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Celebrating a Collaborative Future at the Reimagined Smithsonian Arts + Industries Building

Rendering of the FUTURES exhibit at Smithsonian AIB

Rendering of FUTURES at the Smithsonian’s Arts + Industries Building, by Rockwell Group

At Autodesk we think about the impact of technology and its effect on the future…a lot. It is natural, when living through a pandemic, to get stuck on the scary when considering climate change, social equity, and the health and resilience of established systems. But we try to focus on the other side of this, on what our customers do to shape a thriving future; we see the positive impact that automation and artificial intelligence can have when used to augment and support people addressing the big challenges.  

Our aim is to give people the space to be creative and tackle the meaty work, while technology can handle the tedious and time-consuming tasks. This is the future of work we believe in. 

To help showcase the benefits of automation, we are thrilled to team up with the Smithsonian to create an experience that will debut this November at the historic Arts + Industries Building (AIB), America’s first National Museum. After lying dormant for nearly two decades, the museum is being reborn as a national space to explore ideas and questions about the future.  

FUTURES, the Smithsonian’s first major building-wide exploration of the future, will fuse awe-inspiring art, technology, design, and history, inviting visitors to dream big and imagine not just one, but many possible futures on the horizon.  

We partnered with the Smithsonian to create The Co-Lab as part of FUTURES, featuring an interactive experience called Future Communities that brings visitors together to build a sustainable community block using analytics and goal-driven design with Autodesk generative design technology. Guests will collaborate both with each other and A.I., adjusting the inputs they deem most important. Each guest takes on a different persona with specific goals and input factors which include social, ecological and economic considerations, ranging from availability of green space and low carbon transportation to the reach of public services and employment opportunities. The evolving community block will be displayed in real-time and the technology will showcase the types of trade-offs necessary to achieve various outcomes.

Rendering of the Co-Lab

The Co-Lab was designed by Autodesk Research and The Living, an Autodesk Studio. Elevate ultimate mobility vehicle model and image courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

What excites me most about this exhibit is the opportunity for visitors to have a hands-on experience with A.I., where guests see the real-time power of collaboration between people and technology as well as the instant feedback the A.I. can offer to help people make better decisions. Together, we can look toward better ways of living, enabled by new and better design tools.  

Head to Smithsonian Magazine to learn more about The Co-Lab

We’ve had a relationship with the Smithsonian for years and were honored to collaborate with them on this meaningful endeavor. Previously our work with the Smithsonian has helped people experience the past, like 3D scanning the Apollo 11 command module and adding Smithsonian 3D models to our Tinkercad collections. With FUTURES, we’re helping guests look ahead and experience potential wonders of what’s to come.  

I recently caught up with Rachel Goslins, AIB director and the visionary behind this project, to discuss her perspective on The Co-Lab. She shared, “Since opening in 1881, the Arts + Industries Building has been a place to think big and dream bigger. With ‘FUTURES’ we’re literally teaming up with our visitors to imagine and create a future in which we all thrive. Autodesk is the perfect like-minded partner to help visualize this positive impact, bringing their technical expertise and passion for creative collaboration to this ambitious project.”

Take a look at how humans and AI collaborated to design the Co-Lab. 

The power of A.I. will also be evident in the structure of the exhibit itself, which will be generatively designed and built using sustainable materials and metal joints. It isn’t easy constructing a 22 ft tall structure supporting five different 85 inch+ display screens with minimal use of building resources, all within a historic building, but our designer and the generative design technology were up to the task!  We sourced lumber for the wood beams of the structure and fabricated metal joints using modular space-frame components. New advances in generative design research help us identify the exact size and locations of the wood and joints required for this unique structure, creating a design that is strong, lightweight, and easily able to be both assembled and disassembled for minimum construction waste.  

The structure was designed by The Living, an Autodesk Studio, and is a true embodiment of the benefits of low-tech, low-cost materials with the use of a high-tech iterative design process. Generative design will also be on display in the exhibit through artifacts, including a model of the Hyundai Elevate ultimate mobility vehicle.  

Modeled after the great World’s Fairs pavilions, the Arts + Industries Building first opened in in 1881. National treasures and ideas about to change the world were showcased, including Edison’s light bulb, the first airplane and NASA’s rockets. As the nation celebrates the 175th anniversary of this space, we’re thrilled to be a part of its next iteration, marking the great innovation that’s to come as together, we embark on the future.  

For more on FUTURES, visit here. The exhibit debuts this November and will be free and open through July 2022.