inside the black box

Contemporary developments in Machine Learning (ML) based approaches to Artificial Intelligence (AI) have exciting implications for designers and for society more broadly. It is crucial that designers engage with and explore these emerging possibilities. At the same time, the “black box” character of these algorithmic systems run the risk of obfuscating important procedural concerns, preventing engagement of a broader non-technical constituency, and inevitably limiting the usefulness of their application. How can we get inside of the black box? In other words, what role can designers play in developing visual representations of AI systems? This cluster proposes to consider the potential impact of Machine Learning on architectural design by specifically focusing on new kinds of visualisation required by AI-based explorations. The objective of our cluster is to understand how visualisation might enable a richer collaboration between “machine minds” and architectural designers. We will pursue this objective through three related research questions:

  1. How can a combination of visualisation and Machine Learning algorithms enable more effective exploration of design spaces?

  2. How can visualisations hybridise geometric and informational descriptions of a project: building geometry, material layers, construction sequencing, graph representations, occupancy data, etc.?

  3. How can these visualisations help us to make sense out of the complex operations of Machine Learning algorithms themselves?

cluster champions


Ultan Byrne is a lecturer in the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto. He teaches courses concerned with the theory and techniques of representation and computing as they apply to architecture and urban design. Alongside his teaching, Ultan is developing a series of applied research projects, in which software tools are being programmed to enable new kinds of design intervention and new approaches to design process. Ultan is a graduate of the University of Toronto's Master of Architecture and holds previous degrees with high distinction from the University of Toronto in philosophy and architectural design.


Mark Cichy develops/designs building solutions — in North America as well as internationally — for the architectural, fabrication, spatial geometry, and technology industries. At DIALOG, Mark supports all design studios across the firm to develop project-based solutions, while acting as lead designer and project architect. Mark works with individual teams to build Computational Design solutions for DIALOG’s disciplines using software technology that integrates with all platforms. In addition, Mark develops internal learning sessions to educate staff on methodologies and tools that provide value in creating a project solution. With over 15 years of experience, Mark’s understanding and contributions to DIALOG and Computational Design respect and address the design, professional, and business-related aspects of the industry.


A Professional Engineer and Intern Architect, Jason Heinrich works at the intersection of design and analysis with specific research into the process of design and city-making. His Lafarge Holcim Sustainability Award-winning thesis simulated slum settlement and proposed a novel bottom-up city planning model for Western cities. His five years engineering experience with energy systems supports his current research on incorporating daylight, and energy modelling into parametric architectural design.

Since joining DIALOG, Jason has led the design of a winning entry for a net zero energy student housing competition and is currently designing a university dining facility in Vancouver.


Jodi James is an Intern Architect and member of DIALOG’s architectural team, bringing nearly 6 years of experience with public realm projects that bridge between public art, urban design, computational design and architecture. Her diverse portfolio of work with The City of Calgary reveals a commitment to city building grounded in a sense of place. Prior to professional practice, Jodi worked as a research assistant with the Laboratory for Integrative Design (LID). In addition to her professional pursuits, Jodi remains highly involved with the University of Calgary; she currently serves as a Sessional Instructor within the Faculty of Environmental Design.


Jason Masters joined DIALOG in 2013, he is an Electrical Engineering graduate and has worked on a variety of projects across Canada. During his time at DIALOG Jason has developed Electrical BIM standards, worked part time as a Design Technology Specialist supporting BIM users, ran training sessions, and assisted with the implementation of DIALOG’s early VR demonstrations. In 2017 he joined DIALOG’s Computational Design & Research department where he spends his time coding in C# and Python to help advance a variety of strategic initiatives across the architecture and engineering disciplines. 


Matthew Parker holds a Post Professional Master in Environmental Design and a Master of Architecture from the University of Calgary, where he received honors recognition and the AIA Gold Medal. His current research focuses on the ability of algorithmic observation to transform, mediate and re-animate architectures’ image. Matthew worked as a researcher with the Laboratory for Integrative Design (LID) from 2010 – 2016 and currently works as a computational designer at DIALOG.


Matt Stewart is a graduate of the Master of Architecture program at the University of Calgary and currently working in Calgary as an Intern Architect with DIALOG.  Prior to working in professional practice, Matt worked as a research assistant at the Laboratory of Integrative Design.

With a background in computer science and interaction design, Matt brings an interdisciplinary approach to design. He weighs and manages the complexity of project specifications, sustainable opportunity, community integration, aesthetic consideration, and human relationships through the intersection of computational tools and human-centered design.