2010-08-15

Thinking about 4D

It's been a great first week as a blogger, adding 15 followers, nice comments and references from other blogs. I am also very happy that the point I made in my first post about trying to meet people with same interests or chasing similar goals have already paid off!

In the meantime Alistair from the office sent me a quick note that got me thinking: in the BIM community we generally talk about drafting tools that deal with drawings separately as "2D", and then the ones where all the information gets stored in a single model as "3D". All clear up to that. Then we get about 4D (time) and even 5D (money) to describe the advantages of meta-data and database capabilities in our beloved Building Information Models.

But in modern physics there is a diferentiation between "Spacetime", where time and distance measurements are combined in a single manifold, in the Relativistic approach and multi-dimensional Euclidean space (which is the geometry we are taught in school). So our "fourth dimension" is another distance, but somehow measured "inside the 3D point". Also, degrees of freedom would increase (Civil Engineers in the room correct me if I'm wrong):
In a 1D world elements can only move back and forth,
In 2D they can move up-down and rotate in 1 direction,
In 3D they can move in 3 directions and rotate around 3 axia.

In 4D...? Well I'm not sure, but I suppose they can move in 4 directions (remember the 4th is moving but staying in the same XYZ location) and rotate in 7 directions???


Consequences: if we imagine a "planar world" and a naughty 3D object trying to hide, it would just jump to another value of "Z"... becoming invisible to the fellow 2D objects... who could only see the projection or the intersection to their 2D space. Maybe UFOs and Aliens are among us, but just hiding in the 4th dimension...

Besides, all our screens (until recently at least) are a 2D surface, where the 3D space (represented by vectors and coorinates) gets projected to flat plans, sections, axonometric and perspective views. Similar abstract programming can transform the virtual 4D space into computer screens to "play with it in virtual reality" and research shows that human brain can actually interact with 4D space without too much training...

Thanks again to Alistair for the brain-teaser, hoping to have gotten you thinking just like he did with me, here's a couple of links to read further:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_dimension
http://math.eretrandre.org/4dbb/index.php

 wich also reminded me of a quote from one of my favourite movies:

Neo: I know what you are doing.
Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.

Back to the projects, I'm making progress on the Genetic Design, so expect a follow-up shortly.
Have a nice week!
William.

2010-08-12

Genetic Design - Part 1: General concepts

In my second post I'd like to thank my friend and Blogging mentor David Light, who featured this space in his highly respected blog. I guess most of you got here through there, but if you landed directly here I highly recommend having a look at http://autodesk-revit.blogspot.com/, packed with tips, news and tools for the BIM enthusiast.
Enough said as introduction, let's talk about my current after-hours project.

About 2 years ago I went to a conference on Genetic Algorithm applied to Design. In a room full of engineers, I saw some examples of Genetic principles applied to Air Conditioning system planning, lighting design, and some shy approach to layout planning. The tools they used were some Java and C++ applets, lots of spreadsheets with complex scripting and occasionally some diagrams. Despite many interesting things were said, I was left with the feeling that the Architectural Design implementation was one I would have liked to chase, eventually.

If you haven't noticed yet, this is "the brief" of the challenge. The case study is an urban multi-tower development massing. But let me clarify a few principles to describe the aspiration of the research.

View of 20 options overlapping. This information has been generated out of data created at random in Excel, and will inform the following iteration of the design...

- What is Genetic Algorithm?
As you can read in Wikipedia, Genetic Algorithm is a process (generally used to optimize or serch options) that mimics the natural evolution. The goal I am chasing here is a process that will create and refine design options to achieve an "optimum" solution.

- What is the "Evolution" sequence?
The process is based on the "survival of the fittest", which implies that you have to be able to generate options, compare them, rank them and recombine them to offspring the next generation. In the Design field, this is generally done as part of an iterative process, where a few options are created, analized and then reprocessed to achieve a better design. But in times of Digital Architecture and Parametric Design, it would be interesting to leave the process to the machine, and sit back watching your "ideal solution" evolve on the screen.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for all us Designers out there) it's not as simple as that, because:
1) The "natural selection" of the fittest options is extremely difficult to script - as it's generally difficult to establish what makes an option better than the other (after all, Architecture is nor far from Sculpture... right?)
2) Multiple options could be "best" in their own right, presenting the problem of the multiple-variable optimization (or Pareto Optimality after the Economist Vilfredo Pareto who studied it).

