Phil Bernstein, FAIA, may be architecture’s best-known technologist. During his 16-plus years as the vice president for strategic industry relations at Autodesk, he advocated for its 2002 purchase of Revit, which propelled the AEC industry from geometry-only CAD software to object-oriented, information-rich BIM. Now Bernstein, having left Autodesk to focus on teaching, writing, and research, is tackling the inefficiencies of the construction industry, asking his students at the Yale School of Architecture to challenge conventional models of practice and himself consulting with AEC firms on strategic issues such as firm organization, technology use, competitive positioning, and process improvement. “I’d like to establish some new ‘first principles’ underlying concepts like integrated design and outcome-based delivery systems,” he says, “and help define our path in a world where big data, simulation, analysis, and algorithms must be a part of competent practice.”

Phil Bernstein
Sergej Stoppel/LinesLab Phil Bernstein

In the future, firms will need to confront a series of technological issues. Bernstein, who half-jokes that architects essentially used to dare contractors to build a physical structure from their 2D drawings, wants to see design and construction processes get cozier. Information in the form of big data, analytics, and performance simulation will affect the outcomes of designers’ work more or less in real time, he believes. And firms will need to develop strategic partnerships with key players—including, but certainly not limited to, contractors and computer scientists—in order to improve the building process, particularly as construction itself becomes more industrialized. Architects are positioned to be part of the ongoing reconciliation of information associated with the current era of big data and automation.

Though Bernstein acknowledges that “change happens slowly and discontinuously in construction, building, and architecture,” he points to some progress: Practitioners today have gone from hand drafting drawings to writing code for parametric design and artificial intelligence. Robots can now perform surgeries, he says, so it is hardly a stretch to imagine that code compliance—the most cogent argument for the licensure of architects—will inevitably be automated. “When computers can learn to do stuff, knowledge workers get eliminated,” Bernstein says. And that means that the role of a typical architect has to be redefined. “We need to design our future,” he warns, “and learn how to control the system before the system controls us."

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