Ben Juckes: Pushing boundaries through computational design
“When you walk in, you see a playground of models,” says Ben Juckes. “That says something about the way the studio operates. It’s a really cool, collaborative environment.”
The studio Ben is referring to is the Yazdani Studio of CannonDesign—a laboratory for design exploration that was just named one of the top 10 design studios in Los Angeles by Archello. Led by Mehrdad Yazdani, the studio focuses on explorative projects that push the boundaries of design innovation. Ben is the computational design lead for the studio, as well as a key contributor to its prototyping process, which looks at building design free from the constraints of a site.
Ben plunged into the study of computational design in Perth, Australia, where he pursued a Bachelor of Environmental Science in Architecture at the University of Western Australia (UWA). There weren’t any courses in computational design there, however, a one-year student exchange program at the University of Arizona introduced him to visual programming languages like Grasshopper.
“I was blown away by all the tools and technologies that people were using there,” Ben recalls. “The idea that you had the ability to harness complicated geometries through simple procedures really fit with my style of designing, and I decided that this is the way I wanted to practice architecture.”
Ben returned to UWA and earned his M.Arch, continuing to develop his skills in computational design. He, along with fellow students and professors who were early adopters, established the “Hub,” a regular event for students to collaborate and share knowledge. He was also part of the team behind Augmented Australia, an exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2014, curated by the creative team known as felix._Giles_Anderson+Goad. It included apps that allowed users to visualize unbuilt modern and historic structures across the country.
After graduating, Ben transitioned from teaching evening classes on parametric modeling to taking on staff positions at his alma mater. Though he enjoyed being in academia and plans to return to it someday, he felt driven to gain practical experience.
“I realized I needed to immerse myself in the industry before I could actually teach people!” says Ben.
Drawn back to the states, he settled in Los Angeles, which offered a similar laid-back vibe and warm climate to Perth. A friend introduced him to Yazdani Studio—and after meeting with Mehrdad and learning about the explorations unfolding within the studio—he was sold.
The first project Ben worked on with Yazdani Studio was Lassonde Studios at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, a typology definer that hybridizes maker space and dormitory pods. The team utilized visual programming languages, like the Kangaroo plugin for Grasshopper, Dynamo for Revit, and other tools, to map relationships between programmatic elements. They also created a virtual reality game to help the university promote the project.
Next came Address Harbor Point, a set of slender, tapered residential towers on the waterfront in Dubai that is nearing completion. By creating multiple iterations of physical models via 3D printers and utilizing Galapagos, another plugin for Grasshopper, Ben and his team explored subtle rotations of the towers’ forms to investigate sightlines and maximize views from each unit. Other recent projects include the Caltech Sustainability Resource Center, CSUN’s Chaparral Hall and a ground-breaking cancer center for one of the leading healthcare organizations in the world.
Nearly eight years after joining the studio, Ben is now a senior associate and a licensed architect in California. One of his greatest strengths is creating DIY tools and custom workflows that challenge conventional practice—and encouraging others to explore their own ideas in organic ways. “We have shaped our tools, but the tools are now starting to shape us,” Ben observes.
Reflecting on what makes the Yazdani Studio distinct in the industry, Ben references the style and culture Mehrdad has created. “We all touch the projects in different facets, but we are encouraged to pursue and explore our own interests. This freedom is what allows us to continually deliver true innovation.”
Outside of work, Ben keeps life practical. “It’s important to mix analog with digital. You have to get your hands dirty sometimes.”
These days he’s keeping things somewhat unconventionally practical living on a sailboat with his fiance. Their goal is to sail the Channel Islands this year. They’ve already made it to Catalina!
Original content can be found at www.cannondesign.com.