The design research group SUPERSPACE at Woods Bagot has a 15 year history of developing design methodology based on visual conditions in academia and professional practice. This chapter will review the many pioneering developments of visibility design that provided the basis for much international academic research in the field, such as an interactive VGA for CAD at Aedas in 2004 for passive supervision design of schools, the first volumetric and sequence-based visual conditions analysis for the National September 11th Memorial Museum New York in 2007 or the introduction of the fast polygon traversal algorithm for visual fields in 2013. SUPERSPACE has always integrated visual and spatial analysis into its generative computing methodology and the case studies show the relation between analytic and generative design.

The methodology for the study of visibility for analytical purposes is well developed in the context of spatial architectural analysis, for example in research communities related to Space Syntax, as well as in spatial cognition research about wayfinding, in other words how visual conditions affect route choice and other decision-making involved in navigating through an environment. In parallel, a strand of research in the field of computational geometry study methods for calculating geometric visibility and related problems with many applications ranging from triangulation to robotics and motion planning (O’Rourke 1987). There are peculiar overlaps between these fields as, that in spite of the fact that their motivations for studying visibility problems are divergent, they have similar fundamental problems to be investigated in common.

Matters confronting the practising architect that actively aspires to be in control of the visual qualities inherent in their designs are only sporadically addressed by the profession, with a few exceptions, and usually not taught as part of the education in a coherent and systematic way. One development that incorporates an understanding of the role of the person’s movement through space and its importance for the visual experience is the concept of serial vision sketches developed by Gordon Cullen (1961), while other conventional practices of interrogating visual conditions of designs tend to be based on perspectives constructed from the point of view of a single user; nowadays more commonly by the use of 3D modelling and CAD/BIM software. There has recently been an increase in engineering approaches based on ray tracing, to optimise for example a stadium design in order to make sure all the spectators have an acceptable view of the sports ground, or analysing visibility values on facades to create heat maps highlighting which parts are more (or less) visible from the street level or other points of interest. However it is worth to question whether visibility should be treated as a concern that can be solved or optimised in a generic model based on the same premise as the study of solar radiation.

SUPERSPACE finds itself at the intersection of the academic domains and communities mentioned above, while also confronted with the challenge of translating and applying the research in a meaningful way, being situated in an architectural practice with real-world constraints of designing buildings, interiors and urban environments. In the following section we present a selection of methodologies used by the group and that make up the digital framework for integrating visibility conditions in the analysis, design and review of architectural projects: i.e. the different forms of representing and coding forms and structures of visibility conditions. The framework is built up of the basic building blocks necessary to meaningfully represent and manipulate visual conditions, and have been developed by the group over the course of many years in an effort to include visual conditions as an integrated part of architectural and urban design activities. This has gradually evolved into a flexible toolkit which allows the group to assemble tailored applications to a specific design or concept, while some recurring analytical techniques are compiled with interfaces for more immediate use (Fig. 1). The result is a network of transparent bespoke simulations, rather than a single integrated tool (Derix 2012). The methods are sourced from the fields described above, where SUPERSPACE also contributes, and complemented with in-house research. The research carried out by the group can be strategic internal developments or externally funded research projects, the latter was the case for example when SUPERSPACE participated in the EU funded project Resilient Infrastructure and Building Security from 2010 to 2013. The methods are then continuously applied, fine-tuned and validated on projects.

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