January 3, 2022

Ben Juckes: Pushing Boundaries Through Computational Design

Surfing comes naturally to Ben Juckes, but contrary to what you’d think, he did not take up the sport in his native Australia, one of the world’s premier surfing destinations.

It wasn’t until he moved to Los Angeles and began working at Yazdani Studio of CannonDesign, the in-house laboratory led by Mehrdad Yazdani with a staff of approximately 20 architects, designers, 3D artists, technical specialists and other creative thinkers.

For Ben, the sports’ appeal was always more about the surfboard, the idea of manipulating its form to maximize its performance—the architecture of it all. He plunged into the study of computational design in Perth, where he pursued a Bachelor of Environmental Science in Architecture at the University of Western Australia (UWA). There weren’t any courses in the computational design there, however, a one-year student exchange program at the University of Arizona introduced him to visual programming languages like Grasshopper.

“I was blown away by all the tools and technologies that people were using there,” Ben recalls. “The idea that you had the ability to harness complicated geometries through simple procedures really fit with my style of designing, and I decided that this is the way I wanted to practice architecture.”

Ben returned to UWA and earned his M.Arch, continuing to develop his skills in computational design. He, along with fellow students and professors who were early adopters, established the “Hub,” a regular event for students to collaborate and share knowledge. He was also part of the team behind Augmented Australia, an exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2014, curated by the creative team known as felix._Giles_Anderson+Goad. It included apps that allowed users to visualize unbuilt modern and historic structures across the country.

After graduating, Ben transitioned from teaching evening classes on parametric modeling to taking on sessional staff positions at his alma mater. Though he enjoyed being in academia and plans to return to it someday, he felt driven to gain practical experience.

“I realized I needed to immerse myself in the industry before I (could) actually teach people!” says Ben.

Drawn back to the States, he settled in Los Angeles, which offered a similar laid-back vibe and warm climate to Perth. A friend introduced him to Yazdani Studio. Though he had been focused on computer modeling, seeing the many physical models displayed around the studio was one of the reasons he knew it was the right fit for him.

“You walk in and see it’s a playground of models,” says Ben. “That says something about the way the studio operates and that it’s a really cool, collaborative environment.”

Ben and his studio teammates collaborating with Mehrdad Yazdani.

Six years later, he is now a senior associate, having established himself as an expert in computational design. One of his greatest strengths is creating DIY tools and custom workflows that challenge conventional practice—and encouraging others to explore their own ideas in organic ways. “We have shaped our tools, but the tools are now starting to shape us,” Ben observes.

While the term “computational design” covers an extremely broad variety of roles and relationships, Ben believes we’ll start to see bigger distinctions between these roles and the creation of more specialized divisions. “With a more diverse range of roles, coupled with advancements in technologies and applications, I think architects will retreat from outsourcing and create a new paradigm of insourcing,” Ben adds.

The first project Ben worked on with Yazdani Studio was Lassonde Studios at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, a typology definer that hybridizes maker space and dormitory pods. The team utilized visual programming languages, like the Kangaroo plugin for Grasshopper, Dynamo for Revit, and other tools, to map relationships between programmatic elements. They also created a virtual reality game to help the university promote the project.

More recently, Ben has been focusing on Address Harbor Point, a set of slender, tapered residential towers on the waterfront in Dubai. By creating multiple iterations of physical models via 3D printers and utilizing Galapagos, another plugin for Grasshopper, Ben and his team have explored subtle rotations of the towers’ forms to investigate sightlines and maximize views from each unit. These diverse project experiences have given Ben the space to dive even deeper into what excites him.

“A great thing about the style and culture Merhdad has created in the Yazdani Studio is that we all touch the projects in different facets, but we are encouraged to pursue and explore our own interests.” Those interests include making furniture, and, of course, surfing. He’s finally learned to surf along the coast of Los Angeles.

“I keep it practical outside of work,” says Ben. “It’s important to mix analog with digital. You have to get your hands dirty sometimes.”