Innovation in the design and construction industries is frequently driven by technological change and discovery. As a leading design-focused engineering firm, AKT II has always perceived these changes as opportunities to uncover novel design strategies, to create efficiency and to add value throughout the entire construction process.
Since the earliest years of AKT II, this approach has been exemplified by p.art, our computational research team. The singular remit of this cross-disciplinary group – which consists of engineers, architects, computer scientists and parametric designers – is to explore and capitalise on new opportunities via technological and software development. To achieve this, p.art carries out in-depth research into new materials, construction and fabrication techniques, as well as creating new digital tool sets and software interfaces that improve coordination between the different partners in design and construction teams.
The group applies these advances to real-world design projects, working alongside other design teams at AKT II to ensure that knowledge gains are disseminated and embedded across the entire company. This approach is augmented by academic engagements with significant architecture and engineering faculties at universities within the UK and worldwide.
The diverse interests and expertises within the group have led to a number of unique built collaborations with leading architects and designers. Our research team has successfully realised a number of innovative monocoque structures, such as the steel Bournemouth Drawing Studio with Peter Cook / CRAB, the timber stressed-skin roofs of the BMW Group Pavilion for the London 2012 Olympics with Serie Architects, and a 180 m long ramp for the Bloomberg European HQ with Foster + Partners. Other projects focus on the development of new materials and construction systems; for example the Serpentine Pavilion 2016 with BIG utilises GFRP in a manner unseen in architecture before, while the ‘Lapella’ chair allowed p.art to work alongside Zaha Hadid Architects in developing a high-performance hybrid material formed from palissandro stone and carbon fibre composites.
The group has explored and gained experience in many other advanced design topics, such as structural optimisation through form-finding, environmental analysis, machine learning and live-occupancy sensing.
One of the critical efficiencies that the team brings to projects is Re.AKT, a unique software ecosystem developed in-house over the past six years. Re.AKT directly interfaces with a host of different industry-leading modelling, BIM, structural analysis and drawing production software packages, to form an interlinked and holistic design environment. This enables design teams to rapidly collaborate and refine their work, and ensures that all aspects of the project are coordinated through a single ‘master model’. This advanced toolkit is available to all engineers and technicians within the company, allowing them to perform structural form-finding, produce engineering documentation and automatically generate 2D or 3D fabrication information from that unique synchronised source.
The advanced Bioclimatic Design Toolkit p.art has developed is capable of simulating in high fidelity the complex environmental conditions such as thermal and wind comfort that emerge within existing and proposed urban spaces. This toolkit has significant speed and accuracy advantages over previous techniques, and can be used to rapidly simulate, explore, assess and optimise across many stages of the design process. The toolkit has already contributed to a number of successful planning applications and winning competition entries, and is now being expanded to encompass other aspects of environmental performance, such as structural wind loading analysis and internal smoke egress simulation.
Other emerging strands of research include assessment and integration of virtual and augmented reality interfaces, and development of on-site information sharing platforms. As with many of the interfaces that P.art develop, these new tools operate at a multitude of scales, ranging from small pavilions to large buildings, and all the way through to the realm of smart cities.