November 24, 2020 Students Learn to Use Computational Analysis in Architecture

student rendering of building at night

Students in Asst. Professor Marshall Prado’s third-year Architecture applied research studio are learning that design is more than a creative pursuit and beyond understanding a building’s systems and structure.

Prado’s students are developing skills to make design decisions by devising computational methods that help them better understand a space and site.

The studio is heavily focused on spatial analysis as a computational tool for architectural design. Using computational tools, students are developing ways to understand a site condition before designing by encoding and evaluating quantifiable spatial properties such as natural conditions and human values.

“The quantitative assessment of value and performance criteria productively challenges conventional design methodologies and leads to a reflective critique of engrained design sensibilities, motives and biases,” said Prado. “In this way, students are learning to analyze before designing.”

Computational tools help students establish programmatic metrics and value sets for the space, which in turn helps them to iterate once the design process begins. This is a way to make decisions about design based on performance data rather than creative expression alone. Students are analyzing area and volumetric requirements; client, owner and user needs and preferences; required equipment and inventory of spaces; and value sets of environmental and socioeconomic criteria in order to make decisions about programmatic elements for the space.

Using this research data, students are creating designs for multi-use buildings in an underutilized area in Knoxville’s warehouse district under Interstate 40. In all, students are designing integrated parking, public park spaces, on-site housing and a commercial/public-use building.

“Unlike any studio experience I’ve had before, this studio altered any preconceived notion I had regarding program and design,” said student Nadine Ghezawi. “The introduction of computational design sets a whole new trajectory to the inherently iterative process of design. [It provides] a sense of exactness and mathematically sound algorithms [to] form a steady foundation for architecture and provides a wide range of possibilities with regard to representation and creating future spaces.”

Student Nicholas Van Son sees the value of computational analysis as a complement to creative design. “I think design has always secured its role in the world by adapting to technological changes, and because we are now in an age of computing, it is necessary to study computation alongside design,” Van Son said. “While computation may not be used in every aspect of design, it will always provide more opportunities.”

animation of hand placing a square building

Students are approaching the design process from the top down and bottom up. The top-down approach looks at systems like facades, structure, circulation, egress and boundary. In this stage, students will analyze the effects of “protagonists” including zoning, building code, life safety, transportation, circulation, adjacencies, proximity, views, real estate values, geology, insolation, wind and more.

The bottom-up approach leads students to refine their design criteria and value sets to computationally arrange the building into programmatic spaces.

Teaching this method of design better prepares students for their careers.

“More than anything, this studio is set in the future,” Ghezawi said.  “It adapts to our constantly changing surroundings by making use of technological advancements, which ultimately sets new functional and formal perspectives altering the scope of architecture as we know it. By doing so, it can better prepare me to adapt, innovate and create in different surroundings, as the ability to do so forms the basis of design.”


Learn more

Read about students’ use of computational analysis to help design and construct the UTK Filament Tower.

Learn more about the School of Architecture.