“People often think data has no opinion, but the way that you interpret it and write algorithms or protocols for it is inherently human, and is a key part of the design process,” says Boudewijn Thomas, Associate Digital Design Specialist at Isthmus Group.
“There is a really big opportunity to mould data into what you need it to do. Because of the trust people put in data, that can be really powerful, but also carries a big responsibility.”
Boudewijn has just recently brought his digital technology expertise to New Zealand, and he is now putting his skills to work in a new role at collaborative architecture and planning firm, Isthmus. “I arrived in New Zealand with my partner from the Netherlands only a couple of months ago, and Isthmus has since created this role for me where I am able to lead digital design and innovation. I was attracted to their clear way of talking about projects, and I believe the firm’s methods are able to benefit a lot from digital design technologies.”
Prior to arriving in New Zealand, Boudewijn spent about 7 years at Rotterdam-based MVRDV, working his way up from intern to Senior Project Leader in their new experimental technologies unit, MVRDV NEXT. “I contributed to a number of key projects with MVRDV including SolarScape, where we used virtual models to visualise the buildable high-rise volume of Rotterdam city without compromising access to sunlight. I also worked on Valley in Amsterdam which features a mix of prime offices spaces, cultural exhibition, retail, parking and residential apartments.” Valley, Boudewijn says, represents a new form of optimised city living where urban environments and the natural environment combine seamlessly. “I worked first on Valley’s concept phase, using digital design strategies to optimise the space, and then on the detailed design phase where I helped develop a BIM-integrated workflow for façade tiling patterns.” The result is a truly incomparable space with an impressive terraced façade that serves as a unique public landscape.
SolarScape - Rotterdam
In his new role, Boudewijn is bringing digital design technologies into Isthmus’ design projects and scaling them up so people across the entire business can use them. This includes a variety of simple to complex digital design tools to support a data-driven process such as 3D modelling strategies that can make use of augmentative, parametric and generative design tools. He is currently working on a project in Tauranga that models natural landscape features in 3D and examines how the city plan responds to them. “We’re looking at things like how high you can build before you obstruct views of The Mount or the coast.
In a different project I work together with a designer to model landscapes and automate some of the tedious and boring tasks.
For instance, she can now model the landscapes and get direct real-time visual feedback on the slopes, rather than repeatedly drawing something, measuring it and then drawing it again. Designers are really happy with these quality of life tools. Which is important as aside from using the tools myself, I want to empower others to use them and create new tools on their own.”
The objective, Boudewijn says, is to use digital technologies to automate the repetitive aspects of the design process, and to enable architects and designers to focus more on the creative aspects of the work. “I really enjoy design process and I like making it better and more fun. Digital design technologies make processes faster and smarter; you can unroll a process very quickly using these technologies and run through a number of options to decide on the best direction. AI is a new one in the toolbox and we’re currently using it to explore things like floor plan automation. This enables the work to become more about interpretation and refinement, rather than doing all of the drawing work. You can quickly understand what the possibilities are and get inspired again.”
Growing up in the Netherlands, Boudewijn remembers spending a lot of time on creative pursuits, first through drawing and, later, music. “I remember riding in the car with my Dad when we would go on holiday with a sketchbook in my lap and I would sketch everything we drove past. I still do that to this day – the people at Isthmus laugh because I’m always walking around with tracing paper. Later, I got a taste for music and learned to play guitar. I’ve been in bands ever since. I need to find a new one now that I am living in Auckland.”
Valley - Amsterdam
It’s the stories behind the visuals that Boudewijn finds most captivating, and it is this passion that drives his desire for new and better technologies. “I love it when you give someone a tool and it makes their lives better; when they can then spend their time on designing rather than measuring and modelling. That makes their work better and, ultimately, our places and buildings better too.”
While his early-stage work with Isthmus has been primarily in landscape and urban planning, Boudewijn is excited to dive back into more conceptual building projects similar to Valley, and to offer everything in his toolkit to the New Zealand market. “I’m excited to see New Zealand exploring more clean architecture, and also to bring more people on board with some of the design processes that are already fairly well established overseas. One of the tools I was working with at MVRDV was in carbon assessment, for example. This algorithm enables developers to start with full life-cycle carbon targets and then work backward. Technologies like this could really change the landscape in New Zealand.”
Tamaki employment Precinct
The technological adoption process is a long one, but Boudewijn is focused on getting the small wins first. “I’m excited to get the team at Isthmus using these technologies more. The space I operate in is very early in the design process, where things are often quite fuzzy; these tools help to create a structure beneath that process. The people around me should be able notice in time that their projects are more resilient and flexible in how they handle changes than before. These tools are opening us up to new markets and new types of products, and offering things like web app development and 3D models that are interactive for clients, but also for stakeholders like mana whenua and local communities. With gaming companies like Epic and Unity now coming on board to simplify these tools, we should see a serious boost in the coming years. It’s all about having the accessibility of The Sims and marrying that to the precision of architectural crafting software.”
To learn more and connect with Boudewijn, follow him on LinkedIn, send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit https://isthmus.co.nz/.