what exactly is the diffrence between an architect and a computational designer


hello friends what exactly is the difference between   job profile of a computational designer and architect???

,most of the people who work as a computational  designer are from computer science, mathematics and structural engineering background and they help in assisting an architect

can anyone plz  elaborate on this  ,i also came across a program known as product architecture and engineering at stevens .how good is the program ,and how much to expect after completing this program

thanking you friends

Jul 5, 13 2:43 am

architects design buildings.  computational designers, as you mentioned, have a background in computer science, so they don't design buildings.

Jul 5, 13 8:56 am

with respect to product architecture, keep in mind that the term 'architecture' is used in many other fields that have nothing to do with buildings and in which it is not related to licensing, so there are no caveats or restrictions on its use

in general, in computer science, systems engineering, and product design, 'architecture' refers to the organization and 'high-level' structure of a product or service --- or the specification of the logic, components, and relationships between components of the product's or service's design --- or the form and function of the product or service system --- or identifying the structural and functional patterns of logic that a system must embody to meet the specified intent.

the term 'architecture' is used in cs/systems engineering/product design in part b/c early contributors in these fields were deeply influenced by Christopher Alexander's books, Notes on the Synthesis of Form, and, A Pattern Language.  Identifying, choosing, and implementing patterns remains a significant component of product/systems architecting and there are standard patterns that exist, e.g., the factory pattern.  (search: gangof four design patterns) identifying key architectures and organizing them frames how the system is modularized, integrated, what platforms it requires or provides, how to optimize for development and manufacturing...the list goes on and on.

the program at stevens looks very cool, and there are very good reasons to align our classical definition of architecture with modern interpretations based in computer science, systems engineering, and product design.  imo, there is an active, vibrant, cross-disciplinary dialog related to 'architecture' and design spanning those other disciplines b/c they share common concepts and language and traditional architects are on the outside looking in, having for years used idiosyncratic concepts and language to discuss and explore similar ideas without the benefit of interacting with the larger 'architecting' community.

for the roots of architecture's relationships to 'architecting' in the cs sense, i highly recommend Alexander's, Notes on the Synthesis of Form, Gordon Pask's article in AD from late 60's, "The Architectural Relevance of Cybernetics," and his book, An Approach to Cybernetics, on the similarity of architects and systems engineers. Negroponte's, Soft Architecture Machines with Pasks intro is seminal.  Mitchell's, The Logic of Architecture is very powerful as an early, complete, and well thought out treatise on the relationship.  Meredith's recent book, From Control to Design, is very good and implicitly discusses many of the concepts.  I think now searching that book and looking at all of the related books that pop up on Amazon, you can find some of interest to you.  Also, read AD periodical.  Outstanding periodical that will give you a sense of the current trends in this area in architecture.

i would be remiss if i did not tell you to read the wonderful, outstanding, timeless, and seminal book, The Sciences of the Artificial, as it is seminal in cs/systems literature, by one of the founding fathers (Herbert Simon) of cybernetics/systems/cs, and an inspiring and eye-opening book.

also follow the writings of branko kolarevic for chronicling these relationships.  for work, look at Meredith's work, Andy Payne's work, Michael Fox's work, and too many others to name right now.

Jul 5, 13 11:02 am
Jmang thanks for the wonderful post!
Jul 5, 13 11:46 am


clarification:  couple lines above are unclear --- about Pask references.  the AD article is on the similarity of the role of a traditional architect to the emerging role of the systems engineer.  pask's book, an approach to cybernetics, is about his 'conversation theory,' which is pretty awesome in its own right, and discusses product and systems function and design as resulting from 'conversations,' or exchanges of information (including materials and energy) between systems...very powerful stuff.

Jul 5, 13 12:13 pm

When I was in grad school I happened to walk through a job fair for the computer people and got a free t-shirt that says "real architects code, I don't know what those people that design buildings are called"

Jul 5, 13 12:43 pm

hey jmang very nice post. i think u must be an outstanding blogger actually i have a  bs in civil engineering and is confused whether to get a prof degree in architecture 3 years or do a masters in computational design .my main interest lie in  mathematics and its application in architecturural design ,parametric design ,form finding etc

will be thankful

Jul 5, 13 1:05 pm

thanks.  whether you go architecture or product design or cs or some other degree program, for a master of science or phd, the most important thing is to find an adviser who either gives you the flexibility to explore your interests across departments, or preferably, is already doing something along the lines of the cross-disciplinary work that you want to do and can therefore offer you a structured experience on real projects in her/his lab of how to work with relevant knowledge domains and collaborators and integrate across the fields. 

you might also look at programs in management information systems, systems engineering, industrial engineering, and human factors, as well...and take some art all of those fields, they make you much more valuable.  studying the field of building architecture may only make sense if you want to design and build building systems as your own independent licensed architect ... and/or if you find an architecture program that gives you the flexibility to take cs/hf/ie/se/mis/math/etc classes in other departments or at other universities.

