The previous biggest step change in the industry was in the nineties, when computer-aided design or CAD became mainstream. Using a mouse, or tapping in the co-ordinates, CAD became the drafting tool making the drawing board all but obsolete, and 3D representations would be a handmade model out of wood or card.
Design continues to advance
Since then the process of building design has been continually advancing. Today, 3D modelling is very much the norm. Now commonly referred to as Building Information Modelling or BIM, the concept works by creating your drawing on the computer three dimensionally, and then integrating it with all the other consultants’ drawings, to create a full model of the structure. As this technology has been embraced more widely, architects have gained an improved ability to work collaboratively with both clients and the wider team, which is proving key to the success of any construction project.
Now we can model on all aspects of our design, right down to the size of a screwhead, and visualise it with the same software technology used in gaming and virtual reality programmes. We can work from anywhere and share our designs, communicating our concepts and vision in an interactive and tangible form to the client, design team and planning officers.
Virtual reality tours can give an immersive experience of scale, lighting, viewpoints and finishes of the design proposal, ensuring our clients really understand what it is they are getting before a brick has been laid.
The technology is a vital design development tool, and when linked to 3D printing, where we can replicate scale models of the buildings and place them on the site map, it means everyone involved can give better feedback. Working collaboratively in this way does increase the design cost of a project initially. But, in the long term it pays off, as you can iron out all the problems at the start and make changes more quickly and cost efficiently.
Technology shouldn’t dictate design
However, while these innovations change the mindset of an architect and how they solve problems, there is a note of caution. Although the software is there, it shouldn’t dictate design. Creativity can be restricted if you only use a computer, so it is still important to possess the capability to be able to put pen to paper to sketch out your ideas and vision.
In the future, technology and innovation will have a positive impact on the construction industry as a whole. With pressures on the industry to deliver buildings quickly and efficiently, combined with a skills shortage, developers and contractors are using technological advances in offsite construction to improve on-site delivery. This includes prefabricated components and entire homes and reduces the need for specialist skills on site to build. This will simplify the process and speed up housing delivery.
Ultimately, for the architect, technology enables the client to engage with us and understand what we’ve done and why. And as the technology improves and becomes more accessible, we can increasingly bring proposals to life in more interactive ways.