How Has Technology Changed Architectural Design In Recent Times?


The history of architecture, globally, has been an illustrious one. Over the past centuries and millennia, humanity has created some truly breath-taking feats of architecture. There’s a reason, after all, that there are Seven Wonders of the Ancient World! But you don’t have to look back as far as the pyramids to see changes within the field. In the last one hundred years, alone, there have been a huge number of advances in architectural design. Many of them have pertained to the kinds of technology being used. In fact, according to a study conducted between Microsoft and the RIBA, 87% of architectural organisations agreed that digital technologies were affecting and changing the way they worked. The team here at Munday + Cramer, who offer architectural design in Essex, London, Kent and the Home Counties, wanted to look at some of these changes in a little more detail.

CAAD-Software

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software has been around, now, since the 1960s. This was when Sketchpad came onto the scene, a computer program offering hitherto unseen artistic and technical drawing capabilities. Such was this software’s innovative qualities, that in 1988, its creator, Ivan Sutherland, was presented with the Turing Award. Sketchpad, at the time, was a general CAD software (Computer-Aided Design) with a separate distinction for architecture coming later in the form of Computer-Aided Architectural Design (CAAD) software, which offered architects more of the tools that they needed for their highly graphical work. One of the main benefits the industry has gained from CAAD software is the ability of architects to more comprehensively tackle a project’s problems, nuances and design, and doing so in an entirely graphical way. What CAAD software did for architecture, then, in other words, was take the humble graphical blueprint and elevate it to giddying new heights.

Immersive Technologies

A perennial problem for architects, who unlike others house an innate ability to visualise, both in their mind’s eye and on-page, within their plans, is trying to convey their proposed vision to the client. It’s very difficult, in fairness, looking at technical drawings and elevation plans, alone, to get a real sense for how a development is going to look upon completion. Equally difficult for architects is explaining to their clients why something isn’t feasible, and why the plans may need to be changed. In recent times, one technology more than any other has helped mitigate this issue. That technology comprises virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. How, then, do these different kinds of reality benefit architectural design?

These realities (which for the sake of ease I will collectively term ‘virtual reality’) offer benefits in two primary areas. Benefits for the architect, and benefits for the client. In terms of the architect, VR headsets can help architects visualise and detect irregularities. The kind of problems that may have otherwise slipped through the net. Indeed, there have even been developments towards architects being able to create models using the headset and controllers, enhancing the immersive experience ten-fold. For the client, virtual reality means their minds have to make less of a leap between the plan and the finished product. It removes the abstract.

BIM And The Opportunities That Lie Therein

We’ve already seen the advent of Business Information Modelling (BIM) in recent years, as the part of the UK’s long-term construction strategy to digitise both the construction and operation of built assets across the nation. BIM refers not only to 3D visual modelling, but data sharing and collaboration as well. The final BIM ‘Level’, Level 3, will focus on creating singular data sources for projects, to ensure optimal collaboration between all the various stakeholders and involved parties. We wrote a piece a while ago, that looks at BIM-Levels in more detail, which you can read here!

The Combination Of BIM And Immersive Technologies

One of the most exciting developments is the pairing of VR and augmented reality (AR) with BIM. Firms are already beginning to adopt these technologies as part of their BIM processes. BIM has drastically improved the 3D-modeling involved within the construction process. It has enabled all stakeholders to have a much more comprehensive understanding of the project with which they’re working.

VR headsets enable full immersion within those models, aiding across design, construction, inspections and operations. Looking at the inspection process as an example, it’s long and laborious. It’s hoped that, with the help of AR, inspectors will instantly be able to access information within the BIM. This will enable, in essence, a side-by-side comparison of the planned 3D model, and its counterpart in reality. A direct comparison makes it much easier to see if something isn’t as it should be.

This saves time and will help keep the project on track, making sure everything is going as planned. In an industry where deadlines are as pivotal as they are, this is crucial. In fact, given that over half of construction organisations report that they overrun on both time and cost on more than 10% of their projects, we’d say it’s never been more pressing.

The Future

So, we’ve seen the adoption of immersive technologies and BIM. What other technologies, then, may architectural practices begin to implement in the coming years? We’re likely to see more cloud-based computing and a greater uptake of digital collaboration tools. Not only that but drone technologies and the use of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning is also expected to increase. These technologies, when combined together, present architectural design practices with the opportunity for unprecedented levels of development.

Challenges

This digital age doesn’t come without its own challenges, however. The primary concern amongst most architectural firms is the cost of these new technologies. The newer the technology, the more expensive it generally is, thus presenting something of a Catch-22. To be at the industry’s forefront and generate the kind of capital needed for these technologies, you already need to have those technologies… In fact, the previously referenced RIBA study also found that 69% of practices deemed cost issues being the main barrier to their continued digitisation.

Beyond the financials, we’ve seen that training is a big issue. These new technologies aren’t always the most user-friendly, and require extensive time and resources to get to grips with. Architectural firms are stretched and under immense pressure, at the best of times. Most don’t have the luxury of setting aside time purely for the purpose of training. Hopefully, however, as these technologies become more commonplace, more readily available and easier to use, the issues of cost and accessibility will be mitigated, somewhat.

The UK is leading the charge when it comes to digitising architecture, and it shows no signs of slowing down. So, if you’d like to find out more about our architectural design in Essex, and how we’ve adopted state-of-the-art digital practices, then get in touch! Contact Munday + Cramer today on 01245 326 200.