How New Technology Is Enabling Architects to Realize Their Dream Designs
Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Eitan Tsarfati is a serial tech entrepreneur and Co-Founder and CEO of Swapp, an AI-based construction planning company which partners with architects to leverage the power of AI-driven platforms. He is an architect and a Harvard-Business School Alumnus who served as the former CEO of Autodesk Israel.
Most architects are frustrated by the same experience:
The final result is quite different from their original design.
If you have gone through this frustrating experience, you are not alone. When I was a young architect, the office I worked for won the bid on a new project. I was excited to take part in the initial design process. From the very first day , I was constantly thinking about shapes, forms, and design tone, eagerly imagining how this new project would inspire others for years to come. Very quickly, starting from the very first meeting with our client , my dreams were shattered when I faced the harsh reality of budget constraints, engineering requirements, and a tedious process that threatened to squeeze every ounce of creativity out of me.
Sound familiar? Whether you are taking part in the design and planning phases for a stadium, a museum, or a multi-family residential project, the planning process is long and complex. There are too many hands in the pot: the owner, various consultants, and financial advisors, and so forth. By the end of the process , you can barely recognize your dream design.
An illustration which exaggerates the distance between the vision and the result, but you get the point… image via Leewardists
In an AIA report, stakeholders such as architects, owners, and contractors were asked to rank the drivers of uncertainty in planning construction projects. Alongside unforeseen site conditions, which ranks among the top three factors cited by participants across the board, architects chose owner-driven changes and accelerated schedules as the leading forces behind project uncertainty. Owners and contractors, however, pointed to the design team's errors and omissions as the leading factors for uncertainty. The issue of unclear project requirements from the outset was identified by all parties as the top generator of owner-driven changes.
I would argue that there is a way to bridge the gap between our dream design and the demands of owner/contractor stakeholders, and its technology. That is, technology that allows us to gain more insights, and thus gain control over the process.
We are usually missing several sets of data that are needed to make necessary adjustments while protecting our creative vision in the planning process. In most cases, we are not fully aware of site requirements and limitations. Another missing variable which has a major influence is the owner’s financial objectives and the calculations he or she has made in order to achieve them. The end result is that we usually spend too much time on tedious, repetitive iterations and tasks.
Over the past five years, various technologies have been developed to help architects gain valuable insights and even help them to automate many of the SD-DD andCD related tasks, specifically the manual ones that offer architects no added value.
Many of you are already familiar with and are already using “Generative Design” tools. Generative design tools help architects discover dozens, and even hundreds, of design options that include sketch constraints and project goals. They solve the need to create what some would call “boring” building designs lacking a “soul” or a clear design concept. One of the main challenges of generative design, which is raised by Daniel Davis in his article “Generative Design is doomed to fail,” is that it offers hundreds of options without screening and ranking them according to methods used by architects in the design process.
I expect this to improve over time, especially when combined with what I call “top-bottom” analysis in the form of AI-powered planning platforms. These platforms will eventually help architects to free up more time (now used for screening too many design options) so that they could focus on creative solutions.
Airbus factory layouts analyzed by the generative design system; video courtesy Autodesk
AI-Powered Planning Platforms
While time is an important factor for creating space for creativity, architects today understand that data is king. If we want to take an active role in creating space for our creativity, then we have to approach the planning process differently by employing data analysis tools.
One of the main technologically-driven developments in industry today is the use of AI-powered platforms. In our industry in particular, these platforms allow architects to access valuable data and to conduct a deep analysis that is pivotal in creating designs that fit our vision and design concept, while taking into consideration stakeholder demands.
Remember the key drivers of uncertainty ranked by architects in the AIA report? Today, many software platforms help bridge the gap between our dream design and the demands of stakeholders. These platforms aggregate and analyze a tremendous amount of data to help architects collect more information about a site, and thus gain greater control over a project and the challenges that may arise along the way.
In recent years, the number of relevant data sources has significantly increased, leading to new analytical tools that can help architects predict various considerations such as site challenges and opportunities, project costs according to the preferred construction method, and even architectural and MEP strategies per project type. Using these technologies, we can balance between our vision and client cost constraints, and take control by including their ROI goals, embedding them into our design, and having an algorithm analyze and compare them to data sets. Architects can also save time and effort in analyzing designs from the perspective of energy efficiency to occupants’ wellbeing parameters, with one easy click of a button.
For too long, we have taken a back seat in the planning process while fulfilling or struggling to meet stakeholders requirements and needs. The latest technological developments allow us to take the wheel in the planning process for the first time. By embracing technology, we will begin each project with more data, AI super-powers for analysis, and greater overview of key requirements, all of which will enable us to better serve our clients while protecting our creative space. The architecture industry is in the midst of a technological revolution and the future has never looked brighter.