Advanced Design Studio: A Competition

Across campus, Seong Dong Lee enters an architecture lab and turns on PORTFOLIO, a desk sized version of the portable TABLET. Its 32″ x 48″ screen allows him to work with multiple documents simultaneously, much like on a cluttered desk. Seong is acting as leader of a student team engaged in a furious race to beat the deadline for submitting their entry to an ACSA (Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture) sponsored design competition. A teammate arrives and they both plug their TABLETs into the larger machine, designating separate windows in which their own design work can be displayed. Other teammates connect through communications interfaces establishing, in effect, a conference call. The remote TABLETs will be able to view the entire PORTFOLIO screen and to enlarge any segment of it for closer study. In the largest window on the PORTFOLIO screen Seong has displayed the team’s preliminary design. Each team member uses a different color cursor so their individual suggestions can be distinguished on the large screen. Now they must blend their individual investigations into a finished product.

The competition calls for the design of a music performance hall in a mid-western city of 250,000. Very complete site information including topography, sections and elevations of adjoining buildings, and even soil conditions was provided in the competition brief which was distributed electronically to all the entering teams. In addition, ACSA has begun to coordinate development of expert systems that will effectively bring the best consultants in architecture to every student of architecture. The competition is designed to serve as a test of these “expert systems”. The Performance Hall Competition includes experimental systems which will score the effectiveness of structures, acoustics, circulation, energy efficiency, lighting, costs, and appearance.

Earlier in the week Seong’s team had simulated the acoustic environment of the performance hall. This required the raw computing power of the University mainframe, but the team had been able to do so from the comfort of an unused seminar room where they worked through TABLET’s built-in compatibility. The brief had emphasized that the hall would be used primarily for chamber orchestra concerts, with secondary use for small instrumental or choral groups. The expert system had allowed them to alter the dimensions of the hall, the absorbency of all surfaces, and the size and distribution of the audience, scoring each arrangement for reverberation, distribution and clarity of sound for each kind of musical group. The results were automatically saved into a database for subsequent comparison. After numerous variations the team had settled on an initial configuration of the performance hall which seemed to require the least compromise in acoustic quality. The resulting plans and sections were irregular in form, but the design was supportive of the acoustic requirements.

Now they had to blend the other requirements. It would take them all day, and most of the night. More than once they would forget to save the desired changes, costing them precious minutes while the material was reconstructed. But the desire to drive the scores for each of the expert systems into the 95% range kept them at it. In particular the relationships between crowd size, circulation, lighting, and energy efficiency kept the team going in circles. They found a solution when one member tracked down a bibliographic reference in the competition brief to a new Japanese escalator system. At 2:00am, he found the article through an on-line library reference service, copied it into his file, then had the University mainframe provide an English translation.

The team never did get the cost analysis program to read less than the given budget in the competition brief. In desperation at one point they even sent a message over the competition network asking “Has anyone scored above 78% on the cost analysis yet?” They got eight negative responses and a few jokes from around the country during the next hour, and decided the given budget figure was unrealistic.

As each step in the design was agreed upon Seong would move it from the smaller window into the emerging finished design, noting the adjustments that had to be made in previous steps, each of which was retained as a separate layer in the drawing. While the process seemed tedious because of the constant feedback, it in fact went very quickly as TABLET generated variation after variation without the need for extensive redrawing. While the expert system on appearance was still a bit crude it enabled the team to develop their emerging facade designs against a variety of proportional systems. As they did so, placing windows, doors, roof and cornice lines according to a complicated harmonic proportioning system, the entire design took on a more coherent appearance.

The team’s final presentation, which will include an animated walk around and into the building, will be generated by combining the series of site drawings included with the initial competition program with perspective sketches generated by the computer from the team’s plans and sections. These will be rendered on the computer to illustrate materials and colors, and the conditions of shades and shadows at a specified time. It will be close, but before 5:00pm on Friday they will be able to transmit the design electronically to Washington, directly into the ACSA competition file. The team’s written analysis of the expert systems will be transmitted according to instructions provided by ACSA and incorporated into subsequent test versions of the systems before they are finally released to the member schools and to the profession.

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