How Will Technology Impact the Future of Architecture Jobs?

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Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
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As technology continues to evolve, the impact it will have upon jobs and roles within the architecture profession in Australia will continue to be considerable.

Already, technology’s effect upon the life of the modern day architect cannot be understated.

CAD and BIM files have largely replaced traditional 2D drawings, while mobile and cloud computing allow work to be done and files to be accessed wherever and wherever necessary. Advances in materials such as engineered timber expand options for building design and panelised construction is becoming ever more popular as materials are increasingly being cut to size within the controlled environment of a factory floor.

More is yet to come as technology continues to alter the way designs are conceptualised and communicated, along with how buildings and structures are actually built.

Already used within mining to gather detailed information on the geographic outlay of proposed sites, unmanned aerial vehicles or drones could enhance the collation of detailed visual surface data from elevated vantage points. Big data and analytics could help map out the layout of the site and increase construction efficiency by maximising the efficiency of people movement and material flow. Augmented reality could allow clients to go on site and ‘see’ the proposed building as it will stand. Robots are moving from controlled factory environments to practical applications on site such as bricklaying.

According to Bond University associate professor Chris Knapp, who is currently undertaking research into digital fabrication and computing, this will impact current work performed by architects in a number of ways.

Speeding up more mundane tasks such as documentation will allow architects to spend more time on critical areas like design concept, he says, while the greater levels of accuracy and precision achieved through prefabrication, and down the track, mobile robot construction workers will help free up potential for more complex design requiring greater precision by remove some of the ‘buildability’ constraints associated with these kinds of designs.

Beyond that, he says, new specialisations will emerge in areas which sit between architecture and fabrication or construction, such as the writing of program or code that enables machines or robots to perform fabrication or other building tasks.

“There is a small handful globally of niche practices of people who have come from an architectural background but have identified the gap between architects who want to do amazing things with their design intent and what the construction industry can actually deliver,” Knapp said.

“I think that’s an exciting area where people who can come in and facilitate that through technology, parametric design software, and a detailed understanding of customised and complex fabrication can realise a huge growth opportunity. I think we will see that kind of practice become much more prevalent over the next few years.”

Others agree that technology is impacting (and will continue to impact) architecture work. Adam Shapley, senior regional director of Hays Architecture (recruitment), talks of a dearth of candidates with real BIM and 3D modelling skills, which provides enormous opportunity for those prepared to learn these skills to ‘set themselves apart’ in the market. He says those who are not able or willing to move to these types of platforms will have ‘less job opportunities in the future.’

Steve Shepard, an employment market analyst at Randstad, says that just as we know that technology will continue to advance across the architectural sector ‘we can be certain it will impact those that work in it.’

In terms of skills needed going forward, Knapp says core abilities including how to think like a designer and draw with a pencil remain essential, but adds that architects will need to be proficient with the various modelling types of packages including BIM as well as parametric design software such as Dynamo for Revit and Grasshopper for Rhino. While such skills now compromise a more niche type of specialisation, becoming more effective with scripting and programming would give more generalist architects more control over the technology element of their designs. It would also remove a previous limitation regarding what architects were able to do from a design perspective due to others having control over software scripting, he says.

Shepard, meanwhile, believes the architect of the future will not only need to be savvy with technology but will need to go beyond learning new software as it is released and will need to continually explore how technology will be used across the field. Forward-looking architects will also need to develop specialisations in some areas as technology replaces other areas of the work.

He says the invention of the cloud means Australian architects are not competing locally, but rather globally.

“We are seeking this across all industries and architecture will be no exception,” Shepard said. “The cloud allows people anywhere in the world for work and so that means if you are not (a) specialist, either someone in a lower wage market can do your work or it can be replaced by technology all together.

“The talent competition is no longer just in Australia. Architects will be competing for work with architects all over the world and companies are rapidly evolving beyond the current outdated thinking that still prefers people sitting in the same office, in the same city, doing the same work.

“Technology is enabling this to an extent when work can be done 24/7 from any location and communication and collaboration is made easy.”

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