How Generative Design Can Save On CO2 Emissions

How Generative Design Can Save On CO2 Emissions

Generative design is a process of exploring multiple solutions to a design problem. In practice, it’s an algorithmic technology that generates a specified number of outputs limited by certain constraints, limitations, and targets.

When it comes to architectural design and construction, generative design is most often geared towards finding the most efficient, optimal design for a space, building, or urban region. And this is where its promise to reduce CO2 emissions is most observable.

This article will explore how generative design can - and already is - helping slam the brakes on climate change.

Mother Nature as the Origin

A good analogy of how generative design works can be found by looking at trees. Today’s trees have undergone millions of years of evolution to arrive at their most efficient shapes, sizes, and chemical composition as limited by the environment.

Another good analogy to generative design would be mammal bones. Again, through millions of years of evolution, mammal bones have grown to be densest at points of stress while lighter and more nutrient-efficient elsewhere.

Nature has inspired many society-changing technological inventions, such as Velcro. It’s also why architectural designs born of generative design mimic what we see in nature. They may look random, but they’re strong, light, resource-efficient, and tailored for purpose as close to perfectly as possible.

Compare that to conventional construction methods, such as reinforced concrete beams that must have uniform dimensions throughout their spans, resulting in a large amount of excess material. These methods are still enforced by antiquated building codes worldwide, with little to no regard to how much CO2 they emit.

It would seem that instead of trying to outdo nature as it traditionally has, modern technology has learned its lesson. It’s now taking its cue from Mother Nature, simulating millions of years of evolution and finding the most optimized solutions in mere minutes or hours. And generative design is the perfect example of that in action.

Generative Design’s Role

Solving the CO2 problem isn’t a responsibility that lays solely on the AEC industry; it’s a problem society as a whole needs to tackle. But there’s a good deal designers and builders can do to help out.

How Designers Can Help

Architects can use generative AI to create hundreds of possible solutions to a single project, all specified to generate the minimum amount of CO2 during its construction and lifetime. And from the multitude, the architect can present the best ones for the client to choose from—all in a matter of minutes.

Maket is one such app that utilizes this kind of generative design. It accepts a project’s space requirements via an architect’s vocal input. It then generates dozens to hundreds of designs that are checked against parameters on lot size, sustainability, building codes, and more. It can reduce the planning phase from months to a single meeting.

How Builders Can Help

The cement industry is one of the biggest producers of CO2 in the world. According to Chatham House, cement is the source of about 8% of the world’s CO2 emissions.

Today’s structural design is guided by methods that are over 100 years old, with the liberal use of excess concrete to meet structural capacity requirements. With the help of generative design, engineers can come up with more precise amounts of materials to produce the same required strength of each structural member.

Naturally, such bio-mimicked designs of concrete structural members will require unique frames and formwork. The construction of such is already possible with 3D printers, such as with BigRep’s. With such technology, it’s also possible to create new forms for slabs and beams, all with the same goal: to minimize CO2 emissions by minimizing the overall dependence on cement.

To take the technology to the next level, it’s also possible to 3D-print reinforced concrete itself, eliminating the need for any formwork at all. With developments like this, CO2 emissions can be cut even further.

How Far We Have to Go

3D printing technology can lessen the need for labor, resulting in lower labor costs and the use of much less fuel. On the flip side, a 3D printer’s operator does need to be skilled and knowledgeable. What’s more, much work needs to be done to make 3D printing technology more affordable and to build much larger printers capable of deployment on larger construction sites.

While generative design in general—and its application to the construction industry in particular—may be in its infancy, the possibilities are tantalizing. It can and will reduce CO2 emissions during the planning, construction, and operation of the buildings of tomorrow.

To learn more about how Maket can help you work faster and more sustainably through generative design, click here.

Patrick Murphy
Co-Founder & CEO @ Maket

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