Colibri is Spanish for hummingbird. Logo by Colibri contributor Olivier Dambron.
Colibri allows Grasshopper users to easily turn their Grasshopper definitions into Design Explorer – compatible design spaces. Run Colibri in Grasshopper, upload to Google Drive, and voila: your design space in Design Explorer!
Colibri is an open source project that was started at the 2016 AEC Technology Hackathon in New York, which CORE studio hosted late last year. It was designed and prototyped over the course of 27 hours during the hackathon by a team of dedicated hackers (most of whom work for TT!). CORE studio forked the project after the hackathon, and we’ve been improving and testing Colibri over the past few weeks in anticipation of this release.
The project’s goal is simple: make it easy to generate Design Explorer-compatible data sets in Grasshopper. This has been possible to do for some time now of course, but it was super painful to set up and was generally quite error-prone. Users would rely on Ladybug’s ‘Fly’ component or our ‘Brute Force’ component to iterate over some sliders in their grasshopper definition, and use a bunch of data recorders and an Excel Writer to create a data.csv file in the right format. Images and Spectacles models were up to the user to generate, name, and link into the .csv file properly. Because Fly and Brute Force hit every step on every slider, users’ sliders often had to be edited to fine tune the size and resolution of the design space. If all of that sounds like complete nonsense (or if it makes sense but sounds painful), we are with you, and that’s precisely why we built Colibri. It should be easy to jump into Design Explorer!
The Colibri workflow is divided into two stages, Iteration and Aggregation. Colibri provides a component for each stage, the Iterator and the Aggregator.
The Iterator component loops over connected sliders and drives your grasshopper definition, much like Galapagos does when it’s running. Unlike Ladybug’s ‘Fly’ component or our old ‘Brute Force’ component (all of which, more or less, share the same code base by the way – these tools are all based on this post from David Rutten), Colibri’s Iterator component allows users to specify how many steps to take along each slider. This is subtle, but important: it allows users to keep the size of their design space under control, and to specify granularity selectively along each input vector within the design space – all without editing the actual sliders in Grasshopper.
While the Iterator is iterating away upstream, the Aggregator component collects all of the data that Design Explorer needs from your Grasshopper definition. It gathers the inputs from the Iterator, the outputs (performance metrics) from your grasshopper definition, and takes care of generating images, naming images and Spectacles files, and writing all of that data into a data.csv file.
Another application for the Aggregator is to record optimization runs with Galapagos or Octopus. By connecting the ‘Colibri Inputs’ component to the same sliders that Galapagos / Octopus is driving, the Aggregator is able to record every iteration during an optimization run. This workflow allows designers to navigate within the focused design spaces that those algorithms produce using Design Explorer. Instead of reinstating one iteration at a time in Grasshopper, groups of iterations that fit a set of specific performance criteria (something like ‘show me all iterations that are highly performant and that have a bay spacing greater than X and a floor height smaller than Y’, for example) can easily be identified using Design Explorer.
The YouTube video above demonstrates how to get started with Colibri, and you can download the plugin from Food4Rhino. Please let us know what you think! We sincerely hope you’ll enjoy working with Colibri and Design Explorer.
In this third and final post in our series about Design Explorer, we focus on how the tool is currently being used in practice by architects, engineers, and designers. The discussions about design space navigation and the too many iterations problem are all well and good, but without some specific examples it’s all admittedly a bit abstract. This post will attempt to bring some specificity to the conversation by showing how some avant garde AEC technologists are using Design Explorer to navigate project specific design spaces.
KPFUrban Interface was kind enough to share a portion of their Ideal Block: London design space with us for this post. KPF.UI created a parametric model that generated massing geometry for an idealized residential block in London, and analyzed the performance of the massing based on a number of metrics: available daylight, sky exposure, site coverage, floor area ratio, etc.
Case #2 – Balconies, Daylighting and Operational Energy
While still at the University of Pennsylvania’s Masters of Environmental Building Design program, Mingbo Peng (now a Project Consultant in the Sustainability Practice at Thornton Tomasetti) developed a design space exploring the relationships between balconies, daylighting, and operational energy for typical New Orleans apartments. More information on the study can be found here.
