Football & Generative Design: Numbers, Speed & Winning

(Note: This post is about American football. We know there are more people in the world who watch the game that's also called "soccer" and we apologize for offending or confusing anyone with our terminology choices. We'll make it up to our global audience sometime soon.)

Forrest Gump would say that football and construction go together like peas and carrots. When I used to eat lunch in a construction trailer, talk of football was sacred, expected, and energetic. Fantasy football. Team rivalries. Player stats. Miraculous catches. It's hard to imagine there are construction workers anywhere in the US who don't talk about football non-stop between September and February. Construction folks understand the language, culture, and technicalities of football – a team sport.


What can we learn from how we talk about football?

At BuildingSP, we're creating revolutionary tools for building information modeling (BIM), and we are at the forefront of generative design. We also like football! Let's look at three ways in which generative design will enable BIM to be more like football.

Try arguing with people about football without using numbers. Consider the following inflammatory statement:

 "I think C.J. Anderson could be the best running back to ever come out of UC Berkeley's football program."

You cannot simply respond, "I think Marshawn Lynch is a far superior player." Instead, you start with, "You're an idiot." and then backstop it with, "Marshawn was drafted 12th overall. C.J. wasn't even drafted. In his first season, Marshawn rushed for over 1,000 yards. C.J. rushed for under 100. Even this year, they both had nearly identical touchdown numbers, when C.J. should be at the peak of his career and Marshawn is about to retire."

Using numbers is the only way to truly compare performance.

How does this relate to BIM and generative design? Generative design will produce large numbers of solutions to BIM coordination problems. Modeling of MEP systems will be done algorithmically and without clash. Because modeling and coordination is done computationally, you can create a coordination solution with all the fire sprinklers routed through beam penetrations and compare it to a solution with no penetrations. You can then compare the solutions with actual numbers (such as how long it takes to design a building using BIM vs. traditional approaches) and make a better decision. Using numbers is the only way to compare performance.

Strategy and tactics are in constant flux during a football game. Conscious decisions are made based on an opportunity or observation. A coach notices something. A play is changed. In football, it's a fast feedback loop.

How can generative design make us more strategic or tactical?

Speed. Because we're relying on computational tools, we can create many solutions and make more decisions based on what we're observing. Are we able to make a change and then quickly look at the results to see if the outcome is better or worse? We'd argue that we aren't able to do that currently. We need faster processes so we can be more strategic and more tactical in our approach.

If you could automatically route pipe, conduit, and duct with parameters, could you be as strategic as Lombardi or Shula? We hope so.

Charlie Sheen's Favorite Word        

BIM with generative design and football are both games with lots of rules. There are process and penalties for misbehavior, and an element of skill. There's a score for each team, and most importantly, there's always a winner. Rules are the process by which you win, penalties are a disincentive, and skill is a diffuse measure of your ability to win. The desire to win is the most important element of game theory and gamesmanship. So where is the winning in generative design?

Construction projects aren't a head-to-head competition between two teams, so it isn't really a case of beating another team. But we can define optimization goals in very specific ways, and winning is the creative achievement of those goals. Too often in the current practice of BIM, we coordinate in order to meet the field schedule. With fast computational coordination tools, we can get to an optimized solution more efficiently.

At BuildingSP, we're working on revolutionary BIM tools that use artificial intelligence to automatically model and route pipes, conduits, and ducts. We are proving that our tools lead to higher team productivity so winning can feel more achievable.

Construction and BIM coordination are team sports. While we don't always talk about football, we nearly always work in teams. Understanding how football makes us team players makes us think about how we can feel enthusiastic, passionate, and energetic about what we do.

Tags: BIM Construction

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