Architecture sector - Visions and desired future scenarios

Last updated 13. July 2016 by admin

The Year 2 interviews revealed a great number of well developed visions and desires about the future of the architecture sector in relation to technological innovation, which are covered here.

Changing Role of Architecture

There was an overarching desire from many architects to re-envision the role of architecture within society. Architects envision a future where their profession is not limited to the design of buildings, or where architecture is used as an enabling tool for greater societal goals. This vision involves moving towards designing ‘interfaces’ between authorities and the public, such as the deployment of pop-up structures as interventions. Architects expressed specific interest in exploring working with brands; taking a more active role in the building/construction/production of their own designs; and creating their own technologies.

Natural Building Materials

There was a strong desire for further investment and innovation in leveraging biological and natural building materials based on the use of microorganisms, natural fiber, and biomimicry. Architects involved in large-scale 3D printing desire low-energy, environmentally friendly advancements that would enable the transformation of sand into rock without much binder—which would ideally operate in situ. Investment in material properties is seen as important, with a focus on mixing simple elements together, rather than creating complex Polymers. Earthmix with added milk or egg, for instance, can increase resilience three fold. Raw soil use is also seen to have great potential for addressing climate change and extreme weather conditions. There is widespread interest in continuing research incorporating organisms like fungus into concrete to create more resistant, sustainable and potentially regenerative building materials. Further, there is a strong desire to advance the intersection of fungus and other biological material with 3D printing technology, with potential applications ranging from colonising other planets to medical applications.

Expanded Modeling Software

While a large amount of software is available to control building structure and dimensions, there is a need for software bringing the potential of materials to the project stage. The lack of adequate software to model and control material properties also poses a threat for the development of innovative materials.

Researchers studying the incorporation of organisms like fungus with concrete, for instance, lack the technologies needed for their innovations to be incorporated into real projects.
More generally, there is a desire for more intuitive interfaces (akin to Sketchup) for early design stages in Building Information Modelling (BIM). There is also a desire for greater interoperability—more exchangeable formats for 3D models. This is crucial need for a more effective construction and facilities management processes, as consultants consistently need access to models during the design process in different formats.


3D Visualization

There is a wish to progress the field of visualisation in three dimensions, involving virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D cinema, and/or holographic projections. This vision involves software advancements, but scarcity of hardware presents a weak point as well. Screen technology is not following pace with other technological development—addressing this should be a priority. Architects envision delivering their content in three dimensional ways, rather than the two-dimensional media they are currently limited to. They envision immersive 3D experiences that would enable more communal experiences.

Rapid Prototyping, Fast Architecture, & Malleable Buildings

The vision for more prototyping tools and a more malleable approach to architecture was one of the most widespread. This vision centres on the desire for an easy, fast, cheap and sustainable prototyping tool in architecture. “Fast architecture” would use design thinking tools to prototype buildings, quickly test what works, and adapt or change the shape of buildings.

One component of this is a clear (though not clearly developed) desire for malleable or flexible architecture that can be reshaped multiple times. There is particular interest in customisable facades, as the building envelope is under-utilized and embodies a substantial amount of carbon, which could be adapted if at architects’ disposal.
More specifically, there is a wish for technology to accommodate a fast pace of design iterations from cradle to grave. This might take the form of a server technology that mediates between data flows and programs for seamless management of data and interoperability. Overall, this vision would enable architecture to be more responsive to how other disciplines are evolving.

Production Cycle Innovation

Related to rapid prototyping, there is also interest in innovating the production cycle. There is a desire to focus on the manufacturing stage, and generate smarter strategies relating to materials and life cycles. This may involve local material deployment strategies and adoption of more robotic forms of fabrication— taking serial production, production line, and flat pack style creation into one-shot creation of structure.

Editable Sketching

Students are losing the opportunity to control scale knowledge management of every detail in their projects as they move away from hand-drawn project creation to PC-based, and this was identified as a major issue. There is a straightforward need for precise digital software allowing creators to create, change, and erase all their project sketches. While various applications for iPad and other devices exist, they are considered too far off from professional software to fulfil requirements. There is a desire to incorporate analogue into the workflow, particularly technologies that grow from the simplicity of the pen. The pen is intuitive in a way that should inform new technological development in this area.


Creative Collaboration Technology, Spaces, and Training

The need for more collaborative tools is seen as a major weakness, which will be very important to address. The desire for greater collaboration and technology in support of this was one of the most widely shared visions.
There is a strong wish for cross fertilization of ideas and knowledge between architects, end-users, and building fabricators to create new forms of space and building types through overlapping, cross-disciplinary, collaboration approaches. This may involve training students in more interdisciplinary ways, web platforms for collaborative validation, networking communications, and shared virtual (e.g. national databases) and physical spaces like the Architectural Association in UK. There is also an interest in labs for creating funding synergies, which can aid multiple disciplines and stakeholders.

There is also a related desire to develop the role and skillset of the architect—from greater ability to work with software and digital tools, to the need for budgeting roles, increasing BIM management, training and comprehension of coding. Beyond architects, this vision requires a more tech-literate authority, more interaction between architects and authorities based on visualization technology, and more mixed technology-oriented training.
And on a more basic level of support for collaboration technology, there is a need for reliable broadband in relation to innovations like IOT and virtual desktops. As IOT devices consume more WiFi, virtual desktops will also use up more traffic and will require better WiFi stability and bandwidth. Exchanging data in a stable, secure, compatible way is seen as important, especially with the increasing number of platforms in various formats. As exchanges happen between different formats, consistency is not just important, but critical.


