- Insights

31ST August 2022

A Digital Future


31ST August 2022



Architect Alex Macbeth explains how he’s working with MSA students to explore the use of digital tools in creating new ways of working.

Two years ago, at the start of the pandemic, I realised my goal of becoming an architect.

It was a path I began eight years prior, and the prospect of a world beyond the shroud of academia was liberating, despite often being locked-down in our little 2-bed apartment at the time. In hindsight, it seems surprising that I felt no hesitation when invited to return as a tutor for the Manchester School of Architecture (MSA) Complexity Planning and Urbanism unit.

Having graduated from this unit during my own time studying to joining a team with my former tutors and colleagues, it was surprising to me how much had changed in a few short years. Besides the lingering impact of remote working and new course structures, the technology and students’ capabilities have advanced so much that I am continually impressed by what they can achieve.

Exposure to these new methodologies and the innovative ways that they can be used to improve design workflows has always been an interest of mine. Being able to surround myself with experts in this field and explore these new ideas is about as lucky as it gets. Contributing my own experience has not only been rewarding, but has also helped reinforce my own understanding of these topics.

During this last year, I’ve spent one day a week working with students to develop digital tools with a goal of designing for a zero carbon future by 2050 in a Manchester-based masterplan. Each project group approached their work differently, using a variety of methods to examine transportation. Some used slime-mold growth and ant swarm simulations to drive more efficient transport networks, while others used cellular automata algorithms to distribute building typologies. I was fortunate enough to help code a range of tools to help with assessing iterative generational designs such as embodied carbon and potential energy generation with their analysis.

While some of these design processes would require an industry-wide upheaval to implement, my hope is to bring these mechanisms’ principals into ADP’s workflow. While I have worked with colleagues such as Manchester associate director Will Allen to develop tools to automate tasks like the population of finishes from MS Excel on school projects, these are only the first steps in reimagining how we work. Can theories such as wave function collapse be used to help develop spatial adjacency iterations? How do we convey the value of design decisions to clients? How can we extract greater value from data we generate from the likes of our Sustainability, Belonging and Engagement toolkit, to help close the loop on the RIBA Workstage cycle? These are just some of the questions I hope to explore further, and my time at MSA continues to inspire this thinking.

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