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Living Software
Autodesk acquires The Living, launches architecture studio.
The Living's MoMA PS1 pavilion, Hy-Fi.
Courtesy MoMA / PS1

With the acquisition of architecture and design firm The Living, led by principal David Benjamin, the software company Autodesk is launching a new studio that explores the future of computer-aided design. The studio, which will be called The Living, will create new types of buildings, public installations, prototypes, and architectural environments.

David Benjamin told AN he is “incredibly excited about deliberately engaging and experimenting with new models of the architecture studio itself.” The studio will explore the intersection of new technologies and design in projects that span industries from architecture to industrial design to art to music to aerospace.

David Benjamin.
 Courtesy the living

The Living has collaborated with Autodesk on multiple projects over the past several years. Selected by the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 as the winner of the 2014 Young Architects Program in New York, The Living used Autodesk software to design its winning project Hy-Fi, now on view in the courtyard of MoMA PS1. Hy-Fi pushes the boundaries between biological technology and cutting-edge computation to create new materials. Its design features a 40-foot-tall structure made of organic bricks grown from mushroom roots and corn stalks.

The new Autodesk studio will allow Benjamin to continue to work on cross-disciplinary projects. “We’ve never had an architecture studio as part of Autodesk Research, which has focused more on computer science and more traditional sciences,” said Gordon Kurtenbach, senior director of research at Autodesk. “The new era of computer-aided design is about exploring as many opportunities as possible, and the life sciences and material sciences are becoming part of what we want to include in the digital design process.”

The studio not only looks toward the creation of new materials, but also focuses on reimagining the design process. One project currently underway is Dreamcatcher, described as a “goal directed design” system. This system allows architects and designers to input specific design objectives such as performance criteria, cost restrictions and functional requirements. Then, using cloud computing, Dreamcatcher runs simulations to analyze processes and determine all the possible design options, including materials and manufacturing processes, allowing users to explore many more options than they could have previously.

The Living's MoMA PS1 pavilion, Hy-Fi.
Courtesy MoMA / PS1

Are we entering a new era of machine aesthetics? “If used properly the computer side of things results in designs that are wonderfully human and don’t feel sterile,” said Kurtenbach. Benjamin agrees, seeing the opportunity to “use new technologies not for cold blooded efficiencies but for enhancing creativities.”

Upcoming projects for The Living studio include a floating pier in the East River that uses live mussels to track water quality, and the Laboratory for Embodied Computation, a new building for the Princeton University School of Architecture for research on robotics. The latter project, still in the schematic design phase, will be designed to be incomplete so that it can evolve over time, thus allowing the researchers occupying it the opportunity to test new ideas and non-traditional materials—such as roof panels and facades—by actually incorporating them into the structure.

Liz McEnaney