The SmartGeometry Conference explores new approaches to design

This year SmartGeometry Conference asked participants to explore the role of design in the design process. The Performing Skins Cluster used knitting machines to create fabrics that could react to the environment or sense input. A participant interacts with fabric at the SmartGeometry reception. Source: Jon Peddie Research

Copenhagen was the site of this year’s SmartGeometry Conference, a heady blend of theory and practice that lets participants unplug from their day to day grind and explore new ideas with their peers.

The SmartGeometry Organization operates right on the cutting edge of thinking for people working in architecture and related fields. Founded in 2001 by Dr. Robert Aish (who was at Bentley Systems at the time), Hugh Whitehead of Foster + Partners, Lars Hesselgren, then with KPF London, and J. Parish of Arup Sport. The group was founded out of a desire to get moving on the new opportunities opening up with technology advances.  It was also founded out of a frustration at the slowness of traditional conferences and architecture practices to take advantage of new technology. The official description goes something like this: SmartGeometry is dedicated to taking advantage of new tools to enable designers, engineers, and architects to “intelligently exploit the combination of digital and physical media, taking projects from design right through to production.” Hesselgren told the audience at this year’s conference that the SmartGeometry group was founded because the presentations they were going to at the time didn’t have anything to do with what they really wanted to do. In other words, there must be a better way.

SmartGeometry exhibit
Projects at the SmartGeometry Conference gave participants a chance to explore ideas. in this case, these models are responding to the stimulus around them. (Source: Jon Peddie Research)

There still isn’t much out there that compares to the work that goes on through the SmartGeometry Group. The SmartGeometry Conference takes place yearly to bring together the group’s members to push the work forward in practical ways, and it’s a lot of fun. Like a Makers’ Faire for architects, the projects let art, design, and algorithms dance together to create something new.

This year the conference was held in Copenhagen and the theme was  “Building the Invisible” to explore the role of data in design. The conference presentations debated the role of data in design: where can you get data? How do you evaluate the reliability of data? How do you deal with the transience of data? Who owns data? And, the tyranny of data.

At times the discussion crept into the realm of late night dorm room philosophizing, but it was always kept grounded by the workshops where people were able to take a week off from their real-life jobs and come together with different people to work on projects that act as experiments and demonstrations of the ideas being discussed. The work had to be done in a week and sometimes involved all-nighters and desperate measures.

The SmartGeometry Group is all about sharing their ideas opening up the discussion. The SmartGeometry website already has images posted from the event and there’s more to come. Bentley Systems, a major sponsor of the event will post video from the conference in the next few weeks.

What do we think?

It’s so easy to get bogged down in software and tools, and forget that what they’re for is to help us create something. It would be great if everyone who is involved in creative work could take the time to back out of the pressures of work and indulge in conferences and workshops like this that give people a chance to recharge their creative spark. One of the things I really liked about this conference was the fact that the friendships and working relationships don’t end after the closing party. The work continues and people bring it back home to their work too.

We’re not done either. One of the things we discovered through the conference was the wealth of resources available to the creative community through open development. We’ll be posting more from the conference as we process it … somehow.