Jul 5, 13 2:15 pm

yea u r correct. thanks for your valuable suggestion

Jul 6, 13 1:29 am
Jonathan Elmore
Computation deals with the ordering of information. Therefore, an architect (spatial) can be a computational architect.
Jul 8, 13 5:14 pm
Jonathan Elmore
Computation deals with the ordering of information. Therefore, an architect (spatial) can be a computational architect.
Jul 8, 13 5:15 pm
Jonathan Elmore
Computational designer!
Jul 8, 13 5:15 pm

One is a an actual architect, the others only wish they were architects but make more money.

Jul 9, 13 10:38 am

the difference is employment, pay, and growth versus unemployment, unpaid internships, and stagnation.


ignore that comment.  as maverick said, 'i saw the shot...and took it..." --- couldn't resist --- but a gross over-generalization --- still, that is a rapidly growing area with opportunity

Jul 9, 13 6:31 pm

Being an architect requires a certain amount of passion and perseverance to continue to learn and grow, this is a goal which among the current trendy crowd seems "old school",  which though I'm relatively young my college professors instilled these values within me.  Values don't change with technology.  Unfortunately along the way while we try to master all these computer tools some of us get labeled, stuck, or burned out.  So, I guess what I'm saying is that a true architect, masters all his tools available or at least enough to communicate his or her design intentions, but does not lose site of the big picture which is to know enough about architecture that if civilization collapsed , and if someone the famous question is there an architect in the house?, a true architect could show them the way and continue learning and growing, and of course building something well.

Jul 10, 13 6:40 am

long story short the basic necessities for life are food, clothing, and shelter.  Not food clothing, shelter and computational design. 

Jul 10, 13 6:54 am

lets just hope computers keep working, and that it doesn't  come to that.  I do enjoy exploring all kinds of computer programs.  For some of us, using these programs like revit or rhino etc. it's the only contribution we can make to a design project until we own our own office or business venture. ok back to work.

Jul 10, 13 7:17 am

legopiece thanks for your comment  my main intention of starting this thread was to know more about computational designer and its career prospect ,i did my bs in civil engineering ,and is interested in studying architecture ,even after studying architecture i want to get in to parametric modelling ,so i was thinking why not directly go in to CD,

as first prof degree in architecture takes around 3.5 years and then again 2 years for masters  in cd ,i can afford my self to study for 2 years in us ,but to study for 5.5 years i need my parents to get down from their comfort zone ,which i dont want them to do

instead of that i was thinking of taking maths and computing classes and then CD .

how much salary can 1 expect after ms in CD????

Jul 10, 13 8:10 am

i don't know much about computational design, but i should be able to shed some light on architecture as a profession.

what do you mean by "parametric design?"  if you mean a drafstperson that can stretch a window, i think that's closer to what we, as an industry, do with revit.  i'm not really sure if an advanced degree is required to be a draftsperson, but i don't think it would hurt.  still, most drafstpeople that i know of have degrees in architecture.

if you mean some sort of form generating thing, well, there are a lot of arbitrary methods of generating form.  if you want to learn "parametricism" so you can create general forms for buildings, that will then be detailed and made to actually work by others, and then built by still others, and financed by another group entirely, i don't think that's a viable path.  that is not really a position in the field of architecture.  when you go looking for a job in architecture after school, and tell someone that you want to design buildings, but can't be bothered with the more mundane tasks of the profession like CDs, i don't think you're going to be hired.

Jul 10, 13 9:22 am

curtkram i think u need to read my comment  again u r going off topic

Jul 10, 13 9:56 am
Jonathan Elmore
I would refer you to James Gleick's "The Information: a history, a theory, a flood". This book discusses things such as:
What is computation?
What is information?
How were humans the first computers.
How information is catagorized.
How you can find solutions through 0s and 1s.
But it also talks about Maxells Deamon. This is a theoretical figure that can pull pieces of information from diluted conglomeration of info. He can arrange information at will, and I think in terms of 'spatial' architecture, this is what we do. We analyze relationship of information, catagorize, and assemble through a process. This is one facet of what I believe Architecture to be.
Jul 10, 13 10:08 am

i'm afraid i still don't entirely understand what you're asking kadam.  that could be a problem with my understanding rather than your communication.

it does seem you're still looking for a connection between computational design and architecture, right?  as i said before, i can help with the architecture side of it, but not as much with the computational design side.  perhaps if you were more clear on what you were going to do with computational design that would tie into the practice of architecture?

if it's not a connection between architecture and computational design, then, as you suggested, i'm pretty far off topic and can't help much.

also, i can't directly speak to a program at stevens; i don't even know who that is, so i'm afraid i'm no help at all there.

