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    Design by Physics: Innovative Space Planning Tool

    by B.J. Novitski

    In the Department of Architecture at Texas A&M University in College Station, Scott Arvin, working with professor Donald House, has developed a system for "physically based space planning." Arvin's computer prototype accepts building program parameters (square footages, adjacency and separation requirements) and constructs viable floor plans.

    This system is the digital equivalent of moving around scaled pieces of paper to create a plan configuration except that the individual pieces can change shape, multiple complex considerations can be simulated simultaneously and automatically, and the resulting footprint has exterior walls aligned flush, to create a simple footprint.

    Imagine that each space in a bubble diagram is attached to other spaces by springs. The architect assigns a relative strength to each spring proportional to the need for adjacency between the two spaces. Arvin's computer program applies the laws of physics to the springs to pull some spaces together and push others apart, until the configuration reaches equilibrium. For example, a kitchen and dining room would be pulled together while a concert hall and a noisy loading dock would be pushed apart.

    Similar physical simulations are performed for moving spaces that require particular views to particular orientations, for moving interior spaces toward the center of the overall footprint, for aligning the boundaries of adjacent spaces, and for maintaining the necessary area or proportion of each space. All of this occurs in an animated format, allowing the designer to observe the effects of the specified parameters.

    What makes the software a design tool rather than an exercise in physics is that the designer interacts with the various parameters and makes continuous adjustments. This adds the designer's intelligence to the simulation and affords multiple workable plan configurations from which to choose.

    Arvin admits that it's difficult to convey this interactivity through a verbal description. However, he says, "it evokes the feeling that one is working with a 'living' design, one that responds to the user in ways consistent with programmatic objectives while still providing a high degree of intuitive designer control."

    This is part two of a six-part series on innovative research projects that may eventually lead to exciting design tools for architects. Next week this series continues with a report on computer modeling through hand gestures.


    ArchWeek Photo

    Finally, the space planning simulation concludes when the spaces are grouped in a viable floor plan with aligned exterior edges.
    Image: Scott Arvin



    ArchWeek Photo

    In Scott Arvin's space planning prototype, randomly positioned spaces are pulled apart and pushed together according to program requirements.
    Image: Scott Arvin

    ArchWeek Photo

    During the simulation, the spaces have moved to their proper orientation, but some spaces temporarily overlap.
    Image: Scott Arvin

    ArchWeek Photo

    During the space planning simulation, a middle step of geometric resolution shows overlaps removed, but the gaps between spaces remain.
    Image: Scott Arvin

    ArchWeek Photo

    Then, as the designer interacts with the simulation, the gaps are removed, and spaces relocated.
    Image: Scott Arvin

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