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Exploring a Design Space Of Shell and Tensile Structures Generated by AI from Historical Precedents

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This paper presents the development and application of a computational design tool that can be used to explore an AI-generated design space for the conceptual design of shell and tensile structures. An AI model was trained to extract geometric features from a dataset of 40 well-known design precedents of shell and tensile structures and to construct a design space. The trained model was then endowed with an interface to allow the designer to explore the design space within CAD software. Unlike the majority of current approaches to parametric design and optimisation, the exploration of the design space – and therefore the interaction between the designer and the computational model – does not take place via design variables, but through visual input. The potential of this tool to support the conceptual design of shell and tensile structures is examined through an application involving iconic design precedents. The application shows that, unlike form-finding and optimisation, this tool generates design suggestions that are not performance-driven, and do not require the statement of the boundary conditions, which would pre-determine the results. Despite this, such design suggestions can be considered plausible because they embed specific design knowledge resulting from a re-elaborating process of the main geometric features of the precedents used to train the AI model. These features include, for example, the shape of the openings, the number and location of the support points or the inversion of curvature, where present. The application results question the role of computational tools in conceptual design and illustrate an alternative strategy to explore the design space.


Document Type: Regular Paper

Affiliations: 1: Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne VIC, Australia 2: Architectural Design, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne VIC, Australia

Publication date: September 1, 2022

This article was made available online on December 31, 2022 as a Fast Track article with title: "Exploring a Design Space of Shell and Tensile Structures Generated by Ai From Historical Precedents".

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  • The Journal of the IASS is the peer-reviewed, quarterly journal of the International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures. The journal mainly presents technical papers and project reports submitted by members or nonmembers of the IASS. Typically, one issue per year focuses on a special topic arranged by guest editors. Additional articles annually include the four Hangai Prize winning papers and Tsuboi Proceedings Award contribution from the IASS annual symposium. Finally, additional content includes announcements of events and memorial statements of distinguished IASS members.
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