From Virtual Reality to Building Information Technology. Will the decade to come bring a new “Roaring Twenties” in technology?
As we begin a new decade, we thought it would be interesting to look in retrospect at technology in design over the last ten years and also think about what’s in store for us. In the 2010s, we’ve seen the (re)introduction of Virtual Reality, but probably more importantly the ushering in of “real time “ rendering engines like Enscape and Lumion. The hope of interoperability between modeling tools Rhino and Revit have come a long way and we think it is almost (Who has heard that one before?) there.
A lot of discussions over the past ten years have circled around Building Information Modeling “BIM” and still do, but the understanding of design modeling and its limitations has matured. Will the next decade bring the necessary software solutions to finally deliver the model? Computational design was relatively niche back in 2010, but has become mainstream in universities, and now every studio has a handful of designers scripting. What will they craft in the ’20s? The firm has grown, the hardware we use has improved, and the next decade is likely to bring even greater improvements. So, will we have a return to the leaps and bounds in technology like the “roaring twenties”; let’s see what may be to come:
Washington, D.C. Studio
I foresee the design industry being disrupted by changes in how we manage, analyze and visualize big data sets. The move towards visual programming is making software development more accessible to design teams. I believe machine learning, and eventually full artificial intelligence, will allow us to analyze large data sets to make educated design decisions. I believe these changes and advances in digital fabrication will lead to redefining the entire design and construction process from an end-to-end life-cycle and supply chain view.
In the next decade, I foresee a direct application of machine learning widely disrupting the design process as we know it. Machine learning is dependent on large, clean data sets and Perkins and Will has such an extensive data set of previous projects that have been successful and well documented. We will be able to leverage these data sets in a way that machine learning could be leveraged to automate a lot of the initial documentation; such that, as we design mock sets for those, design will run in tandem.
With the portability of virtual reality that was introduced this year, I do not think it will take long for more of our design meetings to be led in virtual reality than on paper, specifically in healthcare. Virtual reality allows us to communicate with end users more effectively than ever; streamlining the design process and limiting the mock-ups needed. Integrations with BIM 360 make it easier than ever for platforms to piggyback off our models, making our models and their accuracy more important than ever. Though the contracts are slow to change, the construction industry will continue to push architecture and engineering to create models that are “ready to build”. It will be interesting to see how the industry standard contracts change to meet the ever-growing integration of technology in our industry.
Our teams will become more diverse, with users, scientists, psychologists, sociologists, material specialists, construction managers, architects, interior designers, urban designers, and digital masters.\
I foresee the design industry being disrupted by companies like Google, Sidewalk Labs and Airbnb advancing into the AEC marketplace with new tech offerings that designers can tap into. The business model in our industry will continue to transform as more of a specialist services model and it is possible that companies that maintain the traditional approach of bums on seats may not survive. It will also be interesting to see if the huge investment in proptech and contech in the last two years will further continue and if these companies succeed or fail over the next few years. Robotics will continue to develop and play a big part as the technology that drives them becomes more cost effective, faster, and common place.
I see the next decade moving us forward with how we partner to create great buildings in the real world. We will start to provide construction instructions for robots as as often as we do for humans. This will necessitate that we start creating true digital twins and allow for artificial intelligence to figure out the best means and methods by which objects and systems get built. We will have to double down on our digital literacy in order to have even higher levels of accuracy in our digital information.
I see a leveling of the field. Renderings are not done by that one person who knows how to render. Real time render software like Enscape allows anyone to not just walk the model, but to render countless renderings in real time. Access to data from the model is no longer limited to those using Revit. BIM 360 allows all stakeholders the ability to access the model. Clients are no longer forced to understand design via abstract 2D drawings or fixed point perspectives. VR allows them to immerse themselves and “get it”. Computational and generative design are no longer relegated to the office coder. Apps like Dynamo Player and Autodesk Refinery are opening up automation and iterative design to all designers. And this is at the beginning of 2020. Just where we’ll be 10 years from now is anyone’s guess, but one can’t help but feel optimistic about a future where all levels of technology begin to be accessible to all.
