5 Ways Young Designers Are Changing Architecture

Categories: Architecture

This post is based on the experience and observations of Nate Holland, a young designer and digital practice leader with NBBJ's corporate/commercial practice in Seattle.  Striking and cutting-edge new corporate headquarters for tech giants like Alipay, Amazon, Google, Samsung, and Tencent are among the global practice's current projects. For Holland, many of the characteristics that differentiate young designers from the previous generation stem from the fact that his cohort has grown up as digital natives.  They are the first generation to grow up using the Internet and computation, rather than adapting to it mid-career.

TencentSource NBBJ / Via

Digital teamwork – For young designers like Holland, working in a collaborative environment where he can contribute directly to project concepts and designs is an important part of being a valued and effective member of the team.  To facilitate this kind of collaboration, NBBJ integrates its digital practice leaders directly into the project teams to leverage data and contribute to projects from concept to construction.

NBBJ also emphasizes the use of digital tools to "augment intuition," providing relevant data to the team in such a clear and actionable way that it becomes second nature. These tools are so embedded in their workflow that they don’t constitute separate processes or tasks but happen as part of conceiving and developing design ideas.

Source NBBJ / Via

Visual programming – Far from the pencils and T-squares of old, many young designers are turning to visual programming tools like Autodesk's Dynamo and Rhino's Grasshopper for complex design challenges.  Visual programing works much like scripting, but instead of writing lines of code the designer connects a series of components like a flow diagram.   Sometimes referred to as parametric design or design computation, computers can help solve often vexing, repetitive problems (like travel distances or seating configurations in an arena) and frees designers to focus on the project concept and design rather than repetitive modeling and calculations. 

Architects of the future are likely to have a lot more in common with coders than the draftsmen of the past.

Unity 3d

Software experimentation – Another hallmark of many young designers is their comfort experimenting with new software.  Holland quickly switches between a variety of tools for his work, combining mature heavy-duty all-purpose tools with newer light-weight web- or mobile-based tools that are good for more specific tasks. 

Perhaps there's no better example of this than Holland taking a slow week between Christmas and New Year’s to teach himself the video game engine Unity 3D, as a way to create an immersive walk-through experience of a building design for clients. For him, software choice is about personal preference and speed, choosing the right tool for the task. 

MakerbotSource Hot Hardware / Via

Digital Fabrication –Where once architects handed their blueprints off to engineers and contractors to bring to life, young designers are themselves makers.  They no longer see themselves as cut-off from the process of fabrication and construction.  Design schools now teach students to use 3D printers, laser-cutters, even CNC machines to support model building and creativity.

When they get to the workplace, young designers have familiarity with the sophisticated machines employed by builders and contractors. They are then better able to communicate with the fabricators and come up with designs that are informed by the fabrication methods and therefore, readily prefabricated.

Website 4Source NBBJ / Via

Social sharing – Young designers are eager to engage in online design communities where sharing scripts, working together to solve problems and posting project images starts to break down the traditional lines between project teams.  It becomes a mixture of communicating, teaching, learning, work and fun.  

To capture this social energy, NBBJ has an internal web page where designers are encouraged to share their process and interact with designers from other offices. This has led to both formal and informal user groups popping up around the firm on a variety of topics to teach each other software and engage in design discussion.  Following NBBJ’s lead, perhaps this open-source ethos will become more mainstream as young designers move up in the profession. 

SamsungSource NBBJ / Via

Learn more about NBBJ’s architectural services.

Learn more about Autodesk’s capabilities for architecture.