How data and AI will shape the architecture practice of the future: AEC experts weigh in

Categories: AEC Architecture Perspectives
Tags: artificial-intelligence automation cloud digital-transformation

Recently, I had the pleasure of introducing a panel discussion on how data and AI will shape the architecture practice of the future as part of our recent launch of Autodesk Forma. The panelists, Knut Ramstad, CTO of Nordic Office of Architecture; Brooke Grammier, CIO of Cannon Design; and Harlen Miller, Associate Design Director at UN Studio, dove into an engaging discussion about new technologies and ways of working.

Why are we talking about this now? As the pace of change continues to accelerate, architecture practices find themselves at the heart of some of society’s biggest challenges: from rapid urbanization, to population growth, to climate change. At the same time, demands on the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, and architecture practices themselves, are changing. Projects have become more complex due to factors such as increasing regulations that are stressing timelines and budgets. Talent shortages are also straining already resourced-constrained teams. 

Tall building under construction

“The dream would be to use technology to start a living, breathing design model accessible by everyone involved in the project that travels with the building from its inception to its death, with the benefit of making the whole process more efficient,” says Brooke Grammier, CIO of Cannon Design.

The good news is that the proliferation of data, AI, and machine learning creates opportunities to empower the architecture profession to tackle these challenges by helping architects work more effectively and efficiently. These opportunities can range from process improvements to connected workflows for distributed teams and even how projects are contractually structured. 

It’s not only about digital solutions, though. The adoption of new technology can also present challenges for firms. But again, there is good news. Architects were on the forefront of technology changes moving from the drafting table to leverage CAD and then to BIM, and they continue to lead the way in the digital transformation of the industry.

There were so many great learnings from the discussion. I want to share three that highlight potential opportunities for the architecture practices of the future to thrive in an age of data and new technology. But not only that, these are also opportunities for us as a software provider to support the AEC industry in new ways focused on outcomes of the future.

Using data to the full extent will open new opportunities

In every project, so much data is produced and yet lost across disciplines and phases–this data has the potential to be used in better ways, according to Knut Ramstad. Data sets should be nurtured, and a cross-disciplinary strategy connected by data can open interesting possibilities for collaboration. Particularly when the digital design process pivots into the build side of the project. It’s here that Harlan Miller suggested the potential to elevate the digitalization and speed of the construction industry. Enabling architects to access their data regardless of the tool, software company, and processes would reduce the fragmentation of their work and allow them to take full advantage of data. According to Brooke Grammier, “The dream would be to use technology to start a living, breathing design model accessible by everyone involved in the project that travels with the building from its inception to its death, with the benefit of making the whole process more efficient.” 

Automation will free up more time for the personal side of architecture 

Technology should support architects in their quest to build a more sustainable society through exceptional architecture. The art and practice of building design still needs a human touch. By automating the manual day-to-day activities architects would rather not do, architects can focus more time and energy on the things they enjoy, like innovating and solving problems together with their clients, in a thoughtful way. Harlan suggested that architecture provides a service, and bringing this to the forefront will open different opportunities to incorporate the human side of the design process and focus less on the technical logistics. At the end of the day, Knut Ramstad said, “Using new technology is about creating great relationships–with the client, users, stakeholders, and working in teams. By inviting people into the design process, it creates greater transparency, engagement, and enthusiasm about a project.” 

Talent and continued education are key to future-proofing architecture practices

Architects now need skill sets that they didn’t in the past, from coding and data analysis to an understanding of behavioral psychology. For architecture firms, it’s about finding people with the right balance of good design skills and a deep understanding of technology. By prioritizing ongoing education and the recruitment of new talent, firms can ensure their staff remains up to date with new technology trends. Continued education can also help people understand that new technology will not take away their jobs, but rather improve what they do. There are also opportunities to evolve the dynamics of mentorships between the older and younger generations of architects, the latter often being more comfortable with new technology. The good news is that software is becoming more user-friendly, intuitive and automated, lowering the barrier to entry for all architects.   

I encourage you to watch the full conversation where we explore these topics further with Dezeen 

Dezeen teamed up with Autodesk to host a panel discussion about the role of AI and data in architecture practice.