I think the biggest change in how we deliver for clients will be surrounding BIM as a deliverable. Despite all the technology at our hands, our industry is still crippled by the paper drawing set deliverable. With Design Assist contractor and fabricator relationships, we might be at the dawn of model deliverables for construction.
I believe the biggest change in how we deliver our designs for clients will be in the design tools we use, the way we communicate these designs, and the data exchange platforms that we work with. Even though we are only now seeing slow advances in interoperability between software, I’d like to think of tools as light weight and effective at freeform modelling as rhino but with the data and parametric capabilities of Revit. The outputs from these super tools would live in a decentralised, agnostic web based platform, connected to live data inputs from the ever changing physical world. It may also be that every designer has a virtual design assistant validating design ideas using artificial intelligence and generative design processes.
I foresee the design industry being disrupted by newer, experimental, and agile methods of direct-design-to-fabrication. These make their best use of refinement of design intent down to the essentials of pure constituent elements that align with the use of location intelligence, automated fabrication, and a system of algorithms. The algorithms in both bits and synthetics, but driven by human ingenuity and innovation, make the best match of construction systems, performance, material intelligence, embedded electronics, and environmental barrier suitable to a particular climate or harsh environment like off-world. In the end, we do not need the model, but rather the underlying design intelligence of the project.
I foresee the evolutionary change where architectural design will be supplemented by artificial intelligence checking codes, running rapid design iterations for optimization, and creating documentation for construction, which will become almost completely automated as well. There will be a focus on adaptive reuse of existing buildings in large cities, and economic and efficient transportation for individuals. People will telecommute with much richer interactive experience (holograms?). Office space might become a virtual hangout, and architects will be busy re-purposing all the office space to other uses.
One area that I have taken a keen interest in over recent years is how our designs will be communicated as technology advances. With virtual reality having only limited “experience” use case in our workspace, it is augmented reality that will increase and expand. Some of the tools and augmented reality-capable devices that have been proposed for more than a decade as becoming the norm, may finally realise the promise of now being only a few years away from mainstream. Augmented reality will assist us with design verification, making it simple to see how a variety of design options may impact the end user, town planning approval process, construction site or operations team, especially when lightweight hardware comes coupled with the invisibility cloak…
Schmidt Hammer Lassen
The next decade will mainstream the digital technology that picked up momentum in the late ’10s. We will see multiple variations of interactive modeling, implementation of digital documentation and AR, while countless options of generative design tools will assess the design problematics to ease some of our decision making.
However, as large sets of data will be collected and worked upon, I believe that the very big change is none of the above, rather “to whom and what” will we design for? What shall the designers be designing when clients, developers, municipalities, etc, can themselves “layout the cards” and use the same design tools as previously only “specialists” could interact with?
I guess that a true transformation of the future architectural practice will start with the digital services focusing on gathering data related to building performance (materials, environment, maintenance, etc) and most importantly, human behavior and the true usage of space. These will inform upfront the next design model, truly based on data evidence and no longer preaching empirical design approaches.
But once all artificial intelligence and machine learning is mainstream, and fully implemented digital fabrication and robotics is a reality, when all sectors of society will be affected by tremendous efficiencies, where will (especially but not exclusively) the blue collar worker be spending their time, now that this workforce has become redundant? How will this affect work-life-leisure as we know it, with focus on those that are more vulnerable to the next generation technology taking over their jobs?
So what shall we be designing, and to whom are we designing for?
Schmidt Hammer Lassen
The future is all about machines–very dramatic to say it in such terms. I believe that in the next decade automation and machine learning will gradually take central stage, bringing with them a strong, very much needed, data driven foundation, changing the way we approach the design process as we know it.
The biggest challenges for us will be, first of all, willing to embrace the change, ready to dynamically adapt to the fast pace of technology, and, most importantly, able to firmly take the steering wheel of these “new” emerging technology.
Schmidt Hammer Lassen
The ’00s began with existing disbelief about the application of digital tools in the practice of architectural design. However, the ’10s ended with excessive flourishing adoptions of digital tools, while some were still considering. As a consequence, in the realm of design, there is rising global optimism to performance aided by mainstream digital collaboration, human-machine interaction, and above all, computational iteration and optimization in almost every design process.
Article and images courtesy of Perkins and Will