CAAD Futures 2011

Daniel Davis – 7 August 2011

In Australia we rank conferences – academics being academics can’t resist the allure of a quantitative measurement. The Australian bean-counters give CAAD Futures a grade of ‘A’, which was enough to justify my attendance this year. By my own qualitative measurement, CAAD Futures gets the grade of ‘pretty awesome’.

Held every two years, CAAD Futures is the place to go if you want to talk earnestly about the future of computer aided architectural design. This year it was in Liege, a slightly run down former coal mining town in Belgium better known to architects as the home of Santiago Calatrava’s elegant train station (home is probably the wrong word to use for something so alien and don’t let the money shots fool you, this is a functional disaster).

For me the week started with an excellent workshop by the Robots in Architecture crew, Sigrid and Johannes, who demonstrated how to link Grasshopper to a Kuka robot (hopefully they will launch the Grasshopper component shortly). The next three days focused on discussing CAAD, which since the first CAAD Futures conference in 1985, has come to encompass a wide range of topics. This year it stretched from mobile, to shape grammars, to way-finding for the blind, to environmental design, to parametric design, to early stage performance analysis.

One of the more interesting developments that emerged from CAAD Futures was a practice lead critique of CAAD tools. This was kicked off by Andre Chaszar, who chaired a discussion on the first day about collaborative modelling. Chaszar’s position is that centralised management of CAD models (A.K.A. BIM) makes for a compelling diagram however in practice the model normally finds itself distributed into domain specific silos. When we normally talk of BIM, despite the industry push towards BIM, we are discussing a common geometric model from which each discipline recreates their domain specific model. Chaszar’s acknowledgement of the difficulties with BIM led him to explore ways to facilitate this mode of practice; a fantastic contrast to the typical academic confused as to why no-one is using their hopelessly optimistic and overly complex frameworks.

This practice lead critique continued with parametric modelling. The Woodbury clan have been exploring this for a while: Diliara Nasirova giving a compelling demonstration of the difficulty in detecting changes resulting from parametric models (a case for unit testing perhaps?), and Temy Tidafi demonstrating a SVN-like system for storing a version tree of  a parametric model. Patrick Janssen gave a simple but highly useful comparison of using Grasshopper, Generative Components and Houdini to produce a parametric model, concluding that iteration and the management of lists is one of the most challenging aspects of parametric modelling in practice. And I will sneak my own work into this category: a paper looking at ways to overcome parametric inflexibility by using modular programming, which to my surprise was selected as the best paper of CAAD Futures and can be viewed here.

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In the past CAAD has typically been discussed in a gushingly positive light. I suspect one reason is that historically the small community of people qualified to discuss CAAD have had an incentive speak positively about CAAD: would The Logic of Architecture be compelling if Mitchell admitted his system would not work? would the early optimisation studies be funded if the researchers admitted the optimal layout of floor plans was not important to practice? Would anyone care about Lars Spuybroke if he wasn’t talking about how awesome the computer is all the time? As CAAD has fledged and taken a firm hold in practice, the discourse in recent years has become more robust. It was exciting at CAAD Futures to see the loop between practice and academia close a little bit, with practice starting to inform academia. Obviously there was more to CAAD Futures than this line of discussion, so hopefully you can get full the proceedings on CuminCAD in the coming weeks.

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