On the Pareto Front, all the options are better than the others... which one is "the best"?

Bottom line is that instead of reaching an ideal option, we will have to choose from a set of options that will be optimal. So reduce the problem to numbers and compare them... easy, right?


Extract of the Excel formula to establish if an option is better than another and rank their survival

Back to the massing exercise, my constraint is an irregular site, a target total area and a series of setback conditions that depend on the hight of the building. Standard design approach is to sketch the massing that looks alright (say one tall tower in the centre of the composition, a couple of mid-height elements to the east and a scatter of shorter buildings to the west. It feels right, looks great in the renderings, client signs-off. Then we use our BIM tool of choice to get the areas spot-on, and wait for Scheme Design to realize that the setback condition is not fulfilled... How could we consider the setback, if it depended on the height of the building? All Revit experts out there will point at smart flexible families, like the ones Zack presented here.

I am trying to transform the design to a "genetic code", and then I am using Excel for the math calculations and "genetic manipulation" and Rhino/Grasshopper for the graphic analysis. So far (this project is not functional yet) I have dealt with the random creation of the options, exporting the data from Excel to a text file, getting it into Rhino and generating the shapes.

Create a value at random ("mutate") or search for the average between parents, with a weight for "dominant" or "recessive" genes... and a bit of randomness on top...

Steps to follow include: the intersection study in Rhino (to establish if the buildings are landing on the site or within the setback conditions), Export from Rhino into Excel, and automating the process to be able to iterate overnight (currently the Excel macros are manually triggered, and I get a "confirm you want to override file" dialogue that stops the whole process...). Find below a snapshot of the current Grasshopper definition:



Please let me know if you've heard of or worked in similar challenges, or any comment that adds to the discussion. The information will remain "Under Non Disclosure Agreement".

2010-08-10

Welcome to "Under NDA"

So, I started a Blog.
Last week after the office I went to the bar with the guys, and went on about another crazy side project, one of those that could change the world if ever completed. Robbie asked: "Do you ever get to write about these topics? If you did, how big the book would be?"
He left me thinking... and triggered the big question: if I was to write at least a line on these wild shots into technology, interoperability, robotics, BIM, would anyone be interested? Maybe I will inspire or influence an ongoing investigation even trigger a new one, or get in contact with people that are dealing with subjects that drive my attention.
I have to admit that I rarely push to conclusion these ideas, and quite often forget about them after some time. Maybe by keeping track of some of them I will be able to compile enough information to write a book (most likely the blog itself will be my only publication though!)
The title is meant to be puzzling: Discussions held "Under Non Disclosure Agreement" are supposed to be private... yet I am blogging about them.

Let me get this clear (and I will probably repeat it over and over again): ALL IDEAS OR PROJECTS EXPRESSED HERE REFER TO PERSONAL SIDE PROJECTS, AND ARE IN NO DIRECT CONNECTION TO ANY COMPANY I HAVE WORKED OR COLLABORATED IN THE PAST OR PRESENT. I DO NOT INTEND TO DISCLOSE PRIVILEGED INFORMATION OR REFER TO ONGOING PROJECTS. IF ANY INFORMATION PUBLISHED HERE IS CONSIDERED TO BE AGAINST THIS STATEMENT, CONTACT ME AND I WILL AMEND THE PUBLICATION AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

The coming posts will (hopefully) explain my thinking: I've read a lot about using Genetic Algorithm in an architectural design process, combining the "analytical approach to Design" that Prof. Baudizzone taught me in Uni, back in 1997. Yet I never got it implemented - the closest I got to it was a GWBASIC program for a Museum competition, that was not really using Genetic optimization.

Another long running project is the implementation of a collaborative Neural Network for an AI concept. Never got far either...

When I was 9 or 10 (maybe a bit more) I designed a series of robotic arms, based on cardboard and strings, and I kept the "blueprints" in a sealed envelope with bold "TOP SECRET" stamp... I will probably give that project a miss :P

Enough for now... I will keep you posted on the next challenge I come across or I throw in front of me.