New technology in architecture – the jobs of the future?

The notion that the architecture industry is inherently slow to embrace new methods and technology these days feels almost like a relic of the past itself; consigned to the archives alongside blueprint paper and L-squares. Sectors such as space, renewable energy and transportation lead the way in terms of tech adoption, but we are seeing exploration of the use of virtual and augmented reality, 3D surveying and printing, and the potential of robotics in construction and design. These technologies are not merely for ornamental purposes, such as portraying forward thinking, they have practical applications, and the potential to transform certain working practices.

In this blog we explore with BSBG Lead Architect, Winnfred van den Akker, five new technology-based roles said to be on the horizon for our industry. As Winnfred sits with us, he begins by enthusing about Parametric Modelling software, which uses algorithmic thinking to express parameters and rules, defining the relationship between design intent and design response. “It’s geared more towards programming and coding,” he says. “But if, as an architect, you get on board with that and use it creatively, that could be the future for the industry. Design oriented architects may not like it or agree with it, but there are those that will see the benefits in the time savings and the fact that the software can generate thousands of options in a short period, presenting only the most viable ones…” And with this statement, we know we have the right man for the blog. So are the following roles viable for us or anyone else in the near-term, or are titles such as ‘Haptic Designer’ and ‘Lead Simulator’ no more than fanciful sensationalist terms with little or no practical use to our industry? Let’s find out…

1. Data Scientists

Data Science and analytics are central to deriving the main benefits from cutting edge technology. Could this role have the potential to send architecture further into the future? Data Scientists are able to extract and manage important information for use in design, for machine learning, robotics and AI. Big businesses love Big Data, it helps to streamline operations, find out what works and what doesn’t, and to derive the most value out of projects. Has construction reached the stage where clients and developers are demanding more data on the buildings we design and build?

Winnfred: “Architectural practices used to have a librarian who would come in perhaps once a fortnight and keep all the journals up to date, and make sure that the architects had access to all the latest information and data. It’s not too different to that, although it will expand into a much wider field. I can see this one happening, as now the field of architecture is so much more complex. Having a Data Scientist on board would allow us to utilise the information we’ve collated over the course of hundreds of projects, and apply it to accurately predict outcomes, in terms of project scope, workflow and building operability upon handover.”

BSBG Verdict: Likely to see this role incorporated more widely over the next decade.

2. Chief Technology Officer

A Chief Technology Officer (CTO) is an established role already in many tech-driven industries. Is architectural design set to follow suit? The role of a CTO involves focusing on deriving the best solutions from the tools available, ensuring that digital innovation is trialled and potentially implemented as soon as possible, and encouraging design teams to fully embrace digital design ideals. This could well become the career path for those currently working in well-known roles, such as BIM Managers or BIM Coordinators.

Winnfred: “Absolutely I see this role being an important one for the future. I agree that it could be a role for BIM Managers, because you want that architectural background, but also a real appetite and knowledge of software and advancements. I think we have to embrace technology at a much quicker rate than we do currently. Look at the industries that drive economies, such as aeronautics, import and export; they adopt the latest technology to manage their logistics and make sure they’re continually deriving the best possible value from their operations. I would think it to be of great benefit to have a central figure responsible for the way technology is implemented, or the latest software to trial, within a practice.”

BSBG Verdict: Embracing new technology is crucial, but does it require a unique role to be created? Currently, discovering and trialling potential disruptive or transformational technology is a task all BSBG staff take responsibility for. For those that adopt the same approach, it’s not necessarily an imminent role.Technology in Architecture

3. 3D Virtual Designers

The leading architects and designers have moved towards the creation of 3D virtual environments to illustrate designs. This has brought a more connected relationship between designer, contractor and developer. A new depth of project understanding and spatial awareness for all parties provides benefits throughout the lifecycle of a development, and this has led to many in the industry suggesting architects should look to hire animation expertise and specialist 3D modellers to further augment their 3D solutions.

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The creation of an immersive 3D environment, complete with computer-game-style animation enables a client, or even a potential investor, to perform a walkthrough of a building 10 years in advance of it being physically built. This is a hugely appealing proposition for architects to be able to offer. But already BSBG has an Elite Modeling Team in place and BIM coordinators who use software such as 3ds Max and Enscape within Revit to create animated walkthroughs from existing 3D models. The group invests in the team to truly push the limits of this technology, providing clients with a superior, immersive and comprehensively animated overview of the design work. Is a 3D Virtual Designer capable of bringing computer game standard graphics to walkthroughs needed?

Winnfred: “This is an interesting one. The technology does exist where the designer can be immersed in a 3D environment themselves, and then design inside that space. You have the tools and primitive shapes so you can actually work in there, create masses, deform them, shape them, and this enables the architect to design intuitively. What’s more, is that during this process of design, you can take your client with you inside the environment. Instead of presenting drawings and taking comments away to rework parts of the design, you could intuitively select an area or a feature and workshop it within the virtual environment on the spot. It has potential to save weeks of back and forth and is certainly an immersive experience for the client.”

BSBG Verdict: Like any new technology, change takes time. However, virtual design reviews are already performed throughout the design process, so is an immersive design review that far-fetched? For now, it would seem the traditional method of review remains the preferred choice for the majority.Simulation software

4. Simulators

The next stage on from immersive design, is simulation. Technology is available to enable architects and developers to simulate real life events in real time and note the impact on the building during its design. The potential here comprises natural events such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and also fire and evacuation procedures. Simulation capabilities stretch further, to also include the potential for understanding noise pollution from surrounding roads or buildings, the behavior of people, and the behaviour and impact of the Sun. BSBG already designs with all of these factors resolved, however by employing an expert to centralise simulation of all these variables and events, could more value and efficiency be added and the design process streamlined?

Winnfred: “Typically, simulation of events, crowd and pedestrian modelling and fire safety on a project is completed separately within different disciplines by different consultants. The use of fluid dynamics principles is commonplace to determine smoke behavior in smoke modelling; we can also assess the behaviour of fire through simulation. Earthquake simulation is already done by structural engineers. It does make sense to integrate these simulations in a single model environment, but I’m not sure there’s a desperate need to, and don’t see the point of doing so.”

BSBG Verdict: It already happens, in separate disciplines, and it works well. Is the creation a singular virtual simulator role necessary? At this time, it’s perhaps a case of: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.Haptic Design

5. Haptic Developers

Move a step further again and we discover haptic or kinesthetic communication. This is the recreation of the sense of touch, vibrations and motions for the end user. This technology is not immediately on the horizon for architecture, but the rate of development here is hugely impressive, and it is possible that within the next five to 10 years, materials, furnishings and finishes could be virtually approved rather than physically.

Winnfred: “I have reservations about this one. I’m not sure there will ever be a good substitute for a genuine sensation of the physical touch. It is going to be possible to recreate this of course, with a substantial amount of data, but I can’t envision a time when anyone would prefer a virtual experience to a tangible one in this regard.”

BSBG Verdict: While virtual reality has great benefits, we must be careful of blurring the line between reality and simulation. If material or finishing samples and approvals ever became virtual, that could be a step too far…

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