How Technology Is Transforming Architectural Design
August 30, 2017 Ricardo Álvarez-Díaz
architectural design

High technology is revolutionizing architectural design.

The shift is altering both the process and end result of a new breed of innovative architecture that is disrupting the industry and heading in unexpected and exciting directions.

Technology in architecture—from computational design to apps—has architects doing more than designing and supervising the construction of buildings. They are pursuing new horizons in design, chasing algorithms, experimenting with adaptability, robotics, 3D printing and reality.

Today’s architects have access to data and analytics that allow them to focus more on innovation versus production while optimizing performance. In other words—the job of the architect is also evolving. Many, however, are clinging to tradition and resisting the latest technological innovations, all but securing their own demise. Technology will not be ignored, and tech savvy architects are more likely to prosper than those burying their heads in the sand.

Following are some of the thrilling technologies that are shaping the face of architecture.

Generative Design

Generative design mimics nature’s evolutionary approach to design. It uses the power of computation to explore thousands of design options; there is no single solution.

Designers input design goals and specifications such as materials, manufacturing methods and budget into generative design software. The software then uses cloud computing to explore potential solutions and generates numerous design alternatives. From each iteration, it tests and learns what works and what does not work. What’s not to like?

Additive Design, 3D Printing and Robotics

The way we make things is changing in radical ways.

The line between design and construction is beginning to blur thanks to robotics and 3D printing.

Firms in the United Arab Emirates and China already are showing the potential architectural applications of robotics, assisted robotics (in which humans and robots work together during the construction process) and additive design (3D printing on an industrial scale). Software company Autodesk, for example, is working on software that brings design-to-fabrication into the mainstream and software that enables complex structures to be made with a fraction of the embodied energy of conventional systems.

Dubai recently built the world’s first fully functional 3D-printed office as part of its Museum of the Future project. ©Dubai Media Office

Architectural Apps and Cloud Services

Technology in architecture may take many forms. One such form is the smartphone—forever getting smarter and more indispensable. As architecture software developers deploy apps for use during every project stage—from conception to completion—architects are learning to rely on them to better serve their clients.

Touchscreen technology allows architects to sketch directly into software that can be translated into 3D modeling apps. Building information modeling (BIM) saves time, increases transparency, enhances details, records changes and encourages collaboration. Using visual scripting tools such as Grasshopper and Revit, architects can streamline their processes, quickly iterate, explore and deliver solutions. NVIDIA Iray servers allow them to create higher quality renderings.

Meanwhile, increased use of BIM technology is driving the need for cloud-based design products and services that make it possible for everyone working in a project to access project information at all times.

Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Realities

Virtual reality offers architects an exciting, dynamic way to collaborate with each other and present ideas to clients. Use of virtual reality technology in architecture is expected to grow as firms, virtual reality companies and BIM software developers work together to create more seamless virtual reality workflows. Some firms are using virtual reality to allow clients to “walk” through projects before these are built, engaging them in the design process.

Augmented reality is taking off thanks to advancements in products that facilitate a greater connection between the physical and digital realms of architectural design. Augmented reality applications allow users to overlay building plans, marketing materials and other 2D collateral on a 3D BIM model.

Further opportunities lie in mixed reality, also known as hybrid reality. Mixed reality merges real, physical environments and virtual, digital environments to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Using mixed reality, clients can see a physical location be transformed with virtual architectural modifications and interact with those virtual elements in the physical space where they are.

We can expect to see fluid integration of these reality tools in design workflows and other novel applications to support ideation, information sharing, client engagement and building management.

Cutting edge, science fiction-like, 21st-century technology is here, and its impact on architectural design and innovation is undeniable—and just getting started. Resistance is futile, my friends.

To survive and thrive in this brave new digital world, architecture firms will need to harness emerging technologies and use them to their advantage.

This task should not be too difficult for creative professionals who have a talent for envisioning a better future.

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