November 27, 2018

Queens of Technology

Getting to Know The MS Design Computing Cohort

The Department of Architecture’s Master of Science in Design Computing is an innovative degree focused on emerging technologies and programing related to simulation, analysis, fabrication and new approaches in design thinking. This degree and other degrees like it are critical to the progress of the field of architecture at large, but are often overlooked as the final work products can rarely be reduced to sexy renderings or sleek model designs that the architectural world is so consumed by. Currently, the students pursuing the degree are developing programs that can more accurately estimate the total carbon emissions of a building while still in the design phase, measuring daylighting within the system of a city, even teaching robots to work collaboratively! This work is as exciting as it is tangible, making it an inspiring platform for expanding the process of architectural design both conceptually and in practice. In the following interview, we get to know the five incredible women who make up the current MS Arch Design Computing cohort. These women, all international students, are pushing the limits of what technology in architecture is capable of.

The following five students participated in the interview: Laleh Amany, Elham Soltani, Shakiba Ahmadi, Ghada Mami, and Vidhya Rajendra.

Interview conducted by Andres Flores, 2nd year M.Arch student and Sami Prouty, 3rd year M.Arch student.


A&S: What brought you to Seattle?

Elham: The most important part was university and major, especially the ability to work collaboratively across departments.

Vidhya: Seattle has good architecture and good weather compared to the eastern side  of the United States, there is no snow here!

Ghada: Companies that are here are ecology based. There are lots of start ups and firms that are working on traditional architecture and design, with emphasis on research.

A&S: Are these places that you want to work? Are they resources?

Vihya: Work, in the future.

Ghada: They are resources for current projects and allow for work with architects who have similar interests.

A&S: Can each of you speak about the specific research that you are working on?

Laleh: I am working on the carbon life cycle analysis of an entire building. This is based on greenhouse gas emissions and the threat of global warming. My research explores all stages of carbon emission not just the carbon of the building material. A course with Kate Simonen lead to an interest in taking advantage of BIM programs, that are an industry standard, and integrate a way to calculate building carbon emission into those programs. Often this step is overlooked because firms don’t want to use an outside program to calculate carbon impact. A plugin that can be used in the software will make this process simpler and easier for firms to use.  

Elham: I am working on space planning and experience maps in office buildings to increase user comfort. Americans spend 90% of their time in the office building so making them comfortable is important. Current pre-design simulations don’t consider the different experiences of the user based off of the specific activity performed or what occupants wear, they only consider technical factor. Combining technical and user factors will allow designers to find optimal places of comfort and place the right program in the appropriate spot. This best location for placement of program will be based on data. This will positively affect worker experience. I am studying this in different climates such as at Phoenix, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle.

Shakiba: My research is on urban level daylighting simulations.  This is especially problematic in Seattle. Increases in city population lead to many changes in urban areas, which causes difficulty between spacing efficiency and daylighting ability. My work combines layout of block, building geometry, and façades to study daylighting ability of a specific building. I then look at limitations of existing urban zoning and suggest changes to better support daylighting. I will also suggest a new workflow that better focuses on solutions for daylighting in urbanization.

Ghada: I am researching collaboration of robots for a specific task. Single robots tend to be too expensive. Robot collaboration presents advantage of small units that are cheaper due to simplicity. Small robots are also more easily accessible worldwide for application in fabrication. The challenges include programing of multiple robots to work together and how a task can be done simultaneously in a tight space. I am also looking at robotic collaboration with humans as  robots and humans create a dynamic environment.

Vidhya: I just joined the cohort. Currently I’m developing a skill set to work on the thesis. I am hoping to look at the coding side of AI to generate shapes for façade studies, human centered design… Exploring more in this sector.

A&S: How do you move from a broad field of study to the specificity of your study? What is the process like?

Shakiba: Course based off of interest led to developing interest, further cultivation in research methods class.

Laleh: research practice class helped a lot, research practice, developed interest. Courses lead to realization of not interested specific fields while building skills. Good to see diversity of fields.

Vidhya: Based on an internship. I was on a team working on façade design and computation methods that pulled out specific elements and worked on traditional sun shading devices, look at computation to optimize the traditional element.

Ghada: Internship in Germany, field of computational design pre masters thesis.

A&S: What is the experience of being in a program that this year consists of only women? Will your work be different because of this?

Elham: most course are mixed with other majors so they are more mixed by gender.

A&S: How does your experience working in the U.S compare to places that you worked previous?

Vidhya: interdisciplinary course at UW provide opportunities for broader education.

Ghada: Having digital course and courses from different departments is very valuable.

Shakiba: Opportunities to explore a lot of topics especially in design computing. Lots of different ways to mix and choose fields.

Elham: There was no connection with different departments at previous school, I value interdisciplinary work.

Laleh: Teachers and faculty, there is someone who is an expert in a specific field, it is easy to find a mentor.

A&S: Do you see yourselves using this wealth of new knowledge to return to your home country or see yourself working/going to more school here?

Laleh: I am currently working with a firm in Seattle. I am able to learn more while in school and will decide later, gain more experience here.

Elham: Same, good to experience the context of a different country and continue working here.

Shakiba: I will continue my education for PHD. Because two years is not enough time to form expertise.

Ghada: cultural and educational exchange. I will go back home and share the academic and social experience, share new knowledge, professionally or academically.

Vidhya: There are not as many opportunities for the application of digital design in facades to be applied right now in India. Thus graduate, work in U.S, then return with knowledge and experience.

A&S: Is there a growing population of young professional women pursuing opportunities in digital design and architecture? What is that experience like? Are women emerging as the new leaders?

Vidhya: It’s a matter of opportunity and resources.

A&S: How does being a woman in a primarily male dominated field shape your experience? How does it shape your work?

Laleh: It is optimistic because it is changing. In the firm working I am at, there are equal numbers of men and women and they are proud. But 10 principles and only one is a woman. But it is changing and they are proud of it. Happy to be in this step in a changing society.

Ghada: Looking at other studies many are being led by women. Women are represented at conferences and on faculty across the country. Change is happening in the professional sector.


The Design Machine Group is a valuable resource for the experimentation and exploration of new technologies in architecture and architecture related fields. As our current MS Design Computing cohort shows, the potential of such inquiries can spark great leaps and innovations in the way we work as architects. For more information on the Design Machine Group or courses offered in Design Computing, please visit the program page