Open Innovation & Technology

Architecture sector experts also envisioned a shift to open innovation and technology in terms of business models, standards, and research. There is a need for more transparency and open innovation, which would involve tech providers opening up to independent creators, designers, and contributors. Providers like Autodesk might experiment with opening their software, coupling business models to inventions. There is also a sentiment that the university system needs to be reconsidered so research can be explored in more specialized ways, particularly for the general public.
There is a desire for more feedback and experimentation between architectural software providers and users. At the same time, there is criticism of software such as CAD evolving too constantly, and becoming less manageable as it tries to incorporate ever more modules, encroaching on the architect’s individual creativity. Software vendors need to improve communication between creator and professionals, but understand the secretive nature of development so that the architects’ competitive edge is not lost. Finally, there is a desire for open standards between software and hardware. This vision may also require more unified codes across Europe, technologies that reduce linguistic barriers and allow codes to be more responsive to emerging technology. 3D printing, for example, isn’t currently incorporated into current codes, which need to catch up to the state of play.

Social Visions: Innovative Models for Human-Centred Spaces

Lastly, many architects envisioned the future of their profession in relation to forwarding broader societal goals. There is particular interest in user research developments such as employing wearable technologies or motion-sensing carpeting to record movement and identify traffic patterns, informing the design of more human-centred spaces. Broader visions included intelligent buildings that can rapidly be deployed in crisis areas, hospitals and care facilities that can improve the life quality of their patients and aid health workers in completing their jobs, and teaching facilities that can provide more comprehensive and personalized experience for their users.
There is a widespread desire to develop models deploying quality forms with more innovative strategies to address the global issue of housing. There is strong interest in applying large-scale 3D printing and raw soil uses to explore the problems of housing in less developed countries, re-imagining the urban condition, and refocusing architects’ attention on social housing. This greater vision relies upon many previously described innovations ranging from natural materials and rapid prototyping to open innovation models along the lines of WikiHouse to envision a wide-reaching, socially and environmentally responsible future for the architecture sector.


Key Future Trajectories

The following is a distillation of the desired future technologies across data collected during the whole project:

Innovative Building & Printing Materials

  • Biological and naturally based building materials: employing microorganisms, fungus, natural fiber, biomimicry
  • Large-scale 3D printing material: environmentally friendly advancements enabling the transformation of sand into rock without much binder
  • Developing composites such fungus and concrete for regenerative properties, earthmix and egg for resilience
  • More efficient, sustainable, resilient, and intelligent building materials across the board
  • Expanded Modeling Software
  • Software to model and control material properties at the project stage
  • Greater interoperability and more exchangeable 3D model file formats

3D Visualization

  • Progress 3D visualization capabilities through virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D cinema, and/or holographic projections.
  • Hardware advancement is key, as screen technology is not following the pace with other technological developments
  • Virtual, augmented reality, and holographic tools adapted to user-experience testing for built environments
  • GIS platforms able to forecast and visualize social and environmental factor interaction with building projects

Rapid Prototyping, Iterative Production, & Flexible Architecture

  • Easy, fast, cheap and sustainable architectural prototyping tools
  • 3D printing applications for prototyping building elements, potentially even to the scale of a room
  • Technologies enabling more iterative, flexible flow between the design and construction stages
  • Innovations advancing malleable or flexible forms of architecture that can be reshaped multiple times
  • Customizable facades, better use of building envelope
  • Further development of on-site 3D printing and 360° abilities, & large-scale building printing
  • Exploring more robotic forms of fabrication, better use and deployment strategies for local materials, and Flat Pack innovations

Smart, Human-Centred Buildings, Houses, & Cities

  • Deploy innovations ranging from natural materials and 3D printing to open innovation models along the lines of WikiHouse to address housing need, urban living conditions, and international development
  • Integration of passive sensing and wearable technology to inform human-centred design and feed data back into modelling systems
  • Leverage smart building technologies for more responsive healthcare, teaching, and crisis response environments
  • Sensitive and automated controls such as bioclimatic architecture and biometric controls
  • User-friendly, intelligible interfaces for systems like smart-metering

Interoperable Design Tools & Open Innovation Models

  • Shift to open innovation and technology in terms of business models, standards, and research
  • Precise digital software allowing designers to create, change, and erase all their project sketches
  • Advancing specificity and flexibility of design tools to the creative process
  • “Toolkit” platform to interface between all software and hardware tools throughout the design process
  • Interoperability of design programs with those of new influences such as data analysis

Collaboration Capabilities

  • Physical and virtual spaces enabling cross-disciplinary sharing of ideas, knowledge and training between architects, fabricators, and end-users
  • “Skype” for collaborative creation: virtual, cloud-based meeting space allowing participants to model and share creations in real-time
  • Cloud-connected architecture studio hubs enabling seamless access for intermittent collaboration
  • Greater broadband capacity, especially in relation to virtual desktop and IOT developments
  • Developing role and skillset of architect in relation to tech-literacy, BIM, budgeting, and greater interaction with more tech-literate authorities


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