The beginning of a new year is often accompanied by invigorated optimism for what lies ahead. We asked 12 design and tech juggernauts to step back from their own work and pinpoint which developments in architecture they anticipate the most in 2016. From digital products to physical materials, their responses reflect the multifaceted progress being made in the profession.
Randy Deutsch, AIA
Associate professor, School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
We will see the maturing and scaling of digital design-to-fabrication tools for the profession. Until now, architects had to output digital designs for laser cutting, 3D printing, or CNC production by cobbling together Kluge-like 2D-to-3D workflows that require multiple software tools, screenshot sharing, and a lot of hoping for the best. The line between design and construction means and methods—which existed for liability, legal, and insurance reasons—will start to blur, and the industry will be closer to a unified workflow, placing one more nail in the coffin of 2D CAD. Based on a software preview at Autodesk University, Autodesk Revit 2017 (which will debut in 2016) should have features that bring design-to-fabrication into the mainstream.
Scott Marble, AIA
Founding partner, Marble Fairbanks; chair, Georgia Institute of Technology School of Architecture
Custom design tools will become more prevalent due to an incoming generation of architects well versed in scripting and because more vendors are releasing Web-based software customized to their product lines and manufacturing workflows; see Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope’s BIM IQ and Zahner’s ShopFloor. This represents the next phase of file-to-fabrication workflows at an industrial scale made possible by CNC technologies.
Robots that will Help Us, Not Hurt Us
Co-founder, Morpholio Apps; adjunct assistant professor, Columbia University GSAPP; director, GSAPP Cloud Lab
2016 will be the year of the digital assistant—and I don’t mean that talking paper clip. Today's technology is more about getting our software to see, hear, and think about us more than ever before. Machine-learning algorithms, advances in data science, and broader accessibility of open-source artificial intelligence (AI), such as Google's TensorFlow project, will collide. The result: Everything from email to CAD will be busily thinking, and perhaps drafting, along with us. The suggestions, corrections, and serendipitous connections of AI will be leaping from the likes of the data-behemoths Amazon and Google into almost every service. The outcome will be sometimes compelling and sometimes comical, but the sense of working in partnership with software will be truly positive and ubiquitous. Don't expect to fall in love with a machine this year—the Scarlett Johansson operating system from Her is still struggling in the research lab. Consciousness, as it turns out, is very hard to code.
Joyce Hwang, AIA
Director, Ants of the Prairie; associate professor and director of professional studies, Department of Architecture, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, I was transfixed by “Rock Print,” a proof-of-concept structural form built with robotic technologies and low-grade aggregates by Gramazio Kohler Research at ETH Zurich, and the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT. My interest was similarly piqued by the STIK (Smart Tool Integrated Konstruction) Pavilion, developed in an advanced design studio led by Yusuke Obuchi at the University of Tokyo, which uses wooden chopsticks as an aggregate material that could be formed through a large-scale, next-generation 3D printer. These projects begin to explore how high-tech digital fabrication can be deployed in indeterminate conditions. How might the jamming of aggregates help in post-earthquake scenarios? Can the STIK Pavilion process point toward building with surpluses from mass-production or waste material? I expect these provocative tests to manifest beyond prototype and instigate similar ambitions in collaborations between academia and industry.
Robert Yori, Assoc. AIA
Senior digital design manager, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; 2016 chair, AIA Technology in Architectural Practice Knowledge Community
For years, I’ve been following the work of the Institute for Computational Design (ICD) at the University of Stuttgart, led by ICD director and professor Achim Menges. ICD has been exploring thoughtful uses of computation and robotics in design and fabrication, resulting in a series of pavilions that show what technology is capable of when used as a tool set for skilled craftsmen, rather than their replacement (see examples here and here.) Too often robotics are thought of as automators of repetitive tasks, facilitating high-quality, consistently produced items. Menges’ studio approaches design and fabrication from a singular, craftsman-oriented perspective. Computation and robotics are as integral to the realization of the work as the designers driving them. I can’t wait to see more.
Stephen Van Dyck, AIA
Partner, LMN Architects
This year, composites will go big in architecture, thanks to a few major breakthroughs. First, we have the tools to engage them. As the worlds of architecture and manufacturing continue on their collision course, more offices are in possession of advanced modeling platforms as well as staff with experience in the fabrication means and methods of composites. Second, we’ll have codes and guidelines that govern the application of composites in architecture. In 2016, the American Composites Manufacturers Association will release a comprehensive document that will be intelligible and user friendly. Finally, we will overcome the fear factor with the opening of the first large-scale composite architectural façade system on Snøhetta‘s design of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art expansion, which was fabricated by Bill Kreysler, president of Kreysler & Associates. This project will demonstrate that composites are not only feasible in architecture but the residual savings and benefits are within reach for a wide range of projects.
