Artificial Intelligence in Contemporary Design Practice

Unprecedented issues, such as climate change, challenge the standard hyper-specialized approach to problem-solving. Within this context, there is a need for professions able to creatively bring together skills from various disciplines and imagine solutions to tackle such crises.

According to the Italian semiotician Umberto Eco, architects are “the last humanists” because they are trained in comprehensive, interdisciplinary, problem-solving methodologies. This applies broadly to other design disciplines, such as landscape architects, who occupy a unique place in society, enabling them to undertake leadership positions in the future, both within and outside of traditional design practice boundaries. In order for this to happen, design tools must support and enhance the design workflow. This seminar will look at one such tool, Artificial Intelligence (AI), from the point of view of the practitioner, or in software development jargon, the user.

As a research field, Artificial Intelligence originated after World War II to convert machine learning for ballistic and aircraft trajectory prediction into civil use technologies. Traditionally pursued as an academic theoretical effort, AI is now gaining widespread attention due to the enhanced computational capability of commercial computers, and the emergence of pervasive sensing supported by Internet of Things devices and high-speed Internet connections. AI, in its various forms, is becoming increasingly more embedded in the design practice through digital design tools.
This innovative technology is fascinating and stimulating. However, the application of AI to the “humanistic” design process poses epistemological questions that are at the core of this seminar. Understanding, even if at a non-specialist level, the functioning of such tools is key to enabling creative and innovative applications.

During the first module “Foundations” students will become familiar with the concepts of complex systems, ecology, mediality, network analysis, and AI, through a series of curated readings and interdisciplinary guest lectures in the fields of mathematics and philosophy. During the second module “Applications and Interfaces” the students will explore innovative applications of AI and their interfaces through a series of interdisciplinary guest lectures in the fields of computational creativity and generative design. 

During the semester, each student will develop a personal research project agreed upon with the instructor. The research will be presented in the context of these two modules and formatted as an academic article for final submission.

There are no prerequisites and the seminar is open to all GSD and MIT students.