I am pleased to announce the preview of MetricMonkey, Parametric Monkey’s feasibility software. The software enables architects, urban designers and property developers to evaluate designs in real-time via an interactive dashboard. MetricMonkey focuses on augmenting, rather than replacing human capabilities so that the designer is always in control.
Over the past decade or so, designers have become increasingly aware of the enormous value that computational design offers. Yet despite its advantages, many designers have struggled to embed computational design into their design processes. Our experience suggests that this condition is directly related to three inter-related factors: Development time, lack of programming skills, and cost.
Historically, large commercial practices have led the charge with implementing cutting edge technology. This is primarily the result of having enough funds to firstly attract highly skilled staff with programming skills. And secondly, to dedicate their time and efforts to develop custom software. The initial cost and time outlay are made viable due to the scale and repetition of the projects. If it takes longer than expected to develop, that’s OK because it can always be used on the next big project. But what about everyone else? How can smaller practices overcome these adoption barriers so that they too can harness the power of computational design?
“…we’re developing universal workflows for the many.”
Our mission at Parametric Monkey is to improve the way buildings are designed, built and operated through the use of digital design tools. Part of this process is the democratisation of knowledge. Rather than maintaining the status quo of only developing highly project-specific workflows for the select few, we’re developing universal workflows for the many. By identifying industry needs, in this case, the need to improve speed and accuracy in feasibility studies, we can take a proactive approach to software development which significantly reduces the entry barrier of computational design.
So what is a feasibility study?
A feasibility study, as defined by the Australian Institute of Architects, is “typically undertaken to determine the present value or dollar worth of a project, or to assist in comparing different projects or different options for the same project.” Feasibilities studies are best undertaken at the very early stages of a project. Their purpose is not to produce a final design but rather to establish whether a project is a viable proposition. While this is often done manually, it is possible to augment the process with computational design to make predictions faster and more accurate.
The first step in undertaking a feasibility study is to obtain information about the site. This can be obtained from a qualified Planner or via online portals such as the NSW Planning Portal. The primary information you require will include permitted use (zoning), Floor Space Ratio (FSR), and maximum building height. Depending on the site’s location, there will also likely be other requirements, such as maximum site coverage and minimum building setbacks. While the terminology may vary from country to country, most of these inputs are universal.
Beyond area metrics
The next step is to understand what is possible within the site. This entails generating compliant building massing to extract simple metrics such as Gross Floor Area (GFA), Net Sellable Area (NSA), and the number of apartments. These figures will then likely be integrated with the client’s financial model to see if the project stacks up. On top of this, a designer will want to test different options. This process seeks to go above and beyond simply area metrics in order to evaluate the quality of the building. This might entail variations in massing and basic environmental analysis.
Automation vs Augmentation
While this process can be automated through what is known as ‘Generative Design’, our experience indicates that this is far from ideal for feasibility studies. Algorithms are extremely literal – they do exactly what they are told – and ignores every other consideration. This makes them perfect for specific tasks but less ideal for others. We need to understand what algorithms do well and what they do not.
“MetricMonkey therefore rejects ‘full automation’ and instead focuses on augmentation through the use of advance software capabilities to enable design professionals.”
If we take planning and building legislation, for example, not only do they frequently contradict one another, there is no right or wrong way of designing a building. The planning and design process allows flexibility for rules to be broken so that a better, unforeseen solution can emerge. This negotiation of multiple, sometimes contradictory drivers, is what architects excel at. This process is, therefore, best undertaken by design professionals. Any algorithm that seeks to replicate this design process either becomes technically convoluted, or over-reductive to be of any value. Calculating areas and undertaking environmental analysis, on the other hand, are best undertaken by computers. Designers are less concerned by the process of these tasks and instead are more interested in the outcome. MetricMonkey, therefore, rejects full automation and instead focuses on augmentation through the use of advance software capabilities to enable design professionals to do what they do best.
How does MetricMonkey work?
MetricMonkey is developed on Rhino 6 and Grasshopper 1.0 and runs natively on your PC. This means the end-user can customise the software to their needs. The software works for documents in metres or millimetres and is designed to work at all scales from a single building to multiple buildings over multiple sites. It works with 3D topography and is designed to be intuitive and responsive. The user simply needs to draw 2D polygons and define specific metrics.
Buildings, for example, can be controlled by specifying the desired number of storeys or the maximum building height. All other settings, such as floor-to-floor heights are controlled via the dashboard under the settings tab. Site boundaries are defined in terms of plot number, maximum FSR allowed, and maximum site coverage. The software automatically numbers buildings based on the plot in which it resides.
One of the psychological barriers to adopting computational design has been fear of the ‘spaghetti canvas’ – a maze of visual programming components and wires which alienates many. MetricMonkey solves this issue by leveraging the power of the HumanUI plug-in, to create a real-time, interactive dashboard entirely separate from the Grasshopper canvas. This means that end-users don’t need to have any Grasshopper knowledge. They simply engage with the user-friendly dashboard.
“This means that end-users don’t need to have any Grasshopper knowledge. They simply engage with the user-friendly dashboard.”
The dashboard contains five tabs. The main landing page includes a summary of the entire development and shows the grand totals across all your buildings and sites. If an object in the Rhino viewport is selected, users can update or modify its properties directly in the dashboard, allowing quick design iterations without the need to jump back into Grasshopper.
Various visibility pre-sets available on the summary tab allows users to control the visibility of the Rhino viewport from within the dashboard. This means users don’t have to turn on and off component previews in the Grasshopper canvas. SEPP65 solar access analysis, for example, can be run simply by enabling the ‘run analysis’ checkbox and then selecting the solar access visibility tab to see the results. Depending on if you selected massing or floorplates in the settings tab, the analysis will be run off the different elements.
MetricMonkey can also perform radiation analyses and view analyses. All analyses are made possible via the Ladybug plug-in.
The Schedule tab returns itemised metrics on a per site and per building basis. This data is easily exported to Microsoft Excel via an in-built button for integration with other spreadsheets the design team might be using.
Schedule tab showing detailed metrics
The Settings tab is self-explanatory as it contains all the settings needed to generate the building and associated metrics. Changes aren’t recomputed until explicitly told to do so via the ‘recompute’ button on the main summary tab to minimise processing time. This ensures the dashboard is fast and responsive, especially if multiple changes need to be done at once.
The Errors tab provides real-time feedback about any issues that might affect the development. This might include basic geometric errors, such as failure to enclose a polygon and therefore an area can’t be calculated, to more advanced compliance checking, such as those defined in the NSW’s Apartment Design Guide.
Over the next few months we’ll be adding additional modules to the base platform so stay tuned. If you are interested in finding out more about MetricMonkey and how it can improve your workflow, please contact us via our website.