AI-assisted tools to evaluate architectural design quality

Evaluating the quality and suitability of a specific architectural design project -or its variations- to a concrete location is a key step when configuring an architectural project. Up and until today, it has been done in a subjective way. New technologies and assisted design solutions are emerging, supporting architects optimising their architectural proposals to deliver the highest possible living quality.

The architectural design process configures spaces and physically determines our lives. It requires careful consideration and reflection. During this process, architects dedicate a large amount of time to research the physical characteristics of the project site. This research involves different technologies and methodologies. The purpose is to analyse the effect of design choices in relationship with factors like topography, mobility, views, ventilation or the use of green spaces. Up and until now, most architects have relied on their intuition to evaluate the suitability of their design decisions.

The current architectural design process

For greater clarity on the situation, it is best to observe the design process architects follow when they work on a project or participate in an architectural competition. The process starts off with the preparation of a brief where the future building program (regulations, number of rooms, room functions, m2, and other specifications) and existing features of the physical project site (green areas, topography, proximity to the built-up surroundings) are studied.

The brief leads to a design concept phase, where architects develop a series of possible building designs creating a number of sketches and models. This stage can be time-consuming as the concept design needs to be substantiated by the brief created earlier so there may be multiple iterations.

Once the design concepts are finalized, a detailed design is created which integrates different requirements of the building. This too has various iterations and, once the detailed design is finalized, all the graphical drawings and layouts are submitted.

This process involves a series of professionals. In the words of Manuel Jose Feo Ojeda, PhD architect and professor of architectural projects at the School of Architecture of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, it takes “a network of collaborators who are specialized in the different objective aspects of the design process”.

The current design process can prove to be taxing for architects. It involves a lot of back and forth between different stages of the process which makes meeting deadlines a challenge.

The future: digital assisted-design tools

While the stages of the process would remain the same, design automation tools would be incorporated as a part of the process. With this modification, the iterations within the process become less painful. The new tools combine geo-data and urban models with the designed object to create simulations. This lets the architect assess the impact of their design choices in real-time using objective metrics created to ensure that criteria such as sunlight gain, noise exposure levels, views etc. are met.

The present meets the future. How could digital tools actually help architects today?
After seeing both the present and the future, we shift our attention towards the impact of design automation tools on the process itself. The greatest improvement in terms of the process is the reduction of the time required to complete the design process. The iterations which were done manually are now done by the automation tools. As a result, the final outcome is not only quicker but more refined as well.

When asked about the benefits of such a technology, Iván Pajares, BIM Consultant at Modelical, pointed out that “it may help locate the best plots among many in any given city even without the need of knowing it”.

Most architects agree with Martin Henriksen, Computational Development Lead, Europe at BuroHappold, when he says that he is looking for “augmented intelligence over artificial intelligence” solutions. There is a need for tools that enhance and support their design and decision making processes.

Esther Rioja del Campo, BIM Architect and Revit Coordinator at Bimoa Arquitectura, sees holistic benefits, larger than the design optimisation alone: “There are many automatable processes. Many determining factors are economic, defined by the real estate developer. Turning decision-making more objective is very important. Today this process is still something merely human. With its chances of error”.

An application example

As a concrete example of how the floor plan analysis solution from Archilyse helps architects to analyse the impact of their design decisions at different levels, we selected the “#175_QDC”, single-family home, from Philippe Meyer.

The building is located in Cologny, Geneva, Switzerland.
This residential project involved the renovation of a former office building on the shores of the Geneva lake. A continuous glass facade connects the rather strict forms of the building with the lake and views toward the water on a sloped site near the shore. References are made to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (Plano, Illinois, 1951) and the Barcelona Pavilion (1929).

Archilyse_Architectural_Floor_Plan_analysis_#175_QDC_Philippe_Meyer_house_location_and_facade

Building location and facade.

Based on the floor plan and the geolocation of the project site, we derived a series of analysis that unveil powerful objective insights that architects can use to guide their decision making along the design process.

About the analysis simulations

In each room of the house, we simulate a 360° panoramic view, based on a hexagonal grid. The panoramic views are done every 0.5 meters from the surface of each room. For each panoramic view simulation, the percentage of views of each type of element (buildings, green spaces, water, etc.) is calculated. The 3D model on which the simulations are based is built from a combination of GIS data sources.

Greenery view analysis

The greenery view simulation calculates the visible amount of green areas (either Trees or Parks).

