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Researchers harness AI to show us a greener future

Words:
Stephen Cousins

Brighton’s Centre for Contemporary Art displays illustrations of ideas from the public which show an imagined architecture that is more closely linked to nature

An overarching theme of the exhibition was to demonstrate how humans can respond to catastrophic climate change impacts through the radical reinvention of construction.
An overarching theme of the exhibition was to demonstrate how humans can respond to catastrophic climate change impacts through the radical reinvention of construction. Credit: University of Brighton

Researchers at the University of Brighton’s Centre for Contemporary Art have exploited a significant change in the capabilities of generative AI art to create visionary illustrations of a world where architecture exists in greater harmony with nature.

The series of artworks, on display in an exhibition at the CCA Building until 7 February, were based on descriptions by the general public of the kind of future they would like to inhabit in relation to architecture, space and urban projects.

An overarching theme was to demonstrate how humankind ‘can respond to catastrophic climate change impacts through the radical reinvention of construction’.

The team at the CCA, led by Poorang Piroozfar, a reader in architectural technology and digital construction at University of Brighton, and Eric Farr, honorary professor of architecture and design at University of Liverpool, used the AI art platform Midjourney to translate peoples’ ideas of alternative futures into reality.

Midjourney, and similar AI tools like DALL-E 2, by Elon Musk’s company Open AI, Stable Diffusion, and StarryAI, give anyone with access to a smartphone, or PC, the ability to create highly-polished art by typing in simple text instructions.

Sophisticated algorithms are ‘trained’ on millions of images to mimic their styles, colours and even brushstrokes, enabling users to rapidly create their own individual versions.

  • Biophilia is a key motif in the exhibition as expressed by public participants.
    Biophilia is a key motif in the exhibition as expressed by public participants. Credit: University of Brighton
  • The generative AI art platform Midjourney was used to create the artworks.
    The generative AI art platform Midjourney was used to create the artworks. Credit: University of Brighton
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The pieces in the exhibition were developed through a ‘curation’ process. Public engagement formed the first stage of brainstorming before ideas were developed and progressed by different design experts and planners.

Displayed artworks are projected onto screens and cover seven themes: four categories of architectural materials, ‘spaces elaboration’, healthy urbanism, and ‘the future prospect’.

Asked how AI-rendered art can help inspire architectural solutions to climate change, Piroozfar said: ‘It gives us the ability to explore limitless concepts, to generate visions of the future… it helps us challenge our accepted world view and be bold in imagining and testing design for a more sustainable and healthier planet.’

Nearly all the artworks focus on biophilia, perhaps revealing humans’ innate tendency to seek out connections with nature. One series, co-created by the American Institute of Architects, visualises methods of commuting in the urban environment, which Piroozfar says points towards a form of ‘democratic healthy urbanism with equal access for all, cleaner air, more green spaces and a more sustainable urban ecology, paving the way towards greater environmental justice and awareness.’

AI exhibition, until 7 February, Brighton CCA, Grand Parade Building, BN2 9JA

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