Tooling the Ordinary

A Manifesto for Rayon

Stanislas Chaillou
Stanislas Chaillou
Jun 20, 20226 min read
Tooling the Ordinary
Tooling the Ordinary
“Space design” describes, in broad strokes, the conception and remodeling of the buildings surrounding us every day. This activity gathers countless individuals — architects, space planners, facility managers, brokers, engineers, etc.— working together to shape our cities’ brick and mortar lifecycle, from inception, to operation, to repurposing.

We believe space design is undergoing a pivotal moment, that can be condensed to a simple statement: ordinary buildings matter.

For a while, technology and focus have primarily been placed on a small fringe of exceptional constructions (museums, stadiums, skyscrapers, large-scale infrastructures, etc.).

In the meantime, ordinary architecture (housing, retail, office spaces, etc.) — which constitutes “the remaining 90%” of our cities — has not received the attention it deserves.

At Rayon, we believe a new class of space design tools is needed to support this sunken part of the iceberg. Our mission is to democratize space design so as to better address the 90%.

A Tale of Two Cities

Taking a walk in Paris, Shanghai or San Francisco quickly leaves anyone with an eye for details with a mixed impression: the urban landscape today weaves together the extraordinary and the mundane; two radically different categories of buildings that together constitute the fabric of our cities: impressive landmarks, and cookie-cutter look-alike constructions.

Yet innovation addressed yesterday the former: grandiose designs, masterpieces of engineering and complexity would be the center of attention.

From the lectures given to students at universities to the very software the industry would use, effort and expertise would be channeled into a few remarkable designs, from institutional buildings (museums, universities, government buildings, etc.), to larger pieces of infrastructure (bridges, train stations, stadiums, etc.).

In comparison, ordinary buildings might have seemed quite a gray prospect.

Far from offering unique designs at every corner, ordinary architecture rather represents variations of well-known templates, simple typologies each time slightly more adapted to every building’s immediate context. No tabula rasa or grand scheme here, rather the repurposing of known patterns. On the flip side, behind its seemingly “boring” design strategy, ordinary architecture also rhymes with a certain economy of means and with the tamed — and at times harmonious — architecture of many neighborhoods and cities.

However, for a while, this architecture has not been the focus of innovation in the industry. This architecture of the 90% is one that technology has often overlooked, and turned into an underserved majority, still awaiting a proper toolset.

The Culture of the Ordinary

Ordinary architecture represents an ecosystem with its own design culture, that previous software generations have sometimes neglected. Legacy design tools missed at least three essential aspects of ordinary architecture:

🧠 Knowledge Sharing

When things look the same, knowledge is (almost) the same: architects, designers, space planners, facility managers etc. work daily on seemingly similar typologies, and share together a world of habits, from their know-how all the way to floor plans, templates, or even CAD furniture blocks they use.

Together, this community has created a tremendous wealth of resources (repositories, forums, books, etc.). Mainly online or in print, this collective work is a telling testimony to the importance of knowledge sharing for ordinary architecture.

🤝️ Team Diversity

More accessible and prosaic than iconic architecture, the making of ordinary buildings gathers a large diversity of experts and non-experts. Design, therefore, happens through both formal and informal practices.

It is a world where a coworking sales rep’ can draw an office fit-out for a client, where a space planner can work as much in PowerPoint as in AutoCAD, where a facility manager annotates and reshuffles furnishing plans, where architects work and interact constantly with a diverse body of non-CAD experts.

Finally, stakeholders are as diverse as they are distributed. Having the ability to quickly interact with others remotely is paramount…especially in post-pandemic times!

🏘️ Design at Scale

Ordinary architecture “comes in herds”, or in other words, as portfolios. Rather than focusing on any individual building, stakeholders typically deploy their design methodology across multiple locations.

Retails, malls, office buildings, housing are as many typologies that today are designed and operated as collections rather than single entities. In that sense, designing at scale is the final signature of ordinary architecture.

For all these reasons, it is our belief that the architecture of the 90% is not a less technical version of the remaining “iconic 10%”. It is simply a different culture altogether, and one that requires a different toolset.

No Ordinary Tradeoffs

To cater to the underserved 90%, our design tools have to embrace a whole new ethos.

At Rayon, we want to spearhead this new generation of software, building upon three distinct trade-offs:

💨 Speed over Complexity

We believe that for many, it is more important to work fast than to work “deep”. It is less a matter of adding countless details and specifications than to convey an idea and share it with others to iterate quickly…

  • That is why Rayon favors the ergonomics of a user-centric interface to the feature exhaustivity of traditional CAD software.
  • That is why Rayon bets on the simplicity of URL link sharing, as a better way to distribute content.
  • That is why Rayon is working on leveraging cloud computation and AI to provide time-saving design tools.

🤝️ Collaboration over Power

We believe collaborating with others is a crucial part of getting a project right.

  • That is why Rayon unlocks multiplayer real-time edition, to gather teams around a single source of truth.
  • That is why Rayon bets on a web app infrastructure allowing anyone, anywhere, to connect and participate without an install or a powerful computer.
  • That is why Rayon brings together design features and redlining/comment capabilities, to allow for content creation and feedback to live in the same place.

🔓 Open over Siloed

We think that tomorrow’s design software will have to become much more porous than previous CAD tools…

  • That is why Rayon reconciles designers and their audience, by allowing them to share drawings and assets with the entire Rayon community in only a few clicks.
  • That is why Rayon allows users to broadcast their work to the general public seamlessly.
  • That is why Rayon is working on integrating with a wide array of APIs, and supporting a broad range of formats (video, image, PDF, DWG, 3DM, etc.).

The Question We Ask

The British architect and technologist Cedric Price once asked: “If technology is the answer, what is the question?

For space design, browser-first software tools are certainly a new and exciting answer.

At Rayon, we believe this technological momentum replies to an essential and fascinating interrogation: How can we better address the architecture of the 90%?

For us, building the new generation of collaborative space design software directly stems from this very question. Our conviction is that browser-first tools are an ideal match with the requirements of ordinary architecture.

As a new software age is opening up — one of fast, collaborative, and open tools — we could not be more excited to help shape this new momentum.
— The Founders

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