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Informed structural parametric design

Inkbeagle is a Grasshopper plugin that allows structural designers to use data visualisations and graphs for informed decision-making during the design process. It makes use of Karamba for doing structural analyses within the parametric workflow. This data is then processed by the Inkbeagle web framework. This tool is currently in development. If you are interested in using it, please send an email to lennert.loos@vub.be.

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What is Inkbeagle all about?

Inkbeagle is a plugin for Grasshopper that offers a tool for (structural) designers to gain insight in the structural behaviour of multiple design alternatives and to compare these, by means of interactive data visualisations.

In today's design practice, parametric design is gaining importance in the field. A myriad of design alternatives can be generated very quickly based on changing design parameters. It is important to understand the differences between the different design alternatives generated by means of parametric design. However today no well-suited tools exist for comparing these design alternatives. It is important to fully explore the design space architecturally and structurally. For that reason we are investigating the application of data visualisations and the use of the available structural data for quickly gaining insights in the proposed structural solutions.

Inkbeagle makes use of Karamba3D to retrieve the structural data of all design alternatives to investigate and renders it in the web browser. You need to have an account to use the online inkbeagle App. If you are interested in assessing this new method or if you would like to give us feedback, do not hesitate to ask us for an account. You can contact us at lennert.loos@vub.be.

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Software

Inkbeagle comes as a plugin for Grasshopper and directly links to the online environment of the inkbeagle App. Latest version is compatible with Rhino5 as well as with Rhino6. Every modern web browser is able to render the assembled graphs in an interactive and real-time manner.

In a nutshell, Karamba finite element models and their results, parametrically generated in Grasshopper, are used as data suppliers for making graphs. These models can be used as an input for all different kind of graph makers in order to compare these design proposals in a structurally informed way. For more information about Karamba3D, please take a look at the reference underneath or their website.

In the paper Web Based Data Visualisation Applied to Creative Decision Making in Parametric Design, S.C. Joyce states that the quantitative data output of structural analysis software is often shown in table format and that 'this fits into current workflows where often engineers manually copy large tabular information into Excel spreadsheets, which are developed individually by the engineer to generate new tables and further calculations to summarize and digest this information'. This paper has the opinion that this way of working is not appropriate at all for comparing various designs and to understand the influence of certain parameters on the structural behaviour.

In addition, the use of visual data representations is underrated. The recent publication Same Stats, Different Graphs shows the importance of visual representations in order to understand the relations in a data set. While all datasets have identical summary statistics, the datasets are totally different. In the case of structural data (internal forces, displacements...) these summary statistics will lead to false assumptions since they have rarely a clear center point and often form different clusters, exhibiting different structural behaviours.

Informed design facilitates an integrated design approach

This tool fits within the scope of the doctoral research by Lennert Loos at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. The global focus of this research is to investigate novel ways to understand and compare structural models and solutions while designing. The specific focus of the research is the use of interactive data visualisations and graphs as a tool for informed decision-making. It's philosophy is framed within the overall idea of integrated design. An integrated design approach searches for interdisciplinary design solutions in which all of these disciplines are working together as a whole, as a synergy. With this approach in mind, the search for the strict structural optimum is pointless since it is on the one hand not able to consider non-numeric design criteria, such as aesthetics, functionality and program. On the other hand the search for compromises with other disciplines is necessary and therefore the strict structural optimum is canceled.

Furthermore, the human design process is complex, highly non-linear and often includes design parameters that are non-numeric and hard to include in optimisation algorithms. Because of this, the search for new tools that allow for a guidance-based design process while being informed about the different design solutions is desirable, especially during the conceptual design phase. Inkbeagle is an ongoing project that attempts to peel off the current difficulties in understanding and comparing structural alternatives while designing.