Jul 10, 13 10:38 am

all designers and architects manage information and knowledge and order it and structure it for clients.  ours just happens to end up in a very large, one-off physical form.

if 'computational design' is considered as a component of pre-design services and called space planning or facilities planning or move management or change management --- i.e.:

  • when the architect or designer is helping the owner determine/refine initial scope of work and develop a design strategy by using sets of rules and metrics and heuristics and spreadsheets and equations and diagrams and sketches to guide collaborative decision making

or if computational design is considered as an essential function architects offer during SD/DD/CD/CA, i.e.:

  • when the designer/architect/construction manager is taking a holistic view of the project and assessing tradeoffs and deciding on the most viable options to achieve the design intent efficiently and effectively using sets of rules and metrics and heuristics and spreadsheets and equations and diagrams and sketches to guide collaborative decision making

then the job of any architect already is entirely consistent with the concept of 'architecture' referenced by the OP related to Stevens Institute's product architecture curriculum or the sort of 'architecture' the OP mentions as related to computer science and mathematics...and this is why Pask said that architects are systems engineers using a holistic approach to knowledge management and design.

I know this doesn't seem that revolutionary to archinect architects b/c all traditional architectural design is always taught and practiced as a holistic approach to composition, rhythm, order, patterns, information management and decision making.  And also, because anyone who has done VE, CDs, or CA knows that of course, assessing trade offs collaboratively is essential, as are sketches, diagrams, and spreadsheets.  But silly as it may seem, it took special, official sounding fields like product architecture, systems engineering, industrial engineering, computer science, information architect, knowledge engineer, etc, to build a framework for our very approaches in the business, software, and engineering communities.  Why?  because the history and lineage and power of traditional business practices and engineering practices and computer science is based upon positivist empirical science --- that is isolating variables until something definitive can be said about them in a deterministic fashion, or at least being able to model in a probabilistic way.  The historic aversion to holism is that you can't model it, optimize it, or predict with it.  So given the history of these fields, the realization in the last few decade that for really big, complex projects, the complexity and uncertainty has to be accepted and strategies must be evolved to mitigate them with the realization that you'll never be able to model it or predict based upon isolating variables or a pareto curve has been a huge conceptual shift.  This is precisely why 'design thinking' is so red hot in these fields right now.  what do you think it is?  it is what you have always know and done, but did not know how to market to them as an essential skill, that they are now picking up for themselves.

there is also a parallel project delivery methods evolution ongoing in both architecture and these related fields.  whereas we're evolving from design-bid-build to integrated project delivery, they're evolving from the now outdated waterfall model to the V-model, and like with our methods, theirs are undgoing several intermediate methods along the way ---- but the trajectories and structures of both evolutions are incredibly similar --- we're all getting more collaborative and using more model-based, computational tools, we just discuss it with different terminology.

the blobby/techy sort of 'parametricism' that archinect architects discuss as computational design is the idiosyncratic concept - the outlier - when viewed from the larger domain of 'architecting' and 'computational design.' 

again, we would do well to pull down the barrier that is maintaining our own idiosyncratic and self-referential language and concepts and engage in the larger discourse around these topics --- and not only to bring us up to speed so we're not needlessly reinventing the wheel --- but also b/c archinect architects functioning in similar roles have a tremendous amount to contribute to the discourse b/c our industry has been refining these skills for so long. 

most importantly --- think of it like this, if all that those 'knowledge engineer / information architects / computational designers' are doing is offering a lot of the information architecture and knowledge management services we offer, just discussed and presented in a slightly different way, and their fields are growing more quickly and strongly than ours and make more money than ours, and are considered essential, then that means it is not so much that our skills are losing relevance or value in the market, but that we are leaving money and opportunity on the table because we don't know the value of our own services, how they relate to other market sectors, how to present them to other market sectors, or how we can capitalize on what we already know and do. 

in summary, we would do well not to belittle computational designers or information architects because they do similar work but their value is currently more recognized and that is our problem, not theirs, and bashing them is not the solution.

