Architecture seems one of those disciplines where artificial intelligence (AI) apparently stands no chance against human creativity and flexibility. But even if a machine could never substitute the mind of a living designer, construction and software companies are incorporating AI at a steady rate, potentially leaving architects behind in the technology race. AI is going to enter the architecture field no matter what, because that's the trend of every other advanced discipline out there. Therefore, the best way to look at it is to embrace it and understand how it is going to improve the everyday practice of millions of professionals. (For architecture of another kind, see Architects and Builders of the Internet Cathedral.)
Harvesting and Sharing Data
Two words: big data. Modern architects need to rely on data to advance their profession and improve the design process. Accumulating as much data as possible is, therefore, pivotal in the modernizing process, and AI is at the center of every other data collecting, storage and sharing process today. Sharing information between firms, contractors and owners is a common occurrence since it helps driving construction techniques forward and can influence better design and project delivery.
Portals like the Building Research Information Knowledgebase (BRIK) have been implemented to share design and practice ideas through case studies made available, but these solutions still lag behind the big-data-driven approaches used at an industrial level. Simply sharing a couple of notes via emails and formal meetings is not enough to face the challenge of taking advantage of the full potential of the big data cloud on a large scale.
Automation seems to be the bottom line and the solution to all these issues, and a long-term investment that can, and will, improve every architect's business. The first suites of digital tools used for data analysis and integration have been launched already, such as the Jacobs Connected Enterprise. Other software such as Autodesk's BIM 360 and KieranTimberlake's apps can be used to monitor buildings during their life cycle or to interpret data which can improve compliance and safety.
Easing the Architect's Life
Artificial intelligence and robots are, first and foremost, terrific helpers. Automation tools are an extraordinary helping hand on the small scale, able to speed up the research and design process at the personal level. For example, one of the biggest challenges of an architectural design process is the information gathering step, that requires traveling back and forth from the site, taking pictures, measuring and sketching. However, there's a lot of information that is already available online that allows the professional to tap into it and simulate almost perfectly the surrounding site without being physically there. And all this information is passively collected by the IoT every day. Smart tools can harvest this info and help the architects generate a believable environment with minute precision without having to leave their offices. There's no need to explain how useful this computational power can be in the creative process.
New tools now allow the architect to just input their project parameters and the software will then suggest a range of solutions that fulfill these criteria. For example, the Dreamcatcher software has been designed to integrate optimized parametric design with Revit and Dynamo. CAD models of the surrounding site and other data are collected from huge cloud databases, and then a machine-learning algorithm suggests optimized 3D design solutions ready to render. The results are amazing, as the software often imitates structural rules found in nature to generate fluid and potent forms that have been used, for example, to develop MX3D’s steel bridge in Amsterdam.
Intelligent Robot Crafters
One of the most authentically amazing uses of AI in architecture is the implementation of fully automated robots and drones that could build entire cities. Thanks to the possibilities provided by machine learning, autonomous drones can now collaborate to build architectural structures by working together as a team.
But machines can do more than just pile up a couple of bricks. Integration between 3D printing technology and AI software has the potential to give birth to a new generation of "robot crafters" that can craft every component of a building from scratch. They can even arrange complex structures, print building-scale rooms from sandstone, or even repair ancient statues with amazing precision.
Eventually, they will also help in construction job sites, dealing with almost every task, from welding, to concrete dispensing, and optimizing logistics and human resources. They can be used to prevent risks and improve safety, for example, by identifying missing elements and mistakes in the construction process in real time.
User Engagement and Gamification
Everybody likes playing The Sims, one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. Did you know that The Sims was originally designed as an architecture simulation alone? Yet, it was so fun that they decided to make a game out of it. Some modern architecture software such as Unity 3D is developed for game engines, and much of the modern AI technology has originated from the gaming industry. Let's tell the truth: Everybody loves the idea of personalizing his or her own house to a certain extent.
The gamification process goes both ways, though. On one hand, it helps architects increase their client engagement and satisfaction through the use of augmented reality tools that allow users to feel and experience a project before it is completed. Clients may choose the details of their future houses by "living" them in the augmented reality world, and, at the same time, the AI is fed with a ton of useful feedback from them. And here we go: Games and simulators provide the machines with all the data they need to understand what users really want, optimize the offer, and adapt to their needs. (To learn more about augmented reality, check out Augmented and Virtual Reality Help Design Firms Please Clients.)
Architects should not fear AI as something that will destroy their profession. Thanks to the new tools and cloud-based, AI-powered software solutions, one-man architect firms working from home have access to sufficient computing power to compete even with the largest multinational corporation. Once again, the machine revolution is a democratizing force that is making our world a little more meritocratic.