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With growing market pressures and rising system complexities, automated system-level communication design with efficient design space exploration capabilities is becoming increasingly important. At the same time, customized network-oriented communication architectures become necessary in enabling a high-performance communication among the system components. To this end, corresponding communication design flows that are supported by efficient design automation techniques need to be developed. In this paper, we present a system-level design environment for the generation of bus-based system-on-chip architectures. Our approach supports a two-stage design flow using automated model refinement toward custom heterogeneous communication networks. Starting from an abstract specification of the desired communication channels, our environment automatically generates tailored network models at various levels of abstraction. At its core, an automatic layer-based refinement approach is utilized. We have applied our approach to a set of industrial-strength examples with a wide range of target architectures. Our experimental results show significant productivity gains over a traditional communication design, allowing early and rapid design space exploration.