology continues to liberate our imaginations, it’s cool how the digital advances in the architectural world have gone step-in-step with a renewed awareness of ‘the real thing.’”

Modern architects tend to spend most of their time finding solutions to engineering, scheduling and budget problems, not creating great designs, Kuma said.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: #Architects are spending time engineering/scheduling/
budgeting, not on creating great designs @KengoKuma @3DSAEC #BIM

“When you call on what BIM can do, it becomes possible to balance out engineering- type solutions with creativity. For example, people used to balance the budget at the end of the project to see whether the costs fell in line with the projections. Those days are now gone. Now you must have your budget in mind right out of the gates and work under those preconditions the whole time, gathering feedback and adjustments as you go. That’s why it’s almost impossible to manage your budget without BIM.

“Achieving a balance of solutions and creativity is one of the biggest issues in the architecture industry. If we can find a way to put these two things together, then I feel we can massively transform the architecture industry.”

DEMOCRATIZING DESIGN

While computers give architects more freedom, however, they also create an environment in which they will face more challenges to their authority, Kuma said.

“Computers democratize architecture,” he said.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: “Computers democratize
#architecture” -@KengoKuma @3DSAEC

“For example, someone who is a complete newcomer to architecture will be able to design their own house. Architects who have enjoyed privilege up to now may be opposed to this, but ultimately I think that architecture will belong to everyone. When that happens, I think we will be in for a very interesting future.”

In this new era, Kuma envisions architects being valued less for their engineering prowess and their ability to bring projects in on time and budget and more for their creativity and ability to create harmony, both in the buildings they design and in the working environments they create.

“If you try to make architecture more complicated, there is no end to how complicated it can get,” Kuma said.

“For that reason, I make sure to keep a model right in front of me. Everyone gathers around the model and talks. I feel that’s the key to not getting complicated. Everyone is actually very interested in architecture. So I think that if we keep things simple, a number of different people can take part in it.”

Sunny Hills Japan (Image © Daici Ano)

NURTURING AN OPEN, CREATIVE ENVIRONMENT

Part of keeping the working environment open involves avoiding hierarchical structures so that everyone’s ideas can be heard, Kuma said, even as KKAA expands beyond Japan with offices in China and Paris.

“I try to maintain a flat organizational structure,” Kuma said. “We want people to understand that they must take on a certain amount of risk when they assume responsibility for something, so we try to stay away from building too much of a hierarchy. That structure lulls you into thinking that someone else higher up on the ladder will always be there, ready to take responsibility for whatever you do. We want everyone to feel responsible for themselves and know that they are creators.”

In addition to encouraging a sense of responsibility, he encourages cultural diversity in KKAA’s staff.

“This diversity doesn’t dilute the character of KKAA; it strengthens it,” he said. “Our organization should be structured so that all of these people can really participate. That is what makes the identity of the organization stronger.”

Kuma’s philosophy is consistent with his definition of leadership.

“I think how qualified you are as a leader really depends on how easy of an environment you can create for everyone to speak up,” he said. “If you create an environment where everyone can easily speak their mind, different opinions will come forth and from those opinions you can find a balance. If nobody expresses their opinions, there’s really nothing you can do.”

A LONG-TERM VIEW

In a world that is rediscovering the beauty of natural materials and human connections, of sustainability and long-term value, Kuma believes that architects are well positioned to lead.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: #Architects can lead us into an era of human connections,
#sustainability & long-term value -@KengoKuma @3DSAEC

“The advantage the architecture industry has is that it can think over longer timespans, as much as 10 years from the start to the finish of project,” he said.

“We are entering an age that is going to be all about taking longer periods of time to think about what will make people happy, rather than shooting for short-term increases in profit.

“Architects are accustomed to listening to people about things. They are accustomed to thinking about things over long periods of time. Architects are people with universally applicable skills.”

Originally published in COMPASS: The 3DEXPERIENCE Magazine

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It’s Time to Provide More Than Design Intent for Architectural Projects

By Akio
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No car manufacturer in business would create an engine bay by interpreting a representative 2D drawing—yet it is still acceptable for AEC professionals to work that way.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: No car manufacturer would build from
a representative 2D drawing. Why should #AEC?

Today’s complex buildings should no longer rely on fragmented communication through 2D drawings or pdfs, said Robert Beson of AR-MA (Architectural Research – Material Applications Pty Ltd.), in a recent presentation at the 3DEXPERIENCE Forum Asia Pacific South 2016.

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Beson suggested that architects today have a responsibility to provide more than just design intent. When relying on 2D drawings, too much is left up to interpretation.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Architects have a responsibility
to provide more than just design intent

“It’s necessary to fully engage with the methods of construction, of manufacturing, assembly, logistics and installation,” Beson says. “We need to understand and engage our supply chain from concept through design.”

Adapting to New Processes

Moving to a collaborative platform based on parts and assemblies makes sense, but requires new skillsets from designers.

Today, every project AR-MA designs is comprehensively modeled in 3D.

Every project uses 3D laser point cloud scanning to verify work as it’s built onsite.

Every project uses 3D laser point cloud scanning to verify work as it’s built onsite.

The shift requires architects to interact in new ways with fabrication and construction professionals.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: Architects must interact in new
ways with fabrication & construction pros 

Take connection brackets, for example. By combining 3D scanning and a just-in-time fabrication pipeline, it’s no longer necessary to design complicated 3-way adjustable brackets. The team can design simple laser cut plates, each of which are slightly different and ultimately improve the tolerances onsite.

