Interview with Federico Borello on blending technology, collaboration, and design

AI Creative Challenge 4.0_ Winner01

Become A Digital Member

Subscribe only for €3.99 per month.
Cancel anytime!


Federico Borello is a registered architect currently based in London. He is the co-founder and Director of ENCODE – Design & Technology, a consultancy practice that helps architects, engineers, manufacturers, and contractors to develop and deliver innovative projects from early design stages to construction. They leverage state-of-the-art virtual construction technologies and DfMA processes. We had a chance to attend a workshop with him and also discuss his journey and how he became interested in robotics in architecture.

This weekend, we will be conducting a workshop with the aim to equip participants with comprehensive knowledge and practical skills in designing efficient geometries while utilizing data and visualization techniques. The workshop will focus on providing insights into the performance of their designs. The participants will learn the fundamentals of parametric design, structural analysis, and optimization techniques. These skills will enable them to create structure-aware and visually appealing architectural and engineering designs.

Federico Borello
© ENCODE – Design & Technology

Serra Utkum İkiz (PA): Considering your unique journey from architecture to technology, could you share how your personal experiences and challenges have shaped your views on architecture and design?

Federico: I started my journey learning in a quite traditional academic environment in Italy, studying the fundamentals of history, physics, math, and architectural design. Since the early days, I always felt that it was not enough, and that I wanted to experiment and prototype ideas through the means of technology. I always been attracted by the non-normative, in doing things in a different way, more exciting, more challenging and unseen.

A major change in journey occurred when after graduation I moved to London to attend my postgraduate degree at the AA Design Research Laboratory, a hub of design research, tutored by some of the most influential designers and educators internationally, a place without any limit to experimentation. My perception of what design and technology mean has changed drastically since then, leaving behind preconceptions while opening a new framework of possibilities and understandings.

I had the privilege afterward to mature professionally in what I felt was my natural environment, Zaha Hadid Architects, specifically in a design and technology-focused team called CODE (Computation and Design). The incredible range of backgrounds, cultures, and skills at ZHA has been the vehicle that allowed me to shape over time my own perspective and interests. The unique mix of designers, programmers, mathematicians, visualizers, roboticists, and planners, to mention just a few…made me feel in the right place at the right time to push design and research at the professional practice level.

Nowadays, running my own business together with my partner has further developed my perspective, forcing myself to take more risk and responsibilities. The core motivation of ENCODE has been since day one to bridge the still existing gap between design and construction. Despite these days’ “digital abundance”, with the ever-increasing adoption of AI in all areas of our daily life, we still operate in a highly human-centric and fragmented discipline (AEC), with a lack of standards, disconnected supply chains, and poor digitization becoming more apparent towards construction stages.

I believe technology plays an important role in our field, but we are only at the infancy of a long-lasting transformation that will require multiple incremental steps to be performed collectively with clarity and shared goals.

© ENCODE, Tumbalong Green Stage Upgrade

Serra (PA): You’ve seen digital fabrication develop over time. What limitation in the current use of robotics in construction would be a game-changer if solved by the next decade?

Federico: Robotics and more generally machine intelligence in construction is something which has been researched since the 60s with pioneers’ minds like Nicholas Negroponte, Marvin Minsky, Walter Grey Walter just to mention a few. Technology keeps evolving these days at an exponential rate, but adoption has been historically slower in construction than in all other disciplines.

This is due to the reasons mentioned earlier, together with the hard regulatory requirements that contemporary construction processes demand.

When robots will be able to effectively deal with uncertainty and change through forms of individual or collective intelligence without the need of top-down programming, then we will probably start seeing more of them in real sites, but I think we are still far from that point.

It’s great to see continuous research and investments in this direction, both on academic and professional levels.

Federico Borello
© ENCODE – Design & Technology

Serra (PA): From your experience at Zaha Hadid Architects and other firms, could you tell us the importance of cross-disciplinary collaboration in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in architecture and design?

Federico: I strongly believe in design as a collaborative endeavor, where multiple minds and expertise negotiate constraints to reach a common goal. Collaboration and open access to information are key aspects to implement in any project to ensure its successful delivery.

Unfortunately, our field is not yet as open as it should, starting from early stages of design and increasingly when reaching stages of delivery. Both in my experience at ZHA and now with ENCODE, the integration of multiple agents (stakeholders) since the early stages of design allows the dissemination of knowledge and requirements to be collectively accessible and discussed allowing a multi-threaded design development rather than a linear one, like the traditional approach.

Serra (PA): As automation and artificial intelligence become more prevalent in design and construction, what ethical considerations should professionals in the AEC industry consider to ensure the responsible and equitable use of these technologies?

Federico: I believe with great power comes great responsibility, hence each technological leap should be carefully considered and eventually regulated to prevent misuse of that technology.

Once a new technology is out, there is no real way to stop its dissemination, there is no way back; the adoption rate I think should be carefully monitored and actions taken where the misuse might lead to a societal risk.

I think technology is a deeply human endeavor, developed by humans for humans, and as such if it doesn’t benefit humanity, it stops being relevant and will naturally stop evolving and eventually disappear.

Automation and machine intelligence have been improving almost any task we perform today in our daily lives; they are both deeply integrated in our culture such that we barely realize anymore, we are moving quickly towards a cyber-physical cultural paradigm enabled by technology.

© ENCODE – Design & Technology

Serra (PA): What emerging technologies or methodologies do you think will have the most significant impact on the AEC industry, and how is ENCODE preparing to embrace these changes?

Federico: It’s quite evident how AI might have a substantial impact on AEC. I’m saying “might have” because I believe we are still far from a meaningful, measurable impact. As mentioned

previously I believe that more than AI, our field necessitates transparency, shared standards and collaborative frameworks enabled by technology.At ENCODE, we are constantly researching and developing live projects, methods, and processes to tackle the issues mentioned above; we have a very pragmatic approach to technology, leveraging it and developing it when it is needed and where it is needed, not as a marketing tool. We have a digital-first approach towards every problem we must solve while keeping in mind we interface not only with machines but also with other people, and as such, we need to communicate effectively and efficiently.

© ENCODE – Design & Technology

Serra (PA): For those planning to attend the “Data Structure(d) Design 2.0” workshop, what mindset or preparatory steps would you recommend maximizing their learning and application of the skills taught?

Federico: The workshop aims to provide participants with comprehensive knowledge and practical skills in designing efficient geometries while leveraging data and visualization techniques to gain insights into the performance of their designs. Participants will learn the fundamentals of parametric design, structural analysis, and optimization techniques, enabling them to create structure-aware and visually appealing architectural and engineering designs. The workshop will showcase efficient interoperability workflows to collaborate real time with multiple project stakeholders in a seamless, version-controlled and automated manner.

No prior knowledge of any tool is required, but some experience with Rhino and Grasshopper is recommended. We will cover the foundational principles of each topic mentioned above, enabling the participants to apply and further develop the methods discussed in their own projects and case studies.

Serra (PA): What advice would you give young professionals interested in robotics and emerging technologies in architecture?

Federico: I believe design technology is an area which opens many opportunities at all scales, from startup to corporate level. My main advice is to learn the constraints and opportunities that both sides offer and focus on how to solve real world problems by implementing strategies which can be widely adopted and shared with the larger community.

Data Structure(d) Design 2.0 – Studio Federico Borello

For learning more about Federico Borello and his studios, check out PAACADEMY!

Share with a friend:

Learn about parametric and computational from the online courses at the PAACADEMY:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Become A Digital Member

Subscribe only for €3.99 per month. Cancel anytime!

Weekly Newsletter in Your Inbox

Explore More

Sponsored Content

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter