The digital age has changed how we live, work and play – and it has certainly changed how buildings are designed and constructed. It may be hard to believe that only a few decades ago, architects and draftspeople were still primarily designing by hand. Legendary architect Carlo Scarpa said, “drawing is the means by which the architect defines his role. He doesn’t build – he draws.” Aside from the digitization of the drawing process with Computer-Aided Design (CAD), new technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Building Information Modelling (BIM) and smart buildings have revolutionized the industry.
Hand versus Mouse
One of the longest running arguments in architecture pits the hand drawing against the computer-aided drawing. And while this debate still runs hot in the academic sphere, everyday individuals who work in the design industry believe the two can – and should – peacefully coexist. Architectural hand drawing is certainly an art unto itself, one that once was a necessary tool in the architect’s kit.
The introduction of CAD in power system analysis in the 1950s evolved into 2D modelling and then 3D. By the 1990s accessible and affordable software was being integrated into architectural offices, and the need to hand draw detailed technical drawings became a thing of the past. However, even with the scope of technological assistance available, many designers still prefer to do initial sketching the old fashioned way.
Hand drawn, computer drawn or 3D modelled, a building laid out on paper – whether by hand or computer – holds a level of uncertainty. Without the ability to physically enter the space, architects and designers must imagine what it feels to be within it until the construction stage advances to a certain point. Time and again, an architect will visit a building site and discover a part of their building is bigger, smaller or less proportionate than they envisioned.
However, thanks to VR that’s all changing. Virtual reality headsets with head mounted displays allow the wearer to experience scale, depth and spatial awareness with striking accuracy. Not only is virtual reality helpful to architects in the design phase, but it also is a highly effective tool in communicating spatial relationships to clients.
An Integrated Whole
In our globalized world, the ability to transmit data isn’t a plus – it’s a must. BIM is where it all comes together. From a more fluid design process, to integrated VR experiences, to automated processes, to multidisciplinary collaboration – BIM does it all. Like CAD, BIM has been in the works for several decades. However, also like CAD, the technology had to catch up to the idea before it became accessible enough for architects and designers to incorporate it into their practices.
BIM goes beyond the three primary spatial dimensions of width, height and depth and adds time in as the fourth dimension and cost as the fifth. BIM also integrates light analysis, geographic information and quantities of building components, among other things.
Smart buildings are at the intersection of technology aiding design and technology becoming a part of the design itself. When thinking of smart buildings, most people think of energy efficiency and smart products such as programmable thermostats. Yet, this is only a small part of the picture. A smart building is less of a physical structure and more of a living organism.
Smart design goes beyond the technology that makes the building more liveable and extends to hundreds of elements that need to be considered beginning in the design phase. It will come as no surprise then, that a building requiring such a high level of information integration usually starts with BIM.
Technology is the Design
So, what next? Forward-thinking architects believe the profession needs to spend less time engaging with works of the past and more time focusing on the present – and future. It is believed that the key is to use technology as a material and not simply as a means to an end. Technology is not just a tool used in the design process – technology itself is the design.