The Future of Architecture in the Digital Age

As I approach twenty years since becoming a qualified architect, and triggered by my attendance at a technology event that presented how ChatBots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) were significantly altering how Social Housing operators were delivering services, it made me think about how far we’ve come in our use of technology and consider what might be around the corner.

“Every great architect is — necessarily — a great poet. He must be a great original interpreter of his time, his day, his age.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright

My first day working for an architectural practice involved learning about how to use an A2 sized digitising tablet linked to Autocad R12. I look back now and realise that this was an incredibly progressive environment to work in.  An environment that took full advantage of emerging technology of the time to increase efficiency, deliver a better quality product, and even at that time enable collaboration between designers and the supply chain, even if it did mean sending 3.5″ discs in the post!

When this practice merged with another local practice, a more traditional environment was encountered whereby the two digitising tablets were dwarfed in numbers by traditional drawing boards, tracing paper, masking tape and the constant blockage of 0.13 rotring pens. There was, of course the so-called ‘punishment room’, a small cellular space with no ventilation, a single light bulb and a dyeline printing machine. For recent graduates, just be thankful for health and safety, for those of us old enough to remember the feelings from being in a room with that machine, brings back memories that only therapy can solve!

As we fast forward to today’s times, we have the technical ability to work across the globe, 24-hours a day, taking advantage of our studio location in different time zones, storing data in the cloud, and encouraging collaboration with others to work upon a single model in real time.  Our models and data now contain such value, that others can complete their work and tasks with much more efficiency and accuracy.

Left image - Hand using computer, Right image - Interior of building

Our models can be linked to third party applications enabling them to provide information about energy use, carbon emissions, and in some areas solutions have been developed that will inform compliance with planning codes. For example, a consultant we are working with in the UK is using gaming technology to model the change in environmental conditions for Canary Wharf in London.  This step-change is enabling development proposals to be examined over a long time frame to see the impact of environmental change.

So, going back to the words of Frank Lloyd Wright, we must continue to interpret our time. Our responses and approaches must evolve across the full spectrum of areas we operate and that influence our work, and we must contemplate; what are the next big ideas?

The evolution of BIM will continue as will the evolution of virtual reality (VR) into common vocabulary, and augmented reality (AR) will in my view soon be part of a common approach to engagement with stakeholders, clients and collaborators. Examples of internal spaces completely printed in 3D printed already exist, and I’ve no doubt, will continue to be exploited to create rapidly changeable internal environments that can provide multi-functional spaces.

However, going back to architects being artists at heart, how soon will we be collaboratively designing buildings with our clients using holographic projections of our digital design models, manipulating them, pulling them apart, looking inside, scaling and zooming in real time? Imagine how we could instantly understand the implications of changes around a wide series of linked parameters whether these be energy use, cost, or compliance. Could our clients’ operational aspirations be defined and linked to our models, in order to see the impact of their design decisions on their business.

Whether this is five or ten years away I’ve no idea, but what is clear to me is that as architects the opportunities to utilise technology to design, engage, communicate, and collaborate is only going to become more exciting and pervasive.  For me that’s an exciting position to be in as the next twenty years of my career creeps up on me.

Justin Harris

Justin is an Architect, Studio Principal, and has experience in a range of projects, the majority of which has focused on healthcare and specifically the primary and community care sector. With an interest in innovative healthcare systems, his strength lies in the design of complex multi stakeholder projects such as Bolton One, Gorton Community Hub, and Corby Health and Wellbeing Centre. Justin lives in Liverpool and continually battles with the creation of music in Abelton.

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