V0_1_Greenery_view_Analysis_Archilyse

Related design decisions

  • Bring nature into the house.
  • Make a strong relation between liveable spaces and the green area.
  • In the most greenery point of the first floor, place a family space with the kitchen and living room, divided by a dining room.
  • Less liveable spaces (e.g. bathrooms and corridors) can be placed in the rear.
  • Use a rectangular geometry on the floor plan to gain a low footprint and let vegetation be an important element of the project.
  • Make use of a metal framework containing the glazing, which includes sliding sections that can be opened to let fresh air into the interior.
  • Place important views not in front of trees so they don’t block them.
  • Use trees as an acoustic barrier to protect from the street and noise from vehicles.

Water view analysis

The water view simulation calculates the visible amount of a water body such as a river, creek, lake or ocean areas.

V0_4_Water_Analysis_Archilyse

Related design decisions

  • Direct all the liveable spaces towards the lake.
  • Set observational points with the main focus to the views.
  • Angle liveable spaces to maximise panoramic views to the lake.
  • Incorporates protective blinds that can be lowered to filter the light reflecting off the surface of the lake.
  • Free up the internal arrangement on the front portion of the plan for use as an open space containing the kitchen, dining area, lounge and master bedroom, maximising water views.

Building view analysis

The building view simulation calculates the visible amount of all elements which are labelled as buildings.

V0_6_Building_View_Analysis_Archilyse

Related design decisions

  • In the less exposed point of the floor plan, make use of a structure made of pillars to provide a social point where different activities can be made.
  • Establishing the large open-plan living area is connected to a terrace on the second floor where the house is less exposed.
  • Set up internal curtains can be around spaces that require privacy.
  • Make a compact volume to make the building appear to be smaller and visually less obtrusive.

Mountain view analysis

The mountain view simulation calculates the visible amount of all elements which are ground and at least 500m higher than the observation point.

V0_2_Mountain_view_Analysis_Archilyse

Related design decisions

  • Open up the views over the landscape.
  • Make use of the geometry to frame the landscape.
  • Full-height glazing on the first floor provides views to the landscape.
  • Place best mountain views so trees don’t block them.
  • Consider how trees block or allow views in the winter and in summer.
  • Provide correct views to sunset in Summer (northwest) and winter (southwest).

Street view analysis

The street view simulation calculates the visible amount of all elements which are street-like.

V0_5_Street_View_Analysis_Archilyse

Related design decisions

  • As part of the acoustic strategy, define a geometry of the house, the way trees keep on the plot and these act as an acoustic barrier.
  • Depending on the simulation values, use triple glazing windows to avoid noise coming from the street.
  • Use the existing trees as acoustic barriers.
  • Consider the views from the vehicles to the house and use corresponding glass protection.

Sunlight analysis

The sun analysis simulation calculates the amount of direct sun and scattered light irradiation.

V0_7_Sunlight_Analysis_Archilyse

Related design decisions

  • Position the house on a south-north axis to maximise the exposure from the sun.
  • Place the house within an optimal orientation to get enough sunlight.
  • Place the bed-room in the left corner so circulation improves and the living room gets more light and it is more accessible to the swimming pool. Also the house inhabitants spend less time on rooms.
  • Provide more light to the dry spaces of the house by placing them into the right area of the house.
  • Reduce the amount of heating usage by positioning living spaces to the south.
  • Place open spaces (e.g. living room and dining) so events can be easily organised.
  • Place a visor on the south facade so the space is correctly protected from the sun.
  • Depending on the simulation values, consider not using Full-height glazing on the south facade.

Alternative design variations

Different possible variations could be developed to optimise different environmental parameters of the house. On the first variation, the shape of the volume allows the entrance of nature and green spaces in the house and at the same time maximizes the views of the lake from the main bedrooms.

The large exposure of the south-facing facade is a great advantage in variant two. Here, the public spaces get high and quality sun values. Furthermore, in this variant, where the volume is very compact, high values of views of the sky and the lake are maintained. In the last variant, the option is to reduce the footprint on the plot, adding one more floor. The open plan allows for maximum views of the surroundings from every corner of the house.

The architecture discipline needs to adapt to the new times, where data is fundamental in decision making. Automated architectural design analysis technologies bring in a more objective and quantitative approach in an environment that is currently excessively subjective and qualitative. Opportunities can be established in the data, and this is the main objective of these tools that arise to improve the work of the architect and not to replace it.

Pablo_Maching_Prats_Archilyse

About the author: Pablo Machin Prats is working at Archilyse as an architect and product manager coordinating projects of digitalization and analysis of architectural floor plans.

His expertise fields are architecture design competitions and product management. He has a keen interest in new technologies and how to scale them globally for sustainable development.

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