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Designing your house like in a computer game

phot. BPI

An off-the-shelf design or a bespoke solution in collaboration with an architect; if you dream of your own house, well, those are your two options. But what if you could plan yourself how your dream house would look like, a bit like playing a computer game? Is it at all possible? Krystian Kwieciński, a Ph.D. student of the Faculty of Architecture, Warsaw University of Technology, is going to find out.

Mass customization combines the concept of mass production and product diversity in such a way so as to allow users to find exactly what they are looking for and at an affordable price. Companies across many industries around the world offer such possibilities. For instance, the customer can customize their shoes (choose the colors, material or embroidery) or “design” their own vehicle (by choosing the engine type, upholstery color scheme or dashboard style). There are also companies which allow users to pick the materials and finishing elements for their homes in the design process.

Krystian Kwieciński argues that similar tools could be used in end-to-end house design. An original, bespoke house design from an architect can be very costly, while a cheaper off-the-shelf design means making concessions. Even if you manage to find a proposal that meets the most of your relevant criteria among hundreds of others, there will always be something you would ache to change. And you have come full circle. Perhaps, in a few years’ time, we will manage to solve that issue, which gives nightmares to all who dream of their own house.

Finding the golden mean

More and more digital tools addressed to those interested in DIY house design have been coming up,” says Krystian Kwieciński. “But contrary to what you might think, using those tools requires expert knowledge.” Limiting the functionalities offered by the professional software is not enough for a customer to be able to create a sound architectural design themselves.

What is needed is a system that would help the user to plan individual elements of the building. Such software should enable you to build your own house in the virtual world. It is essential to harness the customer’s wild imagination and ensure safety of use. Obviously, the outcome cannot be a building that would ignore the applicable laws and regulations or the generally accepted standards of design, for instance, by having a misguided room layout or insufficiently-lit spaces. “Based on the guidelines from the customer and the design rules determined by the architect, the system would generate a design response to balance the requirements of both,” says Krystian Kwieciński.

The theoretical model of such a system has been created by Krystian Kwieciński with the assistance of Professor Władysław Homenda of the Faculty of Mathematics and Information Science. The model was implemented and tested on the city engine software last year.

Your (almost) DIY home

Will architects not fear that such tools will take over their jobs? “The proposed system can only search for solutions to simple and recurring design issues and it cannot think creatively,” our Ph.D. student explains. “For this reason, architects shouldn’t feel threatened as they do the creative part daily solving design issues. Besides, the system is designed to facilitate customer involvement in the design process and can be used by architects in their day-to-day work. My doctoral project aims to explore both the options offered by this approach and the limitations of its application.”

Architect vs. researcher

Krystian Kwieciński will spend the next 9 months at Pennsylvania State University under the Fulbright Scholarship Program, and he will be carrying out a research project entitled “Limitations of Mass Customization in Housing Development.” He will have there an opportunity to collaborate with Professor Jose Duarte, who worked on building design automation for Álvaro Siza’s style buildings during his doctoral studies at MIT. Siza designed a social housing estate on the outskirts of the town of Évora, Portugal. Professor Duarte analyzed the style of the estate and identified the underlying rules, which were then made into algorithms. A computer program generated a series of design solutions. Next, Professor Duarte picked a few of the generated designs and a handful of original Siza’s works and showed them to the estate’s author. Having reviewed the designs, Álvaro Siza confirmed that they all were consistent with his objectives. This way, Professor Duarte demonstrated that automated house design based on strictly defined rules is possible.

More than 15 years have passed since that time, and mass customization has not yet come into common use in housing development,” says Krystian Kwieciński. “I hope to find out why during my stay in the US.”

Monika Bukowska

Office for Promotion and Information