Jul 10, 13 10:46 am

 hello curtkram ,consider  if an architect is asked to design a floor plan of a flat then unintentionally he fixes a room and other room r asigned around the same room .

after this the architect thinks of space,utilisation,ventilation etc

now what if a computer is made to generate different floor plan

consider the analogy of ch4 molecule  c main and 4 h at substrate each orientation of h around c will have different space  geometry same is the case with living room(c)  and other room .this in turn will store be stored  with a matrix and  retrieved through  a program 

this is a very basic example 

u can also think of generative algorithm created by studying specific natural systems which are characterised by particular property and using same analogy  in architecture design

Jul 10, 13 11:00 am
Is Dr. Dre a real doctor?
Jul 10, 13 11:05 am

i met a guy a week or two ago who is a CIO somewhere and has a side job of sorts where he consults with a local architecture firm to develop 'move management' software, so the architect provides that to their clients as sort of an added benefit.  that is certainly a case where computational design is used in the field of architecture, though it's an ancillary service.  since it exists, it could potentially be a valid career path.  i don't know what he makes, so unfortunately can't contribute to the OP's salary question.

if you focus on something like space planning, would you mean automating space planning, or just organizing data/variables to help with the space planning process?  i don't think space planning can be automated.  i don't think it works that way, because judgement calls have to be made and what you prioritize constantly changes.  so if you have CH4, there is a set relationship that can't change, otherwise the molecule doesn't work or becomes a different molecule.  that is not how space planning works.  like if you set a priority '1,' '2,' and '3' flag, the priority of 2 and 3 could switch depending on how stuff ends up laying out.  maybe bubble diagrams could be automated.

something like VE i would think needs to have people.  prices of material and labor estimates are variable and negotiable.  seems to me entering a number in a bit of software would harm that process, but i guess there could be a case to be made that would keep people more honest?  or open the potential for less honesty.  i don't know, lots of contractors are crooks deep down inside (lots aren't too).

if you walk into an architect's office, at least anywhere i've worked, and said you have a degree in computational science, they would not have a job for you.  there could be a potential that this sort of service would be available on a specific contract basis.  i've only worked at small firms, so bigger firms could be different.

Jul 10, 13 11:49 am

ya u r correct space planning cannot be entirely automated .here  comes the architect  a cd will just give him  possible outcomes of that experiment and the architect is responsible for decision making

Jul 10, 13 12:24 pm

automation is a separate issue, but very important to the discussion.  hanging one's hat, professionally, on a service that can be automated, like photorealistic rendering, is a risky proposition.  but there are all sorts of things architects do, as you point out, that cannot be automated. the equivalent skills are handled by the systems engineer, industrial engineer, knowledge engineer, or software architect in related fields. 

the reason that i doubt it will ever be possible to automate these advanced professional skills is that there are emerging complex project types in aerospace, defense, automotive, and software systems and the best assessments about how to design complexity on these scales is that it has to be cultivated, not specified.  so for instance, the Software Engineering Institute was asked by the army a few years ago to develop a technical report that considers how they can design and manage a human-machine system so complex it takes billions of lines of code to run.  SEI came back with a technical report freely available online that describes the emergence over the next 50 years of ultra-large scale systems.  The interesting thing is that they reference urban planning and building design a lot when describing how such systems will have to be designed.  Essentially, it will be more of an art than a science, and not because computing hardware cannot handle the calculations.  rather, once complexity and integrated reach a point, the system performance and its evolution are not predictable.  rather, like urban design or building design, it will require incremental, collaborative, evolutionary processes.  or as we all learn in design school, when we design buildings, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.  its that simple.  there are similar assessments for other emerging project types, such as cyber-physical systems, CLIOS, and multi-scale systems...interestlingly, cyber-physical systems literature also references high-performance building design as an area that qualifies as cyber-physical systems and is subject to these same design challenges (duh, we knew that).  In addition, socio-technical systems, which have been around for a while but continue to grow in significance and ubiquity, already acknowledge this reality and have developed organizational/production design strategies that are more open-ended and creative than traditional engineering approaches and rely on reflective human judgment throughout the design and development processes to realize the systems designs. 

thus, people in business, engineering, and computer science are heading our way --- what will we offer them?

what do we have to offer?  jane jacobs, kevin lynch, christopher alexander, geoffrey scott, robert venturi, nicholas negroponte, william mitchell, michael fox, axel killian, tristan sterk, nathan miller, kaz oosterhuis, richard rogers, renzo piano, norman foster, cecil balmond, usman haque, michael hensel, rem koolhaas, skyler tibits, john ziesel, and on and on.... we do design complexity - we do human-environment-organizational-cultural-visual-systems complexity - and have done it for a very long time.....


having said that, it may be that for very simple building types, design will become almost fully automated.  but this is already happening anyway with simple, pre-manufactured structures.  so designers popping up big-box retail one after another may be in danger unless they up the game and integrate their buildings more into the fabric of communities.  but i highly doubt it will ever be possible to automate the layout or CM of a factory, school, hospital, or similar.

