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Developing an Ecosystem of Cloud-Native Tools for Human-Centric Design

Naghman Khan
BlogAEC HubDeveloping an Ecosystem of Cloud-Native Tools for Human-Centric Design

Human-centric design is the holistic approach to the design of spaces and cities that accounts for occupant health and wellbeing, microclimate, and long-term adaptations to our changing climate and extreme weather events. It is a design philosophy as well as a methodology gaining widespread momentum amongst architects and engineers, globally. Atkins Global, a leading multi-disciplinary consulting firm and part of the larger SNC Lavalin Group, has been spearheading human-centric design as part of their core offering to their clients. Atkins has also been leveraging cloud-native design and simulation tools, such as SimScale, to develop an ecosystem of advanced applications for optimizing human-centric design. 

These include applications that predict:

  • Microclimate and wind assessments
  • Universal Thermal Comfort Index (UTCI) 
  • Energy use in buildings and cities
  • Carbon savings over the lifetime of buildings and structures
  • Daylight usage and optimization, and many more

SimScale has been working with Atkins Global to integrate the SimScale API into calculation tools being custom developed by Atkins. Engineers and designers can test different building design variations as a digital prototype using their preferred CAD models as the only input. SimScale is the first cloud-native engineering simulation software that gives users access to the power of HPC through a web browser and this, along with the SimScale API, is the reason Atkins chose SimScale: making high-fidelity engineering simulation technically and economically accessible at any scale and in the cloud.

What is Human-Centric Design?

infographic for human centric design process
The multi-faceted approach to human-centric design.

Human-centric design is a multi-faceted approach to design thinking that accounts for environmental, physiological, and psychological aspects of human performance. It aims to capture the impacts of all three aspects by using an evidence- and science-based approach to modifying the indoor and outdoor environment. This way, people living and working in homes, schools, offices, and outdoor spaces can be safe, comfortable, and productive in the most sustainable way possible. 

Examples of why human-centric design is so important are widely available in literature and show the impact of the local environment on human performance. For example, office worker productivity can decrease by up to 6% depending on whether it’s too warm to too cold inside the office. This translates to significant lost productivity and value to employers. Similarly, it has been found that office workers who sit close to windows and benefit from natural daylight, sleep on average 46 more minutes per night, increasing their mental and physical well-being and boosting their immune systems and cognitive abilities. Many research studies have also shown the increased cognitive performance of school children who have superior daylight and air quality in their classrooms. 

Design teams who want to account for these complex factors need fast and accurate simulation tools, based on sound physics and empirical data. 

Microclimate Simulation

SimScale has several qualities that are consistently leveraged by the leading architects and engineers at Atkins when designing for human centric design. 

  • Robust – SimScale handles dirty or very detailed CAD gracefully, no explicit CAD clean-up is required. This is especially important for Atkins who tend to work on large and complex CAD models. 
  • Automated – Wind data and guidelines are incorporated in a highly automated workflow meaning that non-CFD teams at Atkins can use the software just as easily, including the microclimate team. 
  • Accurate – The platform enables massive scale modeling combined with sophisticated turbulence modeling. Atkins works on large city-sized projects and needs a simulation tool that can handle large 3D files whilst still giving accurate results. 
  • Fast – Access to GPUs facilitates  extremely quick turnaround times and unlimited parallelization through cloud computing. Whether it’s for bids and competitions or delivering on a final detailed scheme design, timelines are significantly reduced. 

Atkins has extensively used the pedestrian wind comfort (PWC) automated tool in SimScale for modeling the annual wind impact on building and scheme layout. This has directly impacted the building design and that of its surrounding areas. Using a fast and accurate transient simulation tool for modeling multiple wind directions has been a powerful new capability for the Atkins microclimate team, who have gone a step further and integrated this tool into their own ecosystem of design tools, using the SimScale API.

transient wind simulation study of bristol
Detailed transient study of the city of Bristol: 69 million cells, 8 wind directions, total runtime: 1h 40min.

Developing an Ecosystem of Design Tools

Atkins has created a complex and feature-rich network of in-house design tools, augmented by third-party software like SimScale. A core part of developing this has been the easy integration using the SimScale API. When planning for this integration, Atkins wanted to adhere to some guiding principles that would allow an ecosystem to develop, including:

  • Connectivity through a common framework —the cloud. 
  • Interoperability to create links between disparate tools/software. Importing common CAD and data formats, both of which SimScale can do. 
  • Accessibility of design data across project lifecycles. The data is stored on the cloud with SimScale and can be downloaded for custom post-processing. 
  • Connecting multiple analysis platforms and core authoring tools. The SimScale API is powered by Python and is accessible for architects and engineers to begin using. 
  • More informed decision making with fast and accurate results from the SimScale platform. 
  • A community-driven tool development. The open source community in Python is widespread with low barriers to entry. Python is considered an accessible coding language. 
  • Modular plug and play of tools for project delivery. SimScale has multiple modules for different analysis types including external and internal studies for buildings.
atkins ecosystem diagram showing tools and applications
The ecosystem of design tools and capabilities used at Atkins. 

A good example of this integration with SimScale is illustrated in the project below. A CAD model of a city center was used to perform parallel wind simulations for comfort and safety. These transient results were then combined with other types of analysis on the same model (solar, energy, shading, etc.) to give various outputs including the UTCI for external comfort purposes. A key advantage of this integrated approach is the ability to have one model and perform many types of analysis across multiple simulation tools, and to combine the results for the desired outputs. 

integrated workflow output of three analyses in atkins
Example of an integrated workflow by Atkins. Left, a wind study using SimScale, Middle, the same model is used for solar energy analysis and Right, the results are combined along with other variables to output the UTCI value for outdoor comfort.

SimScale gives engineers and designers access to high-speed parallel computing empowering them to iterate faster in the design phase and to tackle common problems like CAD cleanup and slow simulation times.  Atkins has leveraged the powerful features in SimScale, including the API, to enhance its own network of in-house design tools. 


Watch our on-demand webinar with Atkins to dive deep into their implementation of advanced concepts in design thinking, big data techniques, and physics-based simulation with cloud-native engineering simulation:


To learn more about cloud-native simulation for quick, reliable building design, explore these additional case studies on customized workflows with SimScale:

Set up your own cloud-native simulation via the web in minutes by creating an account on the SimScale platform. No installation, special hardware or credit card is required.


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