Dave Cooper interviews Phil Langley from Bryden Wood

Digital to Physical: Democratising design in construction with automation

“The Future of Construction” series is part of Howick’s STEEL HORIZONS thought leadership initiative. It is our commitment to championing better ways to build and inspiring the construction sector. Hosted by renowned construction industry online talk show host Dave Cooper, this series explores the world of high-tech advanced methods using real world case studies.

In episodes 1-3, Dave Cooper discusses offsite manufacturing with the team at British Offsite. In episodes 4-6, Dave explores the world of “digital to physical” design with the creative technologists, designers, architects, engineers and analysts from Bryden Wood.  Bryden Wood is a leader in the theory and practice of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), the Platform approach to Design for Manufacture and Assembly (P-DfMA), generative design, creative technologies, integrated design and automation in construction. 

In episode 4 of our series, Dave sits down in Bryden Wood’s head office in central London to talk with their Head of Creative Technologies, Phil Langley, about designing for quality, intelligence and speed. Their discussion explores how Bryden Wood is taking design automation technology to the next level to improve upfront design planning in the construction sector. 




Democratising design through software

Could you ever have imagined doing a first feasibility pass on your building design in less than 10 minutes? Or perfectly placing 27,000 GRC (Glassfibre Reinforced Concrete) panels with double curvatures in an underground tunnel?

That is what Bryden Wood has been achieving for clients with their integrated design expertise and digital innovation. They are not your typical software developers, but architects and engineers with a passion for built environments and changing the industry through software.

By introducing technology earlier into the design phase and delivering greater transparency and inclusivity, they are completely rethinking how we make design decisions.

Or as Phil puts it: “Democratising design.”

“Lots of design intelligence has evolved in the heads of engineers and architects, and clients and customers aren't able to access that,” 

“I want my mum to be able to use our software to design a building or a piece of infrastructure.”

Bryden Wood’s answer is to design software that intelligently uses data and existing rule sets to allow stakeholders – engineers, architects, contractors and building owners – to explore and manipulate accurate designs early on to make better decisions. 

The value to the end-user can be summarised in three words, says Phil.

“Quality. Intelligence. Speed. That’s what they get out of it. They get to take a huge degree of ownership over their design and delivery process.”

“The idea here is to use technology to create a solution space of many different possibilities, then choose the right one, or make a change when it’s digital not physical.”

Design automation for modern methods of construction

PRISM, Bryden Wood’s open-source web application for the design of residential buildings, is a great example of how you can democratise design by using intelligence, automation and real-world data.

With its intuitive 3D drag and drop interface, PRISM looks deceptively simple. That is until you realise that with every adjustment you make to the design, the tool automatically calculates the impact down to the last screw. PRISM can do this because it is encoded with Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) logic and existing rule sets.

With all that know-how integrated into an open-sourced tool, designers can quickly learn what is possible with modern methods of construction. 

Comparing designing a standard design process to PRISM is like comparing a horse and cart to a jet plane. With PRISM, it is realistic to do a “first pass feasibility on your design in less than 10 minutes.”

“This can really take years off the design process of a complex building,” Dave acknowledges.

Golden data threads and digital twins

By pulling all the digital technology upfront you create a golden thread of data, and for owner operators this can open up opportunities far beyond construction.

“What we give them is an ability to have an upfront digital twin of their existing assets and connect this with planning and operations,” says Phil.

For Dave the advantages of this approach are obvious.

“The company has more control of their project, including what the sustainability factor is, the predictability factor, and what the cost of that project is going to be.”

Getting the balance between people and computers

So with these rapid advancements, what will the relationship be like between humans and computers? 

According to Phil there is always a balance between what engineers and computers are good at. 

By automating standard processes, engineers and designers are free to solve those 10% of challenges that require human creativity, and deliver that real value-add. It’s a synergistic model that produces better outcomes.

“You want architects focusing on a better quality built environment, rather than paperwork.”

For Dave, this is a paradigm shift that the industry will need to make to realise the potential of automation and digital-to-physical design.

“It’s a different thought process,” says Dave.

 “You're trying to change the mindset and culture of an industry that's always done it this way. To look at it differently and realise that it's going to help them be more successful and deliver more projects in less time, which is great for everybody.”


STEEL HORIZONS is a thought-leadership initiative launched by Howick. As a pioneer and world leader in light gauge steel, we are passionate about the possibilities of technology, automation and data; and about bringing together the brightest minds in the offsite and modular industry to collaborate together and inspire each other.

If you are interested in accessing videos and presentations from our 2022 UK event, simply click here and join us.

Click here to see this interview with Phil Langley from Bryden Wood


January 2023   #Features