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DSC Weekly 20 June 2023 – Is optimized structural efficiency ‘human’ design?


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DSC Weekly 20 June 2023 – Is optimized structural efficiency ‘human’ design?
Image source: https://www.airbus.com

Is optimized structural efficiency ‘human’ design?

I recently read a paper titled “On the use of Artificial Neural Networks in Topology Optimisation,” about the process of topological optimization. In short, topological optimization is the process of determining the most efficient distribution of structural material for a given design. Typically there are simulation models involved that can predict stresses and directions of force that can aid in these designs. Advances in neural networks and AI capabilities have given this technique more attention in recent months.

Airbus created the bike frame above, and as you can see, it is a somewhat offputting design. The overall silhouette is familiar but the specifics of its design feel strangely organic. It’s reminiscent of the 1986 classic Aliens, whose environmental design was meant to evoke unease at the merger of biological and mechanical design elements. The design may be far lighter while retaining the structural integrity, but it almost feels unnecessary for a bike frame, where the leading designs are already highly optimized for weight reduction.

One place where it could shine is structural engineering. Gone are the days of brutalist architecture where ‘minimalism’ meant as little flair as possible. Minimalism now can be taken more literally as there is a minimal amount of building material used for supposedly the same structural integrity. A recent article by The Guardian stated that certain sections of New York City are sinking from 1-4 millimeters per year due to the massive weight of the structures built on top of the bedrock. Just over a century ago, the widespread use of steel as a building material allowed skyscrapers like the Empire State Building to exist at such unfathomable heights.

Like in the mid-19th century, we have to choose what we value in our designs. Brutalism came about in a period when modernism was gaining popularity and functionality and efficiency was a priority over aesthetics. While this new, highly functional design is not nearly as plain as the large concrete cubes that brutalism is known for, is it an aesthetic we actually like, or is it something we merely tolerate for its utility?

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DSC Weekly 20 June 2023 – Is optimized structural efficiency ‘human’ design?