Jul 10, 13 12:29 pm

"i want to get in to parametric modelling ,so i was thinking why not directly go in to CD"

...Instead of that i was thinking of taking maths and computing classes and then CD .

how much salary can 1 expect after ms in CD????"<---Kadam Patil

Sorry for giving you the lecture in my previous post. Well yes, what you would like to do is already being done, there are is such a thing as being a certified, or qualified draftsman.  what you can expect depends on where you live, and size of office you work at. Right now these are the type of offices that would hire you as a parametric design specialist, or even after a computer science degree with experience.  With experience, you could work in the fabled "IT" department within an arch. office. These guys get paid very well a lot more than an experienced licensed architect in some cases. 

But remember that after becoming a qualified draftsman, or computational designer as you say, you will be capable of doing projects for both engineers, general contractors, subcontractors, as well as architecture offices, and you will be expected to perform expertly producing architecture drawings, as well as something as specialized as a steel shop fabrication drawing.

You wont be able to swoop in wearing an architects cape, and only do what you want, but who knows?  The only way you will find out is for you to go out there in investigate actually talk with an office these days now that the economy is somewhat repairing itself,  they are feeling of pain of having fired so many good people.

anyways good luck

Jul 13, 13 11:00 am

hey legopiece thanks for u r suggestion ,u r giving  me a shock now thereby saying draftsman=computational designer .

cd is into bim,form finding,shape grammer,parametric design etc

in india draftsman is someone who draws plan on computer ,and he is less literate

so accordingly-see my flowchart

b.s civil &enviormental eng +msc mtech applied mathamtics and computer application+ms cd

job profile-draughtsman -equivalent to sucide

Jul 13, 13 12:43 pm

I don't know what you want then, good luck to you. Doesn't matter what kind of degree you have, its what you can do. If you want to work with architects in a design team, im not saying it is not possible. I will mention to you that in the USA most people that are still working after these past 6 years,( a little thing called the "great recession" happened), are some of the best at what they do, and a large proportion of them are very literate at manipulating software of all kinds. So you have some stiff competition in the USA anyway.

just follow your dream I have a feeling you are young enough to make a few more life mistakes so you can learn from them.

good luck

Jul 13, 13 1:00 pm

thanks and  goodluck to u

Jul 14, 13 12:13 am

Hopefully the main difference between architects and computational designers is quite clear to you now. I had learned many prominent differences between these two disciplines from this thread, and I would like to thank all the active forum participants for that.

Jul 15, 13 8:26 am

kadam - the various claims in this thread on computational designers usually not being architects but computer scientists are in my experience not really true.

i'm not going to go against all the advice given previously, or the wealth of interesting literature references you've been given, but the vast majority of computational designers in current practice come from architecture or at the very least some field that deals with the invention and making of concrete matter such as engineering or product design. these people typically aren't nearly as good at coding as the people who actually know how to code. however the complexity inherent to architecture makes someone's knowledge of that particular field crucial to being a good developer of computational design (architecture) tools. so how efficient/successful you are as a computational designer has infinitely more to do with, say, an ability to identify the appropriate architectural problem in need of solving (trained architect) than the ability of writing and compiling routines to efficiently solve the problem (trained programmer). if you can't spot the problem in the first place it doesn't matter how good you are at writing the code that addresses it.

one other important point - since design computing isn't  the core business of architecture there is a wealth of architectural designers that are highly skilled in computing but still never get to see projects realized. this is because the realization of any architectural project depends on half a bagillion other parameters that each may overthrow the project before it has reached completion. so in other words, if you aim to become a computationally literate architect, know that it is a quite narrow specialization within the wider field of architecture and in the current economic climate clients and therefore employers respond to firms that can deliver projects as agreed, on budget and on time, something that can depend in part on efficient use of technology but to a large extent also depends on experience. so there will never be any substitute for actual architectural knowledge and experience.

by the way about the pa program at stevens: a sizable chunk of the current computational design expertise of NYC came through there at some point or other. It may not be world famous but it will teach you the tech skills as well as or better than anyone else that's around and your children won't still be paying your student loans.

Aug 3, 13 7:26 pm

thanks empea for the elaboration

Aug 4, 13 8:09 am

just saw this...interesting...related to my points above

Aug 15, 13 3:17 pm

Hi I am wondering if what you are really looking for is the difference between being an architect and someone who does architectural visualizations? Check out the Architectural Computing degree at UNSW to see if I'm on the right track.

Sep 24, 13 11:39 pm

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