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How ArchiStar Academy Helped UNSW Students Use Software Programming to Create Dozens of City Designs

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How ArchiStar Academy Helped UNSW Students Use Software Programming to Create Dozens of City Designs

Programming is one of the most difficult skills for a designer to learn. Yet many digital design software packages open up further with some coding expertise. Here’s how a group of students used ArchiStar Academy to enhance their programming abilities.

What’s the biggest problem that your university faces?

In the modern world, it’s likely keeping up with the industry’s advances. Every new technology that’s introduced creates a challenge for your lecturers. They can’t rely on their existing design skills for their lectures. They have to constantly learn new skills to provide the best education to their students. Moreover, they have to be a few steps ahead of their students at all times.

That’s difficult to maintain given the fast pace of the current industry. Students need to know about much more than basic design. There’s an array of digital design software packages out there for them to try. Moreover, methodologies like Building Information Modelling have changed how they work.

It’s a lot to keep up with.

That’s something that our team has seen first-hand. Many tutors solely wanted to focus solely on design. But in doing so, they couldn’t prepare their students for the industry that awaited them.

It can be hard for universities to attract the right people. Furthermore, their existing lecturers often don’t have the time needed to learn new skills. The end result was that students struggled to find the information that they needed.

Furthermore, lecturers had to pack in more information in less time. Naturally, topics got glossed over or missed entirely.

This led to the creation of ArchiStar Academy and its fast-track learning platform.

This is the very platform that UNSW students used to achieve one of their most recent successes.

Case Study – UNSW

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The University of New South Wales (UNSW) holds a prestigious place in Australian education. It’s currently one of the country’s leading research universities. Moreover, it’s a leading teaching university too. Naturally, this means that it has high standards that it hopes to maintain at all times.

The university takes a great deal of pride in the broad nature of its offering. Its teaching programs run the gamut of scientific subjects. Plus, its research has proven invaluable in a wide variety of fields. Couple that with its industry links and international profile and you have a leading university.

A constant desire to improve its offering distinguishes UNSW from other educational facilities. It’s also that desire that led it to use ArchiStar Academy for a special project.

The Challenge

UNSW’s Director of Computational Design, Associate Professor M. Hank Haeusler, had an idea. He wanted his second-year students to focus their efforts on city designs. His idea was to have them create an “Urban Simulator” program. This program would allow the students to create automated models of various city designs and test them.

The key was that these city designs must come from computational design methods.

In short, the students needed to learn how to program. These skills would allow them to create the software tools needed for their city designs. However, the students hadn’t focused on developing their programming skills before. They needed a fast-track learning program that would equip them with the skills they needed.

Enter ArchiStar Academy.

The Solution

UNSW signed up to the ArchiStar Academy platform to provide students with access to in-depth programming resources. Our in-house experts could provide all of the detail that the students needed. This allowed Professor Haeusler to focus on the more pressing issue of city designs.

Professor Haeusler could base his lessons on the intricacies of the design work. ArchiStar Academy helped the students to learn the programming skills needed for the project.

With ArchiStar Academy, each student studied advanced programming techniques. These covered several digital design software packages, such as Grasshopper and Rhino 3D. In a matter of weeks, students had the skills needed to build their simulators. After that, it was just a case of teaming up and building them.

The End Result

Each student learned how to create a software that could create city designs based on several variables. These variables included the following:

  • Number of buildings
  • Number of parks
  • Setbacks in building design
  • Transport issues and configurations
  • The heights of buildings

Each built their own software package that took each of these variables into account.

But that’s not the most impressive thing. As Professor Haeusler puts it, this sort of work was previously the reserve of Master’s students.

He says: “We have been delighted with the results our students have achieved. The ArchiStar Academy online learning platform is world class. Our first and second year students are now producing work previously only reserved for Masters-level students. And our tutors can focus on teaching design strategy rather than troubleshooting software programs.”

That says it all. Lecturers could focus on teaching the design skills that the students needed. ArchiStar Academy focused on the digital design software and programming skills. Together, they helped students achieve learning outcomes that were previously out of reach.

You can see a few examples of the city designs that the students’ software generated on ArchiStar Academy’s website.

Tips for Better Programming

This task relates specifically to the programming of an automated city designs generator. However, the students also learned some coding techniques that they can take into other ventures. This early success has laid the groundwork for future coding projects.

ArchiStar Academy spoke with some UNSW students to find out what they’d learned. These are the tips they provided for other budding programmers.

Tip #1 – Know Your Variables


Practically every programming project will have variables. These are the elements that are likely to change on a regular basis. In programming, a change to a variable often results in a change to the output.

Take the city designs that the UNSW students created. Changing the number of parks in a design resulted in completely different designs. The same goes for changing the number or height of buildings.

