I think that AI taking over from human architects is a long way off, but by 2030, the architects that use AI and data analytics will be taking the jobs of architects who don’t.
Welcome to Throw Forward Thursday. Come with me to the year 2030 and let’s think about the future Architect. There are so many exciting things happening in the area of engineering and architecture at the moment, from environmentally sustainable buildings and green construction to new materials and new ways of building things. 3d printers jump to mind, but robotics and drones and everything else coming our way.
But I want to focus today on the use of data and AI software for architects. And I think that there are three big issues that are already underway as I record this but will dramatically impact the profession in the rest of this decade.
The first of those is smart buildings and infrastructure that provide the usage of data. In other words, these are buildings and infrastructure that gather data through the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things is very simply put, as if we instrument everything, in other words, if we put sensors in a variety of different places, maybe integrating with the sensors that people have in their phones, their smart devices, and whatever other sensors we are able to put into and onto people in the future. If those integrate with sensors in a building or on a road or in a shopping centre, and then they are interconnected, in other words, they are connected to the Internet, we’re gathering data in real-time. Well, then we get some intelligence out of that and we can gather an incredible amount of information, or we can imagine gathering that information and turning it into something that is useful for architects.
Now, it might just be useful in upgrading how architects think about buildings they might be creating in the future. There’s that old meme, isn’t there, of the way that something was designed to be used and then the way it’s actually used. And that’s kind of what this real-time data can tell us. Some of it’s a bit obvious, like this picture, but others might not be that obvious and might unlock, as we put a lot more Internet of things. Infrastructure in our world might unlock some massive insights into the designs and influence the way in which architects and engineers think in the future.
But I also wonder whether there will be the opportunity to build infrastructure that anticipates the fact that once we get data of the building or the road or the shopping center’s usage, then there’s some flexibility in the design itself to even adjust things in real-time and do updates as we go along. Some future architect is going to have to work out how to do that, but amazing if they could.
Now, that leads to the second big thought that I had, and that is much more of a focus on human-centric design. We talk about human-centered design in many different aspects of work and in the architect space, we need to understand that architects are not just creating buildings and infrastructure, they’re actually shaping human experiences.
So, architects need to understand how spaces affect human psychology. How they can foster or hinder creativity, collaboration, wellbeing and I mean, this is everything from acoustics and lighting to how much energy is required to move from one space to the other. I know architects do think about this. Good architects are already doing this, but good architects also need to be futurists because they need to anticipate the way in which we are going to change how we live, how we work, and how we play in the future.
If we’ve got to be designing cities for driverless cars and flying cars, what might we build now in terms of a building that might last 30, 40, 50 years into the future? Just as an example of the type of question we should be asking.
And this, by the way, goes even further when we begin to realise that we are going to be integrating AR and VR augmented virtual and even extended reality places into our built environments. So architects need to learn not just how to design physical spaces, but also hybrid spaces that merge physical and digital worlds.
Architects are going to have to understand that it is more than just engineering and structures that they’re thinking about, but it’s also environmental psychology as well. I know the best architects already do this, but the data they’re going to have access to is going to elevate this part of their job dramatically. Must be a very exciting time to be in the profession.
And then talking about the integration of technology and people. The third issue I want to spotlight is the use of AI. Of course, ChatGPT and Generative AI, especially some of the more graphics orientated stuff like Dall-E 2 and Midjourney and others are they’re all the buzz here in 2023. But none of these are anywhere good enough to replace a good architecture or a good engineer’s main work. Yes, of course, they’re great for producing eye-catching buildings in a mid-journey type fantasy of the types of buildings that we might be able to create, but they are nowhere near good enough to do the proper design work that I’ve been talking about and the detailed technical aspects of the job of a structural engineer or a good architect.
What AI can do already, or at least is nearly ready to do for us, maybe in a few months’ time in the next iterations of these GPT or Bard type technologies is a lot of the mundane, repetitive, boring work that has to be done in any office and certainly has to be done in an architect’s office. I’m thinking about, for example, the costing of a project that once a design has been built and agreed on, to then calculate and do all of what essentially an old school quantity surveyor would have done and then look for real-time costings. All of that can now be automated a lot better.
Then go even further a lot of these systems, these AI systems will be able to very quickly and very well produce a project plan which lays out how many hours, days, weeks you’re going to need to do each thing, works out exactly what resources are going to be used where. In other words, the entire project management side of things can be reasonably well handled by a good AI system.
And then go further, a lot of the communications that have to happen frequently during a building process, something that a lot of architects and engineers and builders don’t get right. A lot of those communications updates on progress, updates on snags, dealing with queries from clients and stakeholders and responding to those queries, a lot of that is going to be able to be done by AI, and that of course also includes a lot of the admin and the billing and so on.
So, there’s a whole sort of back office to the architect, to the architect’s practice that at the moment has probably got quite a lot of admin support, and a lot of those admin support people can certainly use ChatGPT and Generative AI to improve their productivity, if not replace every single person in the back office.
I also thought that an architect might enjoy the model making side of their business. Certainly, when I was thinking about architecture as a career choice, that part of it did intrigue me. But I wonder if just sending your design to a 3D printer and getting it printed overnight might not be a better use of an architect’s time.
Anyway, we’re going to look in more detail next week in our Throw Forward Thursday studio, diving deeper into what ChatGPT and Generative AI can and can’t do just yet for architects, but also for quite a lot of other professionals. Think you’ll be interested to see beyond the hype and also beyond the doomsayers who say that it’s nothing more than hype. I think there’s a middle part that actually shows us the future for the professionals and their use of ChatGPT.
I’ll see you next week.
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Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.