I Build So I Am
Disclosure: Mr. Singh is an investor in Aditazz.
The “built space” has been a central theme throughout history. Truth be told, the elegance, durability, and functionality of the built environment has been important, even if subconsciously, long before humans invented modern architecture, design and building methodologies. But as the buildings become more and more complex, so too does the task of designing and constructing them. And, when this process is limited to the ability of the human mind alone, it eventually becomes impossible. Unless, of course, one connects algorithms and architects, symbiotically to break down barriers of the mind.
To steal from E. M. Forster’s famous line on the potential of combining prose and the passion: I believe that if we connect architects and algorithms, both shall be exalted .
Such is the power of trans-disciplinary innovation.
Let’s put the idea into action – say you want to build a hospital. Do you know how many steps a nurse will walk every day in your hospital? How about the number of trauma cases that have happened on the highway near the area in the last 10 years? Or, the disease occurrence trend in your service area? These stats are only a fraction of the more than 100 thousand input variables one must take into consideration to achieve optimized operational, environmental, financial, and aesthetic performance for your hospital.
To further illustrate the complexity, let’s pose a multivariable optimization problem. Suppose the hospital you want to build will have 10,000 outpatient visits per month; the waiting time to see a doctor needs to be no more than 10 minutes and the time a patient spends with a doctor cannot be less than 5 minutes. How many doctors and rooms do we need? “There are, in fact, many possible combinations that can provide an optimal solution,” says Deepak Aatresh, the founder of Aditazz, a company I invested in that is looking to solve the problem of design and construction complexity. Aatresh believes a truly effective solution will need to identify the best combination based on the salaries of doctors and nurses, and operating cost of the room. This optimal combination can be computed once we decide our priority of value. For example, are we wanting to minimizing costs, or maximize revenue, or limit patient waiting time?
Interestingly, such calculation is a routine occurrence in the chip design industry – exactly the field Aatresh came from prior to founding Aditazz. He realized that by applying similar design algorithms that factor in a number of components, connections, and other criteria that are used to optimized a chip – which by the way happen to be a few orders of magnitude higher than in hospital – we can revolutionize the building design and construction industry.
Again this is where trans-disciplinary innovation is key. To apply the idea to another field, think about Pixar’s amazing ability to combine technological aids with an animator’s artistic creativity. The result is not only beautiful and engaging, but efficient and scalable.
So, why does all of this matter you ask? For starters, the global market for built spaces – i.e. architecture, engineering, and construction – is $8 trillion in size. Within this, complex construction is nearly $4 trillion. And this is the only industry which has had a NEGATIVE productivity gain, consistently, over the past five decades. Even a 1% improvement in productivity amounts to $40 billion in value-creation. Clearly, the industry needs disruption, but by no stretch of imagination, is currently prepared for it.
What Aditazz is trying to create is a powerful symbiosis between human and computer, between the grand architect and the algorithm. The formulas don’t take human intuition away; instead they allow human intuition to make more complex and higher-level decisions.
This trans-disciplinary approach enables Aditazz to deliver a significant reduction in upfront capital expense, execution time and operating expense of the building over its lifetime. Even more exciting, however, is the level of flexibility offered by the new approach. In the old fashioned way, design decisions are made in a sequence – you can’t move to the next step before finalizing the current one. Changes at the last minute will be costly, if not impossible. In the virtual world created by companies like Aditazz, though, no decision is final until all decisions are final. You can keep all design options open until you are sure of the performance of the hospital. You can truly live in the hospital virtually before you build it.
Fortunately, applications of platforms like this are not limited to just building a hospital. We are already applying the approach to airports, housing communities, and even urban master-planning. AND, think about the importance of having fluidity and precision when it comes to remodeling or repurposing a facility that comes with inherited constraints such as existing layout and floor plan. The possibilities are staggering.
Often when it comes to innovation, insurgents lack the inhibition of incumbents because of the fear of failure. But, disruption in the built-spaces industry is best brought about by insurgents perched at intersections of technologies and fields orthogonal to the ones that have been the mainstay of the industry throughout history.
Man has for time immemorial prided himself for erecting marvels of architecture, and by using technology to optimize the function, flexibility, quality, and cost, we open the door to focus on the endeavor that no tool can aid: perfecting aesthetic beauty.
Man can create something of lasting value – something that defines him. He builds so he is.