That led to an important realisation for the students. You need to know what your variables are before you can start programming.

Create a list of every variable that you can think of. You can see the list that the UNSW students came up with above. Anything that may need to change should become a variable. With that list, you’ll know which aspects of your code must allow for variance. You’ll also know what elements remain static, regardless of changes elsewhere.

Tip #2 – Enable Debugging Mode

Of the digital design software packages that offer programming languages, most have a debugging mode.

This proves especially useful when you’re working on large amounts of code. Programming without debugging means you miss a lot of small issues. When you come to compile the code, those issues rear their heads. You end up having to spend hours on fixing them just to get the code to run properly.

If you enable debugging mode, the software checks your code as you program. This allows it to highlight any issues as they arise. You can make quick adjustments to the code without having to stop and compile constantly. Debuggers are particularly useful for demonstrating when you’ve stepped outside of the rules of a language. Those who code in multiple languages often find themselves mixing up their languages. A debugger can help you to catch those issues quickly.

Tip #3 – Search for Code Snippets Online

Many novice programmers have an image in their heads of a lightning-fast coder who knows everything. This person can sit at a keyboard and create thousands of lines of code off the top of their heads.

When you start programming in digital design software, you’ll find out that’s not how it works. Coding is a constant learning process. It’s impossible to know everything and you’ll often need help to achieve your goals.

That’s where the internet becomes very useful. Practically every programming language has a dedicated community behind it. Your fellow programmers can help you to come up with solutions to difficult problems. Often, they’ll have uploaded snippets of their own code to show others how to do things. You can use these snippets to inform your own coding efforts.

In fact, using such snippets is something that ArchiStar Academy’s UNSW students recommend. They help you to quickly understand how to put different pieces of code together. This helps you to speed up your coding workflow. Efficiency is key in the architecture and engineering industries. Using the resources that you can find online drives up your efficiency while making you a better coder.

Tip #4 – Use Effective Commenting

Perhaps the first rule of programming is to always comment your code. This is useful for many reasons. For one, it helps you to quickly identify what a piece of code does. If you haven’t looked at the code for several months, your comments become your saviour. Moreover, comments help others to understand your code too. This proves useful when handing a piece of software over to another developer.

Having said that, there is such a thing as too much commenting. If you add a comment to every line of code, you create clutter. This clutter makes it more difficult to discern the meaning behind your code.

Add comments to the top of your files and add them to any complex functions or classes. If you find that isn’t enough, it may be worth looking at your code again to find out what makes it so difficult to read.

Tip #5 – Don’t Worry About Not Understanding Something

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Learning how to code isn’t a simple task. A programming language presents an almost infinite number of opportunities. That means you’re going to come across things that you don’t understand. For example, you may see some code online that you just don’t get. Or, you may have a problem with your own code that you can’t see a solution to.

Whatever the case may be, the worst thing that you can do is worry about it too much. Programming is as much about finding solutions as it is about coding. You should expect to take time out to work on what you don’t understand.

The point is that you can’t get disheartened. There are always resources available and it may take some time to truly understand what you’re doing. Keep practicing and you’ll get it eventually.

Tip #6 – Attach Units to Variables

UNSW’s students mentioned listing your variables above. But you also have to remember that each variable will carry a name in your code.

You choose that name, so ensure it’s something that makes sense to you. Naming variables poorly means that you’ll struggle to use them properly in other areas of the code.

Beyond that, it’s a good idea to attach units of measurement to your variables. You may not need these for variables that don’t involve measuring, such as the number of buildings. But what about the height? Are you measuring in metres, yards, or some other unit? You may know, but somebody else may not be able to tell from reading your code. Attaching a unit to your variable name clears things up instantly.

Here’s a simple example relating to building height.

You may call the variable “building_height”. That doesn’t tell you the unit used. “building_height_m” is a much more useful name. It tells you what the variable relates to, and what unit you’re measuring in.


Coding is a constant learning experience. Even the most experienced programmers constantly discover new things that they can do with their languages of choice.

This sheer depth makes coding a valuable tool for city designs. But you need to start with the basics before you can build your skills.

That’s where ArchiStar Academy can help. Our courses help students to build foundational knowledge in coding. This eventually helps them to become talented programmers. You need only look at our results to see the evidence. Our platform helped UNSW’s second-year students achieve Master’s-level coding proficiency. It can do the same for your university’s students too.

So, what do you do if you want to get started with ArchiStar Academy? We recommend trying out our 14-day free trial to see what the platform has to offer. After that, talk to an ArchiStar Academy representative today to discuss your specific needs. From digital design software to programming, we offer top-quality courses.

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Posted on 20 Jan 2020

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