I met the architect of the future last week.
Truth be told, the architect of the future wasn’t in attendance. In fact, the architect of the future isn’t even a real person, at least not yet. But the particular skills this person will exhibit was hinted at in each of the presentations during the day-long conference.
The conference was hosted by the AIA’s Technology in Architectural Practice knowledge community. Cory Brugger, Director of Design Technology at Morphosis Architects and the current AIA TAP Chair, curated the event. While last year’s conference focused on tools, this year’s theme was “Retooling Practice”. The presentations centered around the themes of “design”, “document”, “construct” and “manage”.
Presenters from a range of architecture, engineering, software, and construction companies offered insights into how technology is changing the nature of practice.
So how will the architect of the future operate? Here are 10 predictions based on this year’s Building Connections Congress. The architect of the future will:
1. Create direct to fabrication models
John Cerone from SHoP Architects presented the firm’s work on the Botswana Innovation Hub. The exterior skin of the project is clad in a series of undulating metal panels. SHoP used Dassault Systemes’ 3D Experience software to create a parametric template of the panel. Using this template, SHoP could accurately detail each panel. The firm took on the responsibility of the fabrication model and provided it at-risk to the fabricator.
SHoP took this approach a step further with the Flotsam and Jetsam pavilion for Design Miami. The project was a collaboration between SHoP, Branch Technology and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The pavilion components were printed out of bamboo and ABS plastic straight from SHoP’s 3D models.
2. Test their work
Interoperability between software is still a big issue. Yet changing file formats can be useful. Each translation provides the opportunity to check the design intent. Christopher O’Hara of Studio NYL said his firm often translates models into different formats as a way to test the design.
O’Hara also speculated that his firm has created more tools and scripts to test their work than they have to design it. He sees this trend only increasing in the future.
3. Use hybrid forms of documentation
One thing was clear from all the presentations – there’s no one software platform that will do everything. Revit, Rhino, Dassault Systemes 3D Experience were all referenced by presenters. Also included were support tools like Excel, Grasshopper and Dynamo. As a result, the document sets consisted of 3D models, drawings and spreadsheets. Nate Miller, founder of Proving Ground, said that the profession needs to develop new contracts. The current agreements are not keeping pace with changing technology.
So how will contractors navigate these various forms of information in the field? That’s were Project Atlas comes in. Todd Wynne and Joe Williams are the founders of Project Atlas. Both are former construction professionals. They developed Project Atlas as “Google maps for construction projects”. The software aggregates building data into a single interface that can be easily navigated.
4. Use digitally signed documents
If you’re delivering digital documents, how do you stamp them and ensure they’re not modified? That’s the issue Heath May of HKS Line addressed. May showed how his firm uses a digital stamp to deliver contract models and documents. The digital stamp uses custom software that encrypts documents with a cryptographic hash.
On the other end, the recipient uses an authenticator to decrypt and view the documents. The authenticator software can check if the files have been modified. If changes are detected, the user is at-risk for any issues that arise from using the modified documents.
5. View the building as a product
Brian Sweeney of Full Stack Modular presented their “kit of parts” approach to manufacturing modular residential units. This approach is more akin to manufacturing cars than traditional construction. Full Stack maintains tight control over the entire assembly process. As such, they can provide accurate cost estimates early in the design process.
Patrick Mays of Dassault Systemes reinforced this approach. Mays stated that architects need to know and understand manufacturing processes. As more construction become modular, architects must be aware of how design decisions impact the manufacturing process.
6. Practice virtual design and construction (VDC)
Brian Skripac of CannonDesign discussed how his firm has evolved from Revit to BIM to VDC. The firm uses an in-house group of “trusted advisors” to consult with design teams. These advisors run VDC strategy sessions. They also develop detailed roadmaps and best practice guides.
On the construction side, Turner Construction has also embraced simulation and VDC. Tyler Goss, an Innovation Development Manager at Turner, stated that they have gone from 17% of projects being VDC enabled in 2009 to 71% in 2015.
Likewise, Javier Glatt of CadMakers presented several recent projects his company has completed. CadMakers develops detailed simulations of large scale construction projects which help identify fabrication issues and improve on-site efficiency.
7. Use technology to assess training
Don Rudder of STG Design demonstrated how his firm develops internal talent through skill assesments. STG tests employee skills through a series of written and in-software assesments. The firm uses the results of the assessments to determine knowledge gaps. These gaps are then filled by additional training.
How do they get people to take part in the training? STG incentivizes it through rewards and acknowledgements. Rudder built a dashboard tool that allows the firm’s management to see everyone’s training progress.
8. Build in feedback loops
Daniel Davis of WeWork kicked off his talk stating that “architects have the right answer to the wrong problems”. In his opinion, architects care more about the image of the building than the comfort and satisfaction of its users.
As office space providers, WeWork cares very much about user satisfaction. The company surveys users on a regular basis. After using a conference room, users complete a quick survey of their satifaction with the space. The results of the survey are shared with the in-house design team.
This kind of feedback is more readily available for a large owners like WeWork. Davis’ point is that architects need to look for opportunities to get this kind of feedback. As Davis stated, “If you don’t have the information, it’s hard to adjust for future design changes.”
9. Resume the role of the master builder
There was a clear consensus that technology provides the opportunity for architects to resume the role of “master builder”. This role isn’t going to be freely given. Architects need to step in and assume leadership of the design and fabrication process. This includes mastering the technology used to support these processes.
SHoP’s John Cerone stated this clearly and challenged the audience to “be aggressive in understanding how technology is changing the profession”.
The Architect of the Future
As the author William Gibson famously noted, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” From this year’s Building Connections Congress, it’s clear that the architect of the future is here.
However, the skills and attributes needed to operate in the increasingly complex and technical future aren’t evenly distributed throughout the profession. In order to stay relevant, architects we need to upgrade their skills and assume responsibilities outside of “traditional” practice. Some firms are already doing this. And they’re benefiting from the experience.