Impact of Innovation on Architecture

Posted April 21st, 2017 by Jasmine Lui

Adam Skidmore, Architectural Assistant, talks about the impact of innovation on architecture.

What impact if any, do you think an increasing focus on sustainability will have on the role of architects?

Architects have a positive role when it comes to sustainability. We have an obligation to think about the environment as well the building design; it’s not just about the direct needs of the client but the wider impact on our surroundings. Tighter legislation is anticipated in the future – this will make the architect’s role more difficult but improve our standing when it comes to the contribution and place of sustainability in the build environment. It’s important that the architectural profession builds its credibility in this sector even without enforced changes. In some cases, the industry has suffered from ‘greenwashing’, where technology is used to make a building appear more environmentally friendly than it actually is. This approach can lead to the poor integration of energy saving measures, making the building less efficient. In order to generate a truly energy efficient project architects and clients should incorporate sustainable and environmental design into buildings at an earlier stage, rather than applying these measures when the majority of the building and site has already been designed. New standards such as the Home Quality Mark (HQM) have been introduced to incentivise architects, developers, and in particular home buyers, to procure new homes that are cheaper to run, better located, easier to maintain and reduce carbon emissions. The HQM is marketed as a customer led voluntary scheme. It encourages home buyers to buy into homes with low running costs. It will be interesting to see how attitudes and demand towards high quality environmental housing will change on a national scale over the coming years. The role of the architect when it comes to sustainability is often determined by the client. We’ve found this to be particularly true in the education sector where many of them are leading research into sustainability. It therefore becomes a way for the university to advertise or stand behind the credibility of its own research.

What impact, if any do you think new technologies such as AI, robots, even drones will have on architecture, design and urban planning?

3D printing is probably as close to robotics as architecture has got at the current time. It’s certainly a growing trend and we’ve seen it being used to print concrete for instance. This does create some unique shapes but it’s very expensive and the same problems in how these products are used will still apply. Therefore, we don’t see 3D printing as really solving any problems or moving things along significantly. AI is used on large scale urban planning, but mainly to analyse how people move around a scheme and how they would exit in the case of a fire, for example. This isn’t particularly new software. Virtual reality is, on the other hand, is a way of communicating and presenting work, particularly at an academic level. Traditional models are still used and remain popular; we may see them come back even stronger if 3D printing speeds up the process. We have noticed that the use of virtual environments is having an impact on architecture students. It provides them with wide range of opportunities to represent their ideas.  Some students even develop such refined skills in designing virtual environments that they merge into alternative career paths such as video game design. This isn’t likely to be a threat to traditional architecture; you still can’t beat the feeling of your design being realised in the real world. Of course, with the development of technology such as the now popular virtual reality headsets, there could be a wider impact on architecture. If everyone begins to view a virtual world on top of the physical, could architecture become more of a blank canvas or backdrop on which to project a virtual or augmented reality? Interestingly, we’re seeing a stronger move back towards a craft and traditional based approach. Timber is still popular and many want to go back to traditional materials to integrate with older buildings as people, particularly in Britain and Europe still want architecture to reflect local heritage. The impact of AI and developing technologies is probably being felt more in places like China and Japan, where the scale and speed of development is much higher.

Given that architecture has changed little fundamentally in the last 100 years, how (if at all) do you see the role of architects evolving?

I’d say that architecture has changed quite dramatically in the last thirty to forty years. We now have to take a collaborative approach to every project, rather than being a single authority on building design which was likely to be the norm a hundred years ago. Architects accept that there are lots of specialised people who understand specific technologies and are therefore happy to work alongside them. BIM is a great example of this approach – it’s essentially best used as a tool for architects to work even more efficiently in partnership with the complete supply chain. At the moment, it’s good for large projects, and of course it’s vital for working with local authorities in the UK, but not so simple for smaller schemes. Whereas it’s good as a final presentation tool, it’s not used for the design element. We strongly believe that you will always need that human variant from the outset. The architect should have final control and make decisions rather than a piece of software. Computers will always make the most logical decision. However, it’s important that an architect is in control to react to very personal requirements or to push a boundary that bit further.

How receptive are clients to new and exciting ideas and technologies?

This all depends on the client. Universities are probably more receptive to exciting ideas and technologies than other sectors, but with all projects, cost and time are the overriding factors. We will always suggest innovative and exciting solutions and technologies. However, it is very important to develop feasible and deliverable solutions for our clients.

Do clients expect today’s architects to be cognizant of these technologies and plan for their future impact?

We expect to be ahead of the curve when it comes to technologies more than clients expecting it from us. It’s important that we stay at the forefront of the industry; not just to provide the best solutions but to keep our work interesting and exciting.

Do you think these technologies will have an impact not only on the design and architecture of buildings, but of community and city planning?

We expect AI analytics to have an impact on city planning but this will be driven by those doing the master plan as it will give them additional intelligence on how people move and why. Virtual reality will continue to help clients understand the vision being presented as well as being a way to work out problems so solutions can be provided. Cycling glasses are being developed, which map routes onto real streets and highlight hazards. This sort of technology, which overlays the virtual onto the real, could have a really exciting impact on architecture if it was developed and its scope broadened.

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