“I think we are still in the exploration phase of what a helpful AI for architecture application really looks like or performs like,” says Oana Taut, Founder and CEO of Barcelona-based BuildFlow AI. “It is up to us as architects to get familiar, get involved and become active in defining how these technologies can be most impactful for our profession, our clients and our environment.”
Before making the leap to AI, Oana trained and worked in traditional architectural practice where she contributed to a range of projects including a home renovation, an apartment tower and a luxury resort master-plan. “I was working globally from my office in Dublin and found myself becoming frustrated with inefficient processes and seeking out more technological solutions. I started noticing some dysfunctionality and conflict around poor processes, transparency and questionable data accuracy. These are all things that could be solved with proper use of computation tools and creative application of existing technology. This realisation make me turn my focus to technology; I now research AI advances to discover and test plausible methods to use in architecture.”
Through BuildFlow AI, Oana is using AI and performative design to empower real estate developers to make value-based decisions in record time. “As architects, we are trained to mentally search the design space and propose the solution that fits most criteria defined explicitly by the brief or implicit in the social and physical context. “ Oana acknowledges that, in order to make use of technology, architects need to understand how to replace this instinctive process in a way that still allows design intent integrity. From this lens, she talks about:”Performative design is measured against clearly defined, objective performance criteria by means of simulation. This often includes a search algorithm to find the closest match and generate proof of the performance. This process is referred to as generative design and sits in the realm of parametric and computational design.
The work is heavily informed by Oana’s active academic practice at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, she says. “In the studios I lead, the students are invited to experiment with creating an algorithmic workflow that has relevance to the practice outside of the academic realm. We focus on topics like performance and generative design, while maintaining authorship on aesthetic and design intent . In other seminars, students get to work in the realm of AI, discussing and defining generative AI workflows starting from problems that the students – mostly practising architects – have experienced in their work.”
Major benefits of AI-driven design include increased efficiency and better transparency throughout the design process, Oana says. “We enable architects to use generative design and we develop AI to speed up that generative approach. We coined the idea of ‘architectural templates’ after realising that most buildings, at a conceptual level, conform themselves to a finite number of typologies.” This understanding of architectural templates underpins the BuildFlow platform, Oana says, and enables architects to turn designs into products. “We asked the question: should the time and skill of the architect be spent on constantly adapting the same typology to different situations? If technology can automate this customisation, architects can instead apply our creativity and problem-solving skill to designing products that better respond to current environmental and social context. In our view, architects can create once and sell multiple times, while our AI adapts their vision to the client’s site and needs.”
Oana and her team are now developing collaborative partnerships with architects to define and code generative algorithms based on their design intent, and then list the designs as products on the platform. “Architects can showcase their product collection to existing and prospective clients through our immersive data informed platform, where real-estate developers can submit project details which we use to deliver a feasibility design report in 24 hours.”
Growing up in a small mountain town in Romania, Oana says she always had a fascination with building things. “My parents did not believe in surrounding my sister and me with lots of toys, but we always had a close relationship with the outdoors. Pebbles, twigs and blocks of wood from my Grandfather’s workshop were my building elements. I had a very active imagination and I still fondly remember making absolutely ordinary things – like a reflection on a piece of glass – into vivid fairy tales. I wasn’t one of those kids that are naturally talented at drawing, but when a new arts teacher mentioned to me at 12 years old that there was a special architecture track opening at the local vocational high school, I knew that this was my calling.”
Oana is thrilled to be in a position now to affect change and enable architects to become more effective and profitable. “We are committed to the architect, first and foremost, and will continue to deploy tools that can improve their workflow. Behind the scenes, there is a lot going on to improve our algorithms, ensure scalability, and develop and test generative AI applications. We are also creating educational support around these technologies, helping to train the next generation of architects, and working to get the platform seen by real estate developers who are key to creating a sustainable and profitable business model for the architects using our platform.”
In recent years, the industry has reached a clear tipping point, Oana says, with regard to its technological necessities. “The problems we need to address have become more complex, and other industries have paved a path of digitisation that has served as an example to follow for the construction industry. AI adoption and appeal has reached a critical mass, and hints of its possible application to architecture adds to the pressure for change. I am committed to making technology and AI not only applicable and accessible, but also indispensable for architecture teams, big and small. Technology can free up much of the time when our creative capacity is under-utilised, so I’m passionate about the change that tech-enabled human creativity can manifest in the built world.”
To learn more and connect with Oana, visit https://www.buildflowai.com/ and follow Oana and BuildFlow AI on LinkedIn.