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This tool solves one of the biggest problems in architecture: Making everyone happy

Scout, the winner of the Data Design category in the 2020 Innovation by Design Awards, provides a dynamic way for architects to get client feedback and tailor designs.

This tool solves one of the biggest problems in architecture: Making everyone happy
[Image: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates]
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When architects and urban planners design buildings and neighborhoods, they’re balancing many different priorities. Each project has certain requirements, the clients have economic goals, and the end users have their own desires. Meeting all these expectations can be tough, especially because designers can’t always be sure they know what everyone wants.

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A new tool aims to make that more clear, by allowing people to tweak an early 3D model of a proposed design to show the architects precisely what they want and how they should revise their designs accordingly.

Scout is a web platform that visualizes urban planning and architectural design options based on a set of easily adjustable parameters and desired outcomes. It’s also the winner of our 2020 Innovation by Design awards in the Data Design category. Developed by global architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates’ research and design wing, KPF Urban Interface, Scout creates 3D models of buildings and neighborhoods that can be easily adjusted to show variations in layout, density, walkability, sun exposure, and dozens of other attributes.

The project was initially developed for in-house designers as a way of reckoning with the nearly infinite options made possible by computational design, says KPF Urban Interface director Luc Wilson. “We’re experts generating data that we then need to distill down and present to design teams within our firm, or to clients, or to communities. It was a really top-down approach where we were like, ‘okay, we tested 2,000 options, these are the five best, trust us,'” Wilson says. But even with a narrowed down list of choices, Wilson says, there’s never a single one that fully represents everyone’s needs or meets their expectations. “One of the things that we’ve learned working in practice, at the building scale, and especially at the neighborhood/community/city scale, there is no optimal.”

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Wilson and his team began thinking about how to make this process more transparent, and how it might empower clients or community members if they were able to decide what factors were most important to the project.

[Image: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates]
Scout pulls in various data for each project, be it the interior of a large office building, the design of a skyscraper, or the plan for an entire neighborhood. Designers at KPF can use it to narrow down design concepts, and then test out adjustments based on the project’s goals.

One Scout visualization model for a new oceanfront neighborhood development in Hawaii allows adjustments to things like the angle of the streets, the amount of transit accessibility, density, and the clustering of buildings. Analyses show how each change to proposed elements of the plan would impact not only the look of the design but conditions like walkability, shade, and ocean views.

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For the developers, it was important to let each of these factors be adjustable, so stakeholders could see how changes could affect the potential outcome of the project, enabling more informed discussions about what a project really needs.

“A huge part of it is equipping people with a tool to have their voice heard, but a large part of it is also giving them the ability to actually more precisely explore what it is that they want,” says Snoweria Zhang, urban innovation architect at KPF Urban Interface.

Though Scout has only been used on KPF projects so far, Wilson says the firm wants it to become a tool for deeper public participation in design projects and urban planning processes. “Hopefully we can use it for broader, more inclusive engagement,” he says.

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See more honorees from the 2020 Innovation by Design Awards here.