Men and Machine

Martina Metzner
9. February 2020
ParticipationPlus is a media architecture project for the 2016 VIVID Sydney Festival, with a computer program independently designing the installation (Photo: UNSW Built Environment / video

Whether it's networked cities or artificial intelligence designing houses together with architects, Professor M. Hank Haeusler is certain that the integration of digital technologies into architecture will improve life in challenging times. Martina Metzner interviewed him about his journey from media architecture to mobility. 

»I'm interested in how to link BIM files to artificial intelligence.

M. Hank Haeusler

You initially established yourself as an expert for media façades. Now you want to revolutionize urban mobility with digital technologies. What brings about the leap from building to city?

Media architecture is understood as large screens on buildings or in a more fun way under the aspect of 'Christmas lighting for architecture'. But it is much more! With media architecture it is important how it fits in with the urban environment and how society reacts to new media. Therefore, media architecture projects require the cooperation of many disciplines: experts in digital technologies, electronics, architecture, urban planning, design and also sociology. And, in the early 2000s, media architecture anticipated what everyone else in architecture now wants to do: be it programming, Smart Cities, Industry 4.0, social media, Internet of Things or user-generated content. 

On the Giraffe platform ( there is a tool called "Urban AI", which contains urban planning specifications, road regulations or road widths. (image: Giraffe Technology)  
You have researched how the growing pressure on Sydney's public transport system can be alleviated by integrating digital technologies. Are there concrete applications?

In 2012, together with Martin Tomitsch from the University of Sydney, I asked myself where media architecture could have a positive impact. We looked at bus and subway stations and quickly arrived at smartphones and geolocation apps that were able to suggest the best means of transport in your immediate vicinity and when to leave to get there. This is especially important in Sydney, as the subway stations were built in the 1930s for two million people, but today the city has five million inhabitants. That's why we, together with Grimshaw Architects, Arup and others, looked at how to avoid this overcrowding of stations with digital technologies by guiding people just in time for departure. This is now common practice. Some projects were implemented in Sydney. 

Centaur Pod, a research project of UNSW CoDe to research kinetic or 'responsive' architecture (Photo: UNSW CoDe)
And for architecture?

In the field of urban planning, we deal with the increasing population in cities, specifically in Sydney. In 2050, we will have an additional two million people in the city, mainly in the western districts near the Blue Mountains. We have written UrbanAI, a planning tool that uses artificial intelligence. It supports considerations of how these new neighborhoods should be designed, how long the subway station should be and where the eleven train stations should ideally be located. Everything is parametric and uses a large amount of data, from sales figures for housing, urban planning regulations and much more. All this has been combined as one computer program in Python and Grasshopper. Unfortunately, probably 99% of architects cannot program—and therefore cannot use the program. With Giraffe I have developed a platform that works similar to Google search. All complex processes are hidden behind the search mask. On the website you find a world map where you can enter an address and then design in this environment or enter your existing design. In addition to the world map, there is an app store where developers can upload various apps that, for example, calculate traffic flows or the CO2 consumption of buildings. This tool is constantly evolving and connects more and more architects and developers.

In 2015 Professor M. Hank Haeusler and students developed a bus stop with interactive screens. (Video: UNSW) 
Many architects are currently considering whether to integrate BIM as a design and implementation tool into their processes. What is the situation like in the Australian architecture scene?

The majority of Australian architectural firms do not use BIM. It is, however, a great data management tool. I'm more interested in how to link BIM files to artificial intelligence.

The big discussion: Will artificial intelligence soon design and build houses, thus replacing the architect?

Not artificial intelligence on its own. But if you combine artificial intelligence or the computational power of a computer with its ability to process millions of numbers simultaneously with humans, you will achieve the best results. This is evident in strategy games such as Alpha Go or Chess, where artificial intelligence is superior to humans, but when it works together with humans, it can improve this performance even further. AI has no idea about aesthetics, no idea about empathy. So, we should divide up the work more effectively, a ping-pong between man and machine. Then designing becomes much better, because it's evidence-based. Then the machine does what it does best: computing and evaluating data faster. That way we can better solve problems like global warming or lightweight constructions. To this end, I have initiated a major research project to improve the working processes – and thus the architecture – through AI.

What will you highlight on your Talk + Tour at Light + Building?

I will visit classic manufacturers of illuminated and media façades, who are increasingly incorporating new technologies. Many of the companies that manufacture luminaires, electronics and sensors are moving more into new areas such as Smart Building and Smart City. For example, suppliers of streetlights that are also equipped with sensors that can collect data on how people move around the city. This would enable us to design entirely new cities.

M. Hank Haeusler | associate professor (PhD, Dipl.-Ing. FH) UNSW Australia, Sydney (AUS) (Photo: private) 
Light + Building Talk + Tour org. by World-Architects

M. Hank Haeusler «A computational journey from light to building»
Associate Professor (PhD, Dipl-Ing. FH) UNSW Australia, Sydney (AUS) | | | |
Sonntag, 8. März, 14:00 - 14:45 Talk + 14:45 - 16:00 Tour
Meeting Point: Outlook Lounge Hall 4.2 | Foyer
Talk + Tour in englischer Sprache

> Information and Registration

M. Hank Haeusler
Associate Professor M. Hank Haeusler Dipl.-Ing. (Fh) / PhD (SIAL/RMIT) is the Discipline Director of the Computational Design degree at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, the world’s first Computational Design Bachelor degree. Haeusler is known as a researcher, educator, entrepreneur and designer in media architecture, computational design, and second machine age technologies and is author of seven books; and over 100 book chapters, journal articles and conference papers. He has taught and lectured internationally at several universities, is Professor at the Advanced Visual Innovation Institute at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing and Director of the Media Architecture Institute, Sydney.

The Light + Building 2020 experience

Connecting. Pioneering. Fascinating’. Such is the tagline of the upcoming Light + Building in Frankfurt am Main, providing the central theme that runs through this leading world trade fair, to be launched from 08 to 13 March 2020. All the market leaders have signed up and currently some 2,700 exhibitors are expected, who will be presenting their world firsts in the fields of lighting, electrical and electronic engineering, home and building automation and security technology. 
Centre stage at Light + Building will be some of the major drivers in the sector: topics such as ‘Smart Urban’ and ‘Functional Aesthetics in Lighting and Luminaire Design’. ‘Smart Urban’ encompasses topics relating to intelligent infrastructure in urban districts. At the same time, a key element in this headline theme is the interlinking of home and work, as the smallest unit of space that people inhabit in their private and working lives, on the one hand, and the city as the largest unit on the other. This includes digital charging infrastructure to provide for e-mobility and dynamic street lighting, as well as surveillance networks and intelligent parking systems.

A key area in the ‘Lighting’ product group is the presentation of the latest trends in design and technology on the lighting market. Digitalisation in the lighting sector continues to throw the focus ever more closely on human beings themselves and their individual needs. For that reason, too, ‘Functional Aesthetics’ is one of the beacon issues of the current season. This is all about the deliberate avoidance of ornamental design features and a focus on the specific requirements for lighting in each individual case. Subtly designed lamps, which emit variable light spectra for various, different scenarios – controlled, in part, by the smart building itself, are increasingly being employed in educational, work and leisure contexts. 


World-Architects is Content-Partner of Messe Frankfurt / Translated by Bianca Murphy

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