Autodesk is taking design to the next level with Project Dreamcatcher. What if a CAD system could generate thousands of design options that all meet your specified goals? It’s no longer what if: it’s Project Dreamcatcher, the next generation of CAD. Dreamcatcher is a generative design system that enables designers to craft a definition of their design problem through goals and constraints. This information is used to synthesize alternative design solutions that meet the objectives. Designers are able to explore trade-offs between many alternative approaches and select design solutions for manufacture. The Elbo chair is unusual piece of furniture. Not for its looks—though the legs, back, and arms bear an uncanny resemblance to bones—but for how it came to be.
Arthur Harsuvanakit and Brittany Presten of Autodesk’s generative design lab created the chair, but they didn’t design it. Yes, they wanted the Elbo to reference the Danish mid-century modern style. And they wanted the seat 18 inches off the floor, and capable of supporting 300 pounds. But they let algorithms decide everything else.
Typically, a designer decides how something should look, what it is made of, and how it is constructed. The emerging field of generative design upends that process by handing over big swaths of the design process to software.
In the case of the Elbo, Harsuvanakit and Presten collaborated with Dreamcatcher, Autodesk’s generative design CAD system. They fed the software a digital, 3-D model of a chair inspired by Hans Wegner’s iconic Round Chair and the Lambda Chair, from the design studio Berkeley Mills. Then, they stipulated how much weight the chair must support and insisted that the arms clear a human body. With that, Dreamcatcher started iterating.
Harsuvanakit calls the Elbo a collaboration between human and machine. Dreamcatcher might spin out solutions a designer might not think of, but at a certain point the human mind overrides the algorithm. The look and feel of the final object did not originate in the designer’s mind, but it requires his sign-off.