Thornton Tomasetti’s corporate sustainability department has been compiling a database of our completed projects’ embodied carbon footprints over the past few years. The design space above is a small sample of that database that compares projects’ sizes and embodied carbon footprints. I think this one is particularly interesting since the data didn’t come from a parametric model. Design Explorer can be used to visualize a very wide variety of design spaces. It’s not just limited to parametric AEC models.
CORE studio developed this example to demonstrate [to our Grasshopper-savvy structural engineering teams at Thornton Tomasetti] that Design Explorer can be used for structural work, too. Since most of the Design Explorer work we’ve shown to date has been related to environmental / sustainable design problems, there was a widespread misconception that it could only be used for those types of problems — not so! This example explores how topology and member sizing relate to deflection, self weight, and structural utilization.
We chose to limit this post to these few case studies, but we wanted to show so many more … especially a product design example (something very small) and a purely numerical example (something without a body to show in 2D or 3D). If you’ve made it this far, the author will have to assume that you can use your imagination to conjure those last two. We sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this series on Design Explorer, and that you’ll continue to use and fork the project in the months to come.
Happy exploring! Don’t get lost in all of those extra dimensions out there…
Shot from Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (Source)
Following up on our Design Explorer Announcement post last month, this second post in our Design Explorer series will explore the idea of the design space by looking at a small set of historical precedents and contemporary like-minded projects. By describing the natural history of this family of concepts, we can develop a better sense of how the idea of design space is moving away from the fringes and into the mainstream.
The timeline below is an attempt to position Design Explorer as part of a broader trend towards design-space-thinking in the AEC technology community. It is by no means meant to be exhaustive, and I’m sure there is a ton of work out there of which I am unaware that could further describe the natural history of the design space. It is a curated timeline from the author’s point of view.
(1941) Borges; Library of Babel. I came across this work in Kevin Kelly’s Out of Control. Borges writes about a vast library containing all possible [410-page, specifically formatted] books. Although most books are filled with utter gibberish, the library contains every book ever written. Kevin Kelly talks about visiting this [fictional] library while he is writing Out of Control and deciding that instead of finishing the book himself, that he will develop a method of searching the library for the already-complete copy of his book. This idea of searching – the method, as he calls it – is a vivid example of design space navigation.
(1979)Hofstadter; Gödel, Escher, Bach. We could draw on a number of examples from this amazing book, but I think the high level survey is more meaningful. At various points, Hofstadter talks about protein folding space, the space of all meaningful mathematical expressions, the space of all possible fugue variations given any starting melody, etc. It turns out that mathematics has been concerned with these questions much longer than we have in AEC! No surprises there, I suppose.
(1986) Dawkins; The Blind Watchmaker. In the third chapter of The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins expounds about a computer program he developed called Biomorph Land. The program allows the user to drive the evolution of 2D branching structures over a series of generations. For each generation, the user picks one figure that is most attractive, and in the next generation a set of new descendant figures are drawn. There are about 500 billion biomorphs in the nine-dimensional space that Dawkins created, and the only way to find any one of them was to evolve towards it from a single, primitive parent.
Dawkins writes beautifully about the first night he got the program to run – staying up all night evolving bats, insects, and airplanes – and how he neglected to write a method of saving the biomorphs he encountered. He saw amazing forms during his first night exploring in biomorph land that were effectively lost – without saving their genomes, it was practically impossible to find them again within the vast design space. Aside from the amazing writing about design space navigation, he also developed some incredibly interesting visualization techniques, such as cutting a section through the design space using a hyperplane.
Partial high-dimensional cross section of Biomorph Land (Source)
(Early 2000s) Scripting Architecture. Rhinoscript and Generative Components open up a new working methodology for architecture and engineering practices. Instead of resorting to ‘click and die’ for design iteration, designers begin to automate the authorship of geometry in their CAD platforms, and to define parametric relationships in their models. Generating new iterations is as simple as changing input parameters and re-running the script – design spaces begin to take shape.