Blaine Brownell, AIA
Associate professor and director of graduate studies, School of Architecture, University of Minnesota; Mind and Matter columnist, ARCHITECT
To design high-performance building envelopes, building scientists are paying closer attention to thermal bridging. After windows, structural connections and load-bearing materials are the most problematic areas in a façade. As such, I have taken an interest in Foamglas, by Pittsburgh Corning Corp. Foamglas is a dense, closed-cell foam material made of sand and recycled glass that exhibits good insulating properties and compressive strength. With a thermal conductivity of R-2.5 per inch of thickness and a compressive strength of 400 psi, Foamglas Perinsul HL (High Load) can support masonry walls at the foundation, creating a well-insulated connection at an otherwise thermal weak spot. This combination of material properties invites one to envision an envelope created entirely from Foamglas instead of, say, both masonry and insulation, reducing material intensity. In short: Could Foamglas become the next brick?
Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello
Cofounders, Rael San Fratello
We expect structures will go soft and biology will blend with buildings. See the work of Simon Schleicher, assistant architecture professor at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), who is examining flexible plant movements to create bio-inspired flexible structures that can, for example, shade double-curved façades. Increasingly we will find bio-inspired technology employed in building construction, such as in the use of microorganisms to improve air and water quality. Several UC Berkeley researchers, including architecture associate professor M. Paz Gutierrez, are testing a water-recycling system that combines ultraviolet disinfection of graywater with thermal storage for energy management and light transmission control.
Smarter Tools that Lead to
Benjamin Ball, Assoc. AIA
Lead artist and principal-in-charge, Ball-Nogues Studio
I’m looking for LIDAR scanning technology to move beyond surveying and into design so we can make models of the world without having to model the world, and have models of almost any object as raw material for making architectural form and space. Look for notions of “sampling,” “assemblage,” and “kitbashing” to become part of our lexicon. 3D scanning will enable us to make very precise surveys of existing building conditions, with which we will be able to make building components to fit those conditions accurately, and redefine the notion of “tight fit.” Check out the work of ScanLab Projects, in London, or my firm's Yevrus 1 project.
Billie Faircloth, AIA, and Matthew Krissel, AIA
We expect more augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) tools that embrace a “one-button solution”—though users may prove that more engagement, and not less, is needed. We’ll begin to see more examples of fluid integration of AR and VR in design workflows; for example, VR’s use beyond visualization to become a platform for both modeling and simulation. While we’ve previously had access to VR through gaming engines, it’s through the examination of our own design workflow that we may find novel applications. We should be driving these tools to non-normative outcomes; they can support deep querying in ways we’ve only begun to imagine, from ideation and information sharing, to client engagement and even building management. In 2016 proof-of-concept applications for these tools will be more pervasive, both academically and professionally.
Data-driven decision making will increasingly guide the design workflow and tracking of building performance. Information captured in BIM will include real-time environmental analysis and material data, such as local availability and maintenance profiles, for architects to consider when designing. Flux Metro, by Google startup Flux, exemplifies a design tool at the city scale; it aggregates and formats available data sets, such as zoning and code information, to relay a specific site’s building and development constraints visually. VR tools will also make headway into the AEC industry to allow more experientially immersive and data-rich representations of projects. A recent example is VIMtrek, which rapidly translates standard BIM models into a high-resolution, file-efficient virtual environment.
Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello
Big data will influence local design. Architecture will robustly engage new developments in digital mapping. Using GIS, massive amounts of data that define the makeup of cities can be searched and organized within minutes. Nicholas de Monchaux, associate professor of architecture and urban design at UC Berkeley, is developing design software that examines how place-based data can better connect us to larger systems on a massive scale.
Eric Owen Moss, FAIA
Principal and lead designer, Eric Owen Moss Architects; director and professor, Southern California Institute of Architecture
I’m arguing for the use of technical tools in a pragmatic way that’s driven by the needs, concerns, or problems that exist outside of the tools. One of the problems with architecture now is the confusion between the means and the ends—that somehow content is related to the software or technical tools. The results are buildings that look, to a large extent, like a product of tools that are being used. An interesting exercise would be to use the tools in a sophisticated way that’s not necessarily how their seller imagined, but in ways that you, your clients, friends, and culture think are important directions for architecture to move. We need to remember that we don’t belong to the tools—the tools belong to us. My firm is currently using virtual modeling to understand the construction sequencing of a building that has no beams or columns. The tool is helping us demystify not the end result, which we can draw and engineer, but whether it will stand up in the process of construction.
Gordon Gill and Alejandro Stochetti, AIA
Partner and design director, respectively, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture
We are designing in a somewhat revolutionary era of data and analytics, where very few things are taken for granted and almost everything is challenged. This leads to great opportunity to effect change. The increasing ability to customize and tweak things, including software, technologies, materials, and even master plans, will allow us to achieve the highest performance for every object, building, and city. In The Future of Building: Perspectives (Detail, 2012), Zaha Hadid Architects’ senior associate Nils Fischer figuratively refers to this concept as “intelligent clay,” an “interface that allows the designers to work as intuitively as possible while important decisions-making parameters are communicated in real time.” Our goal is to see these iterations adjust toward optimal performance and ultimately define form. We also expect future-looking manufacturers to modernize and focus on innovation rather than production. In our own quest to install photovoltaic cells in double-curved glass, which hasn’t been done before, we found many companies in Europe willing to adjust their process and help us. New and sometimes small modifications to materials and technology required for performance optimization can alter entire industries.