Page T1.1 . 14 June 2000                     
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    The Right Tool at the Right Time

    by B.J. Novitski

    Many architects can recall a favorite design instructor who could glance at their drawings then pull down the perfect reference book to help in further developing an idea. If humans can infer design intent from sketches, maybe computers can too.

    So reasoned Ellen Yi-Luen Do, now a professor at the University of Washington. For her dissertation for a Ph.D. from the Georgia Institute of Technology, she investigated whether a computer could be as insightful as that helpful instructor.

    Do has developed a prototype sketch environment in which the computer recognizes drawn shapes, determines the current drawing type, interprets symbols to derive design intent, and launches additional software applications to perform an analysis or reference search.

    For example, a certain configuration of lines can be construed to be a floor plan. If the architect draws a few arrows emanating from a point, the software infers that he or she is thinking about views within the plan. This launches a program called IsoVist, which highlights the portion of the plan visible from the viewpoint, taking into consideration walls, windows, and partitions. The architect then continues designing without having to think about software mechanics.

    Do's prototype, dubbed "The Right Tool at the Right Time," depends on a foundation of sketch recognition software which, like IsoVist, was developed at the University of Colorado's Sundance Laboratory for Computing in Design and Planning. This software can identify whether a drawing is a bubble diagram, floor plan, section, or 3D view; it can recognize commonly understood symbols such as windows, walls, ground lines, sun angles, and numbers.



    ArchWeek Photo

    The Right Tool and the Right Time provides a sketch environment in which certain symbols automatically call up appropriate reference and simulation tools.
    Image: Ellen Do

    ArchWeek Photo

    The sketch environment of the Right Tool and the Right Time.
    Image: Ellen Do

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