(2009 – Present) Rise of the Grasshopper. Grasshopper exposes a huge audience of architects, engineers and designers to computational and algorithmic design. Design spaces proliferate. Galapagos enables optimization workflows, and for the first time gives users a visual representation of the design spaces that their definitions describe. The idea of the design space starts to take root in the AEC mainstream.
(2011) Design space navigation / publication research at PAE. Right around the same time as the rise of the Grasshopper, online ‘configurators’ started to show up (including early versions of Nervous System’s work in the browser) … which begged the question: if BMW, Nike and Nervous System can publish design spaces, why can’t we? I worked on a research project called Igloo in 2011 at the Stevens Institute of Technology Product Architecture Lab along with Matthew Naugle, Nicholas Faust, David Pysch, Nick Mykulak, and Mike Cosentino, which allowed design spaces generated with Solidworks or Grasshopper to be published and navigated on the web.
(2012 – Present) GBS parametric runs. Autodesk releases functionality within Green Building Studio that lets users to upload a single design iteration [from Revit and Vasari] to a web application that would perform a series of parametric energy analysis runs automatically. Using the results of all of these analyses, GBS returns a sensitivity analysis visualization, allowing users to see which design parameters matter the most for potential for energy savings. It’s a specialized case, but the most interesting component is the use of a horizontally scaling web application to generate a design space (more on that below…). The CORE studio worked with the Dynamo and GBS teams at Autodesk to develop Energy Analysis for Dynamo, an open source package for Dynamo which allowed users to set up their own parametric runs, and to include GBS results in optimization workflows.
(May 2014) Pollination. A team of hackers developed Pollination at the 2014 AEC Technology Hackathon: an open source tool for managing (and dynamically visualizing the results of) distributed, parametric energy analysis runs using Grasshopper, Honeybee, and Amazon Web Services (to run the whole-building energy analyses on the cloud). This is another early example of a web application generating a design space, but the most interesting development was the use of an interactive parallel coordinates plot to display the results of the analyses in exhaustive detail. The team quickly realized that the UI used to display results could be used to visualize and navigate within any multi-dimensional data set. This insight was the kernel for the Design Explorer.
(May 2015) Design Explorer v1. Design Explorer was CORE studio’s first attempt to generalize and extend the ideas that came out of Pollination. We set out to build a single page web application that lets users navigate within multidimensional design spaces, and that gives them graphical representations of both the design space itself and of the individuals within that space. The parallel coordinates plot from pollination was used to visualize and navigate within the design space, and images and/or Spectacles models were used to represent individual design iterations. Navigation using sliders is also available in Design Explorer (it’s just sort of hidden over on the left!). CORE studio released this project under an open source license, in hopes that the burgeoning community of design-space researchers might help to extend the research. Design Explorer was first presented by former CORE studio Applications Developer Mostapha Sadeghipour Roudsari at the 2015 AEC Technology Symposium (link to Mostapha’s presentation), and a modified version was used to present the results of some early machine learning research by CORE studio Engineer Dan Reynolds at the same event (link to Dan’s presentation).
Design Explorer slider mode
Design Explorer parallel coordinates mode
(March 2016)Speckle beta release.Speckle is making some really impressive headway – the CORE studio thinks it’s super exciting! The project aims to allow users to share, display, and explore parametric models in a web browser. Their beta release allows users to export design spaces from Grasshopper and to share those spaces on beta.speckle.xyz. Both slider and parallel coordinates modes are available. Perhaps sweetest of all, the project is open source under the GPLv2 license! They’ve also got a new version cooking that seems to be exploring a streaming model (as opposed to exporting the whole design space).
(July 2016)Autodesk Project Fractal alpha release. Another super impressive project from our friends over at Autodesk, Project Fractal. Like Design Explorer and Speckle, sliders and a parallel coordinate plot are used to navigate within a design space that was authored in Dynamo Studio. However instead of exporting entire design spaces, Fractal runs Dynamo graphs on the cloud in real time, and stores computed iterations in a database. This is another example of using a horizontally-scaling web application to generate design spaces. This project seems to have branched out of an earlier Autodesk labs project called Akaba – you can read all about both here: http://thebuildinglab.info/.
