Today Dr. David Gerber serves as assistant professor of Architecture and Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Southern California, but the title he claims is far simpler than his multi-disciplinary research aims.
The son of an engineer and a computer scientist, Gerber has called many countries (and at one point, a sailboat) home, and his work today reflects that blend of technological interests and global perspectives. A design architect by training, Gerber has worked for some of the world’s most innovative architecture and technology firms, including Gehry Technologies and Zaha Hadid Architects.
Since then he has served as professor, lecturer, author, and founder of several technology startups, but his work revolves around one theme: the intersection of architecture, design with computation, and technology.
Finding A Better Way
It was during his time with Zaha Hadid Architects more than 14 years ago that Gerber says he discovered the lesson that would set his career trajectory.
That path, as he describes it, has been “to develop parametric skillsets, technologies, and knowledge to better equip designers to handle real-world complexity, while maintaining the highest level of quality in design possible.”
Gerber had won the title of project architect and manager for a massive new project: the One North master plan in Singapore. The design called for a 30-year master plan for a city of 200,000 people, with 5 million square meters of gross floor area over 200 hectares of land.
At that time, parametric design wasn’t a term ever heard in architecture, but the connection of information it allows was greatly needed by such a complex project.
“There weren’t any tools for me to appropriately manage my responsibilities, which was to link the data to my geometry while my geometry was changing on an hourly basis,” Gerber recalls. “And the data sets were enormous.”
Ultimately, Gerber developed a program that linked this information. However, he left the project thinking, “There has got to be a better way to enable good design, while not losing the bidirectional impact from geometry to data, and data to geometry.”
The Singapore master plan was a project with a painful lesson, learned under a tight schedule and cost constraints, among other challenges. Yet Gerber knew the tool he had commissioned while working on the project—what he calls the first parametric urbanism tool—was a first step toward smarter design.
From Zaha Hadid Architects, Gerber went on to Harvard’s Graduate School of Design to pursue his doctorate. It was in a class taught by his advisor that Gerber discovered CATIA®.
It was among the first classes in which architects were instructed on CATIA, and it was eye-opening for Gerber to realize that there already existed technologies in engineering disciplines that he and his colleagues had tried to duplicate in the architectural setting.
“This became the 4-year trajectory of my PhD studies, in which I wrote one of the first PhDs in architecture on parametric design,” Gerber says.
His early experience in CATIA, through classes and work at MIT’s Media Lab where he was appointed as a research fellow, became an asset that helped Gerber earn an internship at Gehry Technologies, where he was able to further develop this knowledge for architecture.
Since then, through lectures, teaching and publications, Gerber has set out to help others realize the “better way” of delivering highly complex projects.
Gerber believes that parametric design tools and the shift to 3D design have become so valuable to designers because they help address the problem of uncertainty that is characteristic of design.
“As designers, we have a huge amount of responsibility because our visions carry with them 100- to 200-year lifespans and life cycle costs,” Gerber says.
Given this duration, he sees design as inherent with enormous uncertainty. As a result, Gerber says, “It’s our duty to enhance the design process, and therefore the design product, with more and more intelligence.”
Parametric and generative design systems are one key for linking otherwise fragmented expertise in the AEC industry and applying it to accurately achieve the complex aims of today’s projects.
Of course, there is room for more innovation in this new approach toward integrating project expertise. Gerber describes his world today as being about solving the problems that lie at the intersection of architecture, engineering and construction through an emphasis on the humanistic expression of design and integrating the innovations in the computer science field.
“My ultimate aim is to provide higher fidelity information, and capture higher fidelity knowledge to better equip the architect and designer,” Gerber says.
3DEXPERIENCE Forum 2014
Dr. Gerber will present the evolution of CATIA-based teaching, consulting, and research through the lens of 12 years of experience. The talk will highlight the importance of bottom-up and top-down educational and research strategies, and will link to the needs of AEC industry challenges.