During a recent radio program the topic of AI was discussed, and the idea was that it would replace architects among various other professions. This startling statement began a discussion in our office regarding artificial intelligence and its place in the future of our profession. The architecture industry is no stranger to innovation and change. CAD drafting was a remarkable revolution completely replacing the basic method of drafting that had remained the same for centuries. Sustainability, and a respect for both the built environment and the natural world fortunately are being taken more seriously than previously. Supply chain issues, and global pandemics have required us all to adapt to issues that previous generations couldn’t even imagine.
Architecture is a profession which tends to look forward and embrace innovation. Architectural movements such as “Modernism” and “Futurism” work to create something innovative in the present. Given those examples it seems apt for architects to embrace the “new world” represented by AI and look for different ways to incorporate it into our vocation. While the apocalyptic images of a world where human architects are no longer needed can be scary, given that our work is primarily a creative exercise tempered with focused study, ensures that Vitruvius was correct millenia ago when he wrote “neither natural ability without instruction nor instruction without natural ability can make the perfect artist”.
Each project that an architect works on is unique. As an architect develops and designs each project it must comply with certain rules. These rules are found within the New York State Building Code, a series of regulations related to construction which are divided into nine different volumes each several hundred pages long. This crucial process can quickly become complicated and arduous for an architect. The ability to sort and condense this voluminous information into a tailored concise report would prove a great help, which is where AI comes into play. AI’s ability to prepare structural calculations, analyze mechanical requirements, and calculate and coordinate space requirements could be a game changer for architects. This could significantly enhance the quality and functionality of our designs, as well as ease the burden code compliance has over architects.
Vitruvius taught us the classical characteristics of a work of architecture: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas. Firmitas deals with the structural integrity of a project. The functionality of a project is classified as utilitas. Lastly, venustas are the beauty within an architectural work. We believe that artificial intelligence is well suited to assist with firmitas and utilitas. However, we have doubts about AI’s function in the creation of “beauty” as described by venustas.
Perhaps the doubts expressed in the above paragraph is actually the crux of the matter. The fact is that artificial intelligence has remarkable and fascinating potential in the design industry. However, human creativity remains crucial in any architectural endeavor. Architecture, like any creative act, is more than the sum of its parts, and the spark of creativity is needed to transform a simple act of building into architecture.
Nevertheless, even in the subjective area of beauty and creativity, AI technology has great potential to analyze and synthesize a variety of potential shapes, textures, colors, etc. Fractal geometry has been employed in architecture for decades and has enriched and enhanced many wonderful designs. Additionally, visualization technology can create realistic images of the project that can be evaluated prior to construction.
Given architects' adaptability to new situations and technologies, there is no reason artificial intelligence should be any different. As Kirkegard wrote “life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards”. This ever changing world can be scary, and the “hype” around new and innovative technology can occasionally be terrifying, however, the key to all of this, is for the architect to remain open and eager to embrace any and all tools that will help us pursue our vocations, and serve our clients better.