Will computer programs replace architects?

Posted by Anna Winston

26 June 2012

From News Junkie

Last week, Haaretz, Israel’s leading news outlet, published an article with the headline ‘The havoc that computer-aided design has wreaked on architecture’.

“Quite simply, a great many architects don’t know how to draw - no small matter, as it has important consequences for how they experience their works in progress,” said the writer Gerard Heumann. 

“Architecture, needless to say, is far from being an exact science. The computer’s overprecise results are often misleading and inappropriate… And while the digital revolution has opened up vast new possibilities, precious few architects possess the necessary skills for the handling of complex formal languages.”

Heumann points to Frank Gehry’s ‘hodgepodge’ proposal for the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem as one example of CAD run amok (Gehry stepped down from the controversial project in 2010).

He also blames CAD for the rise of homogeneity in architecture.And he says CAD is to blame for the blurring of boundaries between the jobs of “under-trained and largely under-educated practical engineers who have received their diplomas after just two or three years of mainly technical studies” and real architects.

Domain-B.com highlighted one project where computers and engineers had a significant impact on a project that has now become an icon of modern design – Utzon’s Sydney Opera House. The structure was one of the first in the world where the viability of the design was tested by a computer programme.

“It’s not only that technology has had an impact on design,” said Yanni Loukissas, author of Co-Designers: Cultures of Computer Simulation in Architecture which features the Opera House. ”Certain new technologies have become part of an ongoing negotiation about what constitutes the work of architects versus that of engineers.”  

“People have this conception of the work of architects as something that’s been unchanged over millennia,” he says. ”On the contrary, I think what it means to be an architect has very much changed, and it’s still evolving.”

Meanwhile the New York Times looked at the world of DIY and asked if skipping the architect was wise, identifying a trend for software programmes that claim to enable DIY-ers to do just that.

One of these is Designed Exterior Studio by Ply Gem which allows users to alter colours, windows and event the roof on a virtual model of their home as well as making minor structural alterations. 

“We’re taking architectural skill, color choices and design, and putting it in the hands of someone who would not otherwise be able to afford an architect,” John Stephenson, senior vice president for marketing at Ply Gem told the NYT.

Jeroen Bekkers, a Dutch architect who has created another tool that allows user to make detailed plans of their homes, told the NYT that the necessity of his profession is overstated. “Everyone has ideas about their space. I think people are very capable,” he said. 

Thankfully the article also pointed out that these programmes have limitations which include the user – it highlighted one example where a programme had failed to identify that the render it produced involved the removal of a wall that helped defend the structure against the impact of earthquakes and kept the roof on. 

In the New York Times’ 30-minute interview last week, Robert Stern said: “I think that the obsession with the new-new thing is O.K. for computer apps. Architecture is about place and time in the long sense of the word.” 

And last night, Steven Holl, in his talk at the Royal Academy, said that his students couldn’t understand scale anymore due to only working on computers. He forces them to work on physical models to try and counteract the problem. 

So where do you stand? Is CAD the architect’s friend, foe or something far more complicated?

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