Ben Juckes: Pushing Boundaries Through Computational Design

  • January 21, 2019
  • Author: CannonDesign

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 (CD) 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 CD 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 CD. 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.”

Four years later, he is now an associate, having established himself as an expert in CD. One of his greatest strengths is creating DIY tools and custom workflows that challenge conventional practice.

The studio doesn’t have a dedicated CD team; rather, each staff member is encouraged to explore their own ideas in organic ways.“We have shaped our tools, but the tools are now starting to shape us,” Ben observes. “The term ‘computational design’ covers an extremely broad variety of roles and relationships. As it becomes more widely used across the industry, we will 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 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 sight lines and maximize views from each unit.

These diverse experiences at Yazdani Studios have given Ben the space to dive even deeper into what excites him.

“A great thing about the style and culture Merhdad has created 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.”

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Setting the Stage for the Future of Higher Education – Insights from SCUP 2018 Annual Conference

  • September 12, 2018
  • Author: Bridget Supplitt

Each year, members of the CannonDesign education team head to the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) 2018 Annual Conference to learn about the latest trends in campus planning, and gather insights that will help inform our own designs and plans moving forward.

This year, five CannonDesign leaders – clockwise, from top left: Phil Dordai, Trevor Calarco, Mike Glaros, Jenny Miller and David Coleman – attended and report on their visits here. The conference presented a broad, relevant topic that is top of mind for planners on both the client and architect side: setting the stage for the future of higher education.

Talks explored challenges facing higher education, the impact of politics on campus, and how planners, administrators and designers can adapt to changing generational demands.

A key theme discussed surrounded how campuses are looking for creative ways to insert new or updated buildings within already dense campuses. Right-sizing and right-spacing facilities, finding ways to house multiple curriculums (even if disparate in nature) under one roof, and using data and analytics to find the most efficient use of space are just some of the methods planners are adopting to ensure student, faculty and administrative needs are met.

In a similar vein, campuses are also getting innovative in creating new subtypes of spaces or programs, such as creating new multipurpose student centers/unions that house shared environments. These ladder into the trend of incoming generations being interested now more than ever before in the quality of their experiences on campus. Students want accessible wellness centers, retail, dining, prayer spaces, etc. They want to know that they have spaces where they can proactively spend time, versus reactively finding them in times of need. As a result, planners and designers alike will need to continue to source new ideas for creating these proactive experiences, and give students spaces they want to hang out and spend time in.

A final hot topic of focus was the impact of politics on campus. As with many industries, issues like immigration policies are affecting international student enrollment numbers. And like other industries, it’s predicted that decreases in international enrollment could result in serious consequences for business plans in higher education institutions if those drops in enrollment from last year continue. It remains to be seen what these consequences will entail, but will be important to monitor, and prepare for.

Overall the conference provided interesting takeaways, but more importantly, challenged those that presented and attended to continue to expand their creative thinking within a campus planning framework. It will be interesting to see how these trends and insights are reflected within the physical campus space in the coming years.