The need for 2D drawings can be fully removed by laser cutting or engraving directions for assembly into the materials themselves.

To provide these fabrication-ready solutions, every member of the team at AR-MA writes code.

Every AR-MA team member writes code in order to directly send information to fabrication machinery.

Every AR-MA team member writes code in order to directly send information to fabrication machinery.

“It’s not enough just to model, and put together assemblies and parts, and think through the building process,” Beson says. “It’s crucial to engage with the means of production and be able to communicate with them. Often that means writing code and sending G-codes directly to the CNC machines.”

Comprehensive Modeling for Wynyard Walk’s Unique Components

For Wynyard Walk, a pedestrian walkway recently completed in Sydney, AR-MA was contracted to manage and execute detail design of the stainless cladding. The team had to deliver a fabrication-ready package of over 3,000 perforated stainless panels and lights, more than 50% of which were entirely unique.

Beson notes that it would not have been possible to work from 2D drawings of the mostly unique 3,000 perforated stainless steel panels at the Wynyard Walk pedestrian walkway.

Beson notes that it would not have been possible to work from 2D drawings of the mostly unique 3,000 perforated stainless steel panels at the Wynyard Walk pedestrian walkway.

The designers wanted a parametric model that was flexible enough to respond to ongoing design challenges.

The model had to accommodate an as-built primary structure, a glass reinforced concrete wall cladding, interfaces with the ceiling, and ongoing changes in the panel layout and perforations due to modifications in the façade mullions and setouts.

The contractor found the Façade Design for Fabrication powered by 3DEXPERIENCE platform best fit its needs.

Its integration of design and engineering, part and assembly paradigm, and scalability, among other features, allowed the team to produce a highly detailed and accurate 3D model of the entire project scope.

The integration of design, engineering and fabrication information made the 3DExperience a strong solution for this project.

The integration of design, engineering and fabrication information made the 3DEXPERIENCE a strong solution for this project.

Not only did the comprehensive model prevent problems before they arose, but it allowed designers to minimize the number of part drawings by providing fabrication-ready geometry that was sent directly to the fabricator.

This saved time in the office and factory, and removed any error from misinterpretation of the 2D drawings.

For example, the tremendous time crunch made it necessary to release all fabrication information in batches. Façade Design for Fabrication helped the team to coordinate and track those batch releases, as well as any revisions.

Technical Support of Creativity

Beson pointed out that architecture has long been considered a creative endeavor, but what unifies the team at AR-MA is a belief that architects must unite creativity with technical ability.

“Both are necessary to produce the types of innovative and formative buildings our cities require today,” he says.

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Related Resources

To BIM or not to BIM?

By Akio
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The following article was originally published by Geoff Haines on the Desktop Engineering Blog and is reprinted with permission. 

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@3DSAEC @Desktop_Eng


Geoffrey M. Haines, Desktop Engineering

Geoffrey M. Haines, BSc(Eng), ACGI, C Eng, MIMechE, FRSA

I can’t claim originality to this Shakespearean title which has suitable gravity for many companies in the construction industry. It was thought up by Dr Steve Lo of Bath University for a one-day conference I attended organised by the “Future Envelope” community of façade designers and manufacturers.

Drawing from members of the European Façade Networks, the Society of Façade Engineers and Centre for Window Cladding technology, the aim of the conference was to discuss how BIM can help or even hinder the design and construction process of building facades.

To start off, early presentations included how professionals and companies can gain accreditation to be BIM Level 2 compliant. This is a requirement for any building design and construction contract delivered to the UK government since April 2016. Hence it’s a hot topic and the explanations given by BRE (Building Research Establishment) on their BIM Level 2 certification process were received well.

Certainly I see great opportunity for individual consultants to template the people, process and technology needs of BIM certification so smaller firms can overlay this on their business at minimum cost.

Other presentations discussed how both architects and engineers worked with different technologies to achieve the aim of clear communication of design intent.

Abdulmajid Karanouh of Ramboll gave a really thoughtful presentation discussing what architects really need to do to communicate to their supply chain.

What I really found interesting was the discussion on The Al-Bahr Towers, designed by Aedas of which Abdulmajid was part of the team. Aedas created a design specification that wasn’t a model, but a set of geometrical formulae and process that would create the design.

This is the ultimate “CAD’nostic” design.

Any CAD package that could be driven by some sort of scripting or formula could create this geometry – giving the geometrical definition of a 1000-person tower.

I found this approach quite revolutionary, taking the architect’s idea into a form that could be expressed mathematically – something my engineer’s brain could comprehend.

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: .@Aedas created not a model, but a set of formulas and processes to produce a design | #architecture #BIM @DesktopEng

Ultimately, when the selected suppliers all delivered their design information, this was all consolidated into the Dassault Systemes CATIA based technology to deliver a BIM model. This approach caused some real heated interchange about an architect’s definition of form.

Overall, the conclusion to the day was mixed – the smaller firms seeing it as an overhead, the larger firms seeing it as a necessity – but one thought overriding all this discussion was ‘who pays for it?’

In automotive and aerospace, we all know that that more upfront design activity delivers lower costs downstream.

In construction, these two activities are delivered by different bodies, with different earnings streams – extra costs in design delivers savings for contractors.

So I’ll leave you with this – how do we square this circle?

clicktotweetClick to Tweet: To BIM or not to BIM?
@3DSAEC @Desktop_Eng


by Geoff Haines


Related Resources

Desktop Engineering, UK

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VIDEO: Facade Design for Fabrication Demo



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