Bricks And Bytes Podcast

Sherif Tarabishy – Foster + Partners – Q&A

Sherif Tarabishy computational design foster + partners

This Q&A is taken from the full podcast episode we recorded with Sherif.

Q: Can you tell us about your background and journey from studying architecture in Egypt to working in computational design and applied research at Foster + Partners in London?

A: I started my architecture education in Cairo, Egypt, where I initially studied electronics engineering before switching to architecture. After completing my bachelor’s degree, I worked in an architecture studio and then opened a digital consultancy with one of my university tutors. In 2012-2013, we were one of the first consultancies in Egypt to focus on integrating technology into the design and production workflow. However, the market in Egypt wasn’t quite ready for this kind of intervention at the time. I then moved to London to pursue my master’s in architecture computation and started working on the Applied R&D team at Foster + Partners.

Q: What is the role of the Applied R&D team at Foster + Partners, and what are the main areas of research you focus on?

A: The Applied R&D team at Foster + Partners acts as an in-house consultant for the six design studios within the company. We offer design support, tool development, and research across six core capabilities: machine learning and data science, geometry optimization for fabrication, high-performance computing, XR, VR, and collaborative tools for designers. Our team consists of around 24 people from diverse backgrounds, including architects, structural engineers, and artists, all united by our interest in programming and problem-solving.

Q: Why does Foster + Partners develop tools for internal use rather than making them available to the wider market?

A: Developing tools in-house is part of what gives Foster + Partners a competitive edge in the market. There are ongoing discussions about potentially opening up some tools to the market, but it’s important to consider the responsibility that comes with supporting and maintaining software for external users. Additionally, many of the tools we create are tailored to the specific types of projects we work on, so they may not have a broad application in the wider market.

Q: What areas within the design stack do you think should be explored more broadly?

A: I believe there are opportunities to explore inefficiencies in running a design business, as the design aspect itself is already well-explored. Many architecture schools don’t teach the business side of running a creative industry, so there is potential for improvement in the processes that support the design work.

Q: Can you tell us about Hermes, an in-house tool developed by your team, and how it addresses interoperability issues?

A: Hermes is a message-passing software that lives in the cloud and facilitates communication between different software used by project stakeholders. It allows users to control specific elements of a project, such as grid lines, from their preferred software (e.g., Revit) and publish updates to other team members working in different programs (e.g., Rhino or Grasshopper). This enables automated workflows and ensures everyone is working with the latest version of the project data.

Q: What excites you most about the potential of machine learning in architecture, and what concerns do you have about its impact on designers’ intent?

A: The widespread adoption of machine learning and the ability to be part of this technological shift is exciting. However, I’m interested in how it affects designers’ intent. With generative AI, users can create polished outputs regardless of their skill level, but there is a risk of accepting these outputs without much thought or iteration. The cognitive dissonance that usually occurs when a designer’s vision doesn’t match the output can lead to frustration or motivation to explore new approaches. I’m curious to see how this will impact the data and artifacts we generate moving forward.

Q: What skills do you think future architects should focus on developing, and how do you envision the role of the architect evolving?

A: I believe future architects should be more technology-oriented, but not necessarily in an all-or-nothing way. Developing a curious mindset and consistently questioning current processes and investigating new tools is crucial. While we can’t predict exactly how the architect’s role will change, being adaptable and open to new technologies will be essential.

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