Contextualizing early stage design with computational tools

This page is the home for project GreyBox, a prototype tool created as part of my masters thesis to contextualize design information and strategies.  This project stems from the basic idea that architectural design can be augmented through the use of computational tools that improve process, similar to the practice of Advanced/Centaur Chess.

This augmentation has already happened with a number of BIM and optimization tools in the late stages of architectural design including design development, construction documentation, procurement, construction administration, and operations/post-occupancy evaluation.  Few tools have been created that adequately address the earlier stages of the process, despite a demonstrated desire.  Additionally, early stages of the architectural process hold the most promise for improvement of the final design through highly informed decision making (illustrated below with the MacLeamy Curve).


A survey of available research was undertaken to identify aspects of the design process which would most benefit from cognitive augmentation, as well as workflows which we already successful within current design processes.  A variety of lessons from this research informed creation of the prototype tool, but two aspects proved most important:

Facilitation of workflows which increase the occurrence of novel design decisions

Visual representation of data to reduce cognitive loads from designer interpretation

From these beginnings, GreyBox was envisioned as a tool for data exploration and diagrammatic storytelling to facilitate architectural pre-design and schematic design services.  The current iteration is a prototype of the final tool which demonstrates a preliminary workflow to illustrate the type of workflow expected within a final product.  This workflow consists of three main aspects:

Constraint of design space

Exploration of design space

Comparison of iterations

Initial testing of this tool involved demonstration to several experienced architects with a range of experience in project type and tool use to explore perceived differences in productivity, intuitive understanding of data, and the creation of massing iterations.  Further development and testing will be necessary to draw any concrete conclusions about the effectiveness of this tool, however initial responses are illustrated below.

Updated Comparison Diagram

These responses suggest a trend of increased productivity and ease of use associated with the prototype tool.  Additionally, the tool is perceived as being beneficial for the creation of massing alternatives within early stage design.  These perceptions will be best tested in real-world use after release of the tool, hopefully within the next year!

More updates will follow as development continues in my spare time over the coming year.  If you are interested in learning more about the research and current development of the tool, the thesis book created for this project is available below as a PDF.