Fractal Demo Video
(October 2016)Design Explorer v2. While he was studying with Mostapha Sadeghipour Roudsari at the University of Pennsylvania in the Spring of 2016, Mingbo Peng forked Design Explorer and made a number of improvements. Most notably, he made publication much easier by linking up Google Drive to host [Design Explorer] content and data – this was an absolute nightmare in v1!
Design Explorer pulling data from Google Drive
In his 2011 book Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson writes about simultaneous invention. It seems to me that we are in the midst of such a period of simultaneous innovation focused on design space navigation. In other words, it’s not a surprise that we aren’t the only group doing R&D along this vector. Since our authoring tools have evolved to let us iterate at an unprecedented scale and speed, we are now in dire need of a new generation of tools that will allow us to navigate within the vast libraries we build; tools that help us find a few good solutions in enormous possibility spaces.
Stay tuned for our final post in this series, which will focus on how Design Explorer is being used in practice.
SDC students (from left) Skylynn Laluz, Crystal Daniel, Victoria Augustyn and Ugyen Sangmo.
Modeled after the quirky competitive TV cooking show “Iron Chef,” the annual Iron Designer Challenge, which took place earlier in June, throws together AEC professionals and high school students to foster mentoring relationships and raise funds for the Urban Assembly School of Design and Construction (SDC). The New York City public high school provides classes in design, construction, architecture and engineering to prepare students for college and beyond. In the competition teams have three hours to design and build a structure out of a predetermined palette of materials in front of an audience. This year’s theme, “Design from the Future,” asked participants to create a structure/object that might originate 100 years from now.
Thornton Toamsetti Senior Designer Neda Ainehchi captained an all-star team consisting of Engineer Carlotta Malavolti, Computational Designer Ashley Reed, Spencer Lapp (of design studio SLAPP) and SDC students Crystal Daniel, Victoria Augustyn, Skylynn Laluz and Ugyen Sangmo. With future limited water supplies in mind, the Thornton Tomasetti team envisioned SWEAT, a SeaWater Evaporative Abstergent Tower. SWEAT can produce drinkable water through the condensation of non-potable water, improving water accessibility in the future, or even today.
The SWEAT proposal filters non-potable water through condensation (left) and implements a pulley system to collect the drinkable water (right).
Judges from SHoP Construction, The Architect’s Newspaper and Tri-Lox Workshop evaluated the stiff competition from all the other teams, consisting of professionals from Cerami & Associates, Ennead Architects, Gensler, OMNI Architects, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Robert Silman Associates, Sam Schwartz, Schneider Electric, SOM and Turner. And after three hours of intense collaboration and on-the-fly problem solving, the Thornton Tomasetti team was declared winner of the coveted Iron Designer Champion title.
The CORE studio team just finished installing a kinetic sculpture in Thornton Tomasetti’s San Francisco office. Over the last few months, we have been prototyping, fabricating and testing the sculpture in our New York office and last week we shipped it all to California for the install.
We built a ¼ scale functional prototype in New York for testing the electronics, motors, sensors and wireless communication. Several CORE team members pitched in to help preassemble as much of it as possible! All of the kinetic assemblies were designed, engineered and fabricated in-house. We pushed our little MakerBot 3D printer to the max as it cranked out over 350 custom parts.
Elcin Ertugrul (left) and Anne Waelkens assembling the ¼ scale mockup in NY.
Basrah Main Stadium under construction. Photo courtesy of Josef Hadi / Skyscraper City
In the summer of 2010, we assisted 360 Architecture in designing the GFRP facade panels and connection brackets of the new 65,000 seat soccer stadium in Basrah. The fabrication process had to be reduced by 18 months in order to host the first match in 2013. Given that the panels measure about 100 feet, it takes about 4 months to create one mold. Hence, the number of molds required for GFRP panels had to be reduced from 10 to 5. We worked very closely with the 360 Architecture and with Bahrain based fabricator BFG to accomplish this goal.