BuroHappold's Global Hackathons for Super-Green Buildings

By Alex_A_G
Dec 10, '19 4:34 PM EST
Kayleigh Houde is the global Computational Community Leader at BuroHappold
Kayleigh Houde is the global Computational Community Leader at BuroHappold

What if every architect, engineer, and planner knew how to code — and anyone could access their collective expertise and design tools online? Creative new ideas for addressing climate change, or designing never-before-seen types of buildings, might emerge faster and more effectively. 

And in fact, this sort of worldwide knowledge network isn’t as far away as you might think, according to experts like computational engineer Kayleigh Houde
A leader at the innovative firm BuroHappold, Houde spearheads the Computational Collective, an initiative that involves over 500 of the firm’s multidisciplinary employees learning how to code and script, contributing to an ever-growing central code repository, and even developing an open-source platform that standardizes data across all the different kinds of software programs used in the building industry. 
The result? “We've dramatically improved our design processes, and are able to collaboratively work on high-profile projects around the world in real time,” says Houde. “For example, the level of transparent skill- and knowledge-sharing has helped our facade engineers measure how window-to-wall ratio impacts daylighting, energy performance, and the desirability of apartments in Manhattan’s supertall towers, as well as enabling our sustainability experts to create an open-source Climate Emergency Toolkit that easily calculates a building’s embodied carbon.”

Houde notes that while hackathons and collaborative coding groups are common in the tech industry, this approach is rare in the building world — especially in a form that involves large numbers of people with different areas of expertise. 

“Traditionally, scripts and code are shared by just a few specialists in an architecture or engineering firm,” Houde says. "We want our mechanical engineers to benefit from the geometrical knowledge of our structural engineers and the data wrangling capability of our urban planners — and vice-versa — so we can work together to develop the tools we need to find creative solutions, without anyone having to reinvent the wheel and solve the same problem twice.”

Houde also sees the Computational Collective’s approach as a powerful tool for tackling pressing issues such as the climate crisis, where international and interdisciplinary cooperation is essential. 
As an example, she points to a recent Climate Emergency Hackathon co-hosted by BuroHappold's London and New York offices, with guests from SHoP and Ennead Architects as well as a group of students from Chalmers University in Sweden. This global, interdisciplinary group created a free-to-use, open-source Climate Emergency Toolkit — allowing anyone to calculate the embodied carbon for any building object in any data form (including commonly incompatible software programs such as Rhino, Revit, and Excel) using a dataset of Environmental Product Declarations. BuroHappold leaders contrast this with other recently unveiled carbon calculators, which can cost nearly $1,000 to use and where the underlying code is not open-source.