Technology in Architecture

The integration of technology and design is the next evolution of architecture, but what makes this new endeavor exciting is the impact it will have beyond architects, engineers, and interior designers.

First, a little history

What comes to mind when you picture an architect at work? If you’re like most people, you probably think of someone hand drawing at a drafting desk, surrounded by pencils and pens, an old desk light, and large rolls of drawings, with an assortment of other drafting tools laying all around them. While hand drawing is still a critical part of the design process, take a quick tour around the Design Collaborative (DC) office and you’ll notice more computers than rolls of paper, and you might be a little hard-pressed to find a drafting desk. Like almost every other industry in the world, technology is changing the way we design and work every day.
Until around 20 years ago, the way buildings were documented hadn’t changed all that much—for nearly two centuries. Two hundred years ago, lines representing a building were drawn by hand on a piece of paper. Twenty years ago, those same lines were drawn on a computer using Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) software, but they were still only a two-dimensional representation of a building or building element. Two hundred years, and the biggest change was lines moving from paper to the computer.

Welcome to the revolution

The past 20 years have seen a boom in design software, and one of the most popular is Building Information Modeling (BIM). With BIM, we no longer draw lines that represent a wall; we draw an actual three-dimensional wall that “knows” all the properties and characteristics of that wall, including building materials, fire ratings, and heights—to name a few. We’ve shifted from lines without meaning to intelligent building elements with intricate properties. Today, we create digital models full of data—smart models like the one below that capture an incredible amount of information beyond a component’s physical boundaries.


BIM allows us to see our designs in real time, in three-dimensions, and apply properties to building elements that help us document a building for construction. We can identify areas where structural and mechanical equipment clash before the building is built, and even provide an owner or facilities manager a 3D model like the one below that shows all the structure, mechanical equipment, piping, and walls for their daily use. 

We use other software life Sefaira with our BIM, performing energy modeling to inform our clients how much energy their buildings will use (see below image). During design, we can model multiple options of a building element like the facade to see which option is most energy efficient, while also meeting a client’s daylight, performance, cost, and aesthetic needs.

More recently, computational design plug-ins like Grasshopper and Dynamo are providing another tool for architects and engineers through the use of visual programming. By creating a system of rules and relationships, we can develop small pieces of code that help drive three-dimensional things like building form based on a set of dynamic parameters. We can also pull specific data from our BIM models for evaluation. For example, the image below illustrates in blue what views you would have to exterior windows based on your location.  This allows us to run multiple iterations of design ideas and support our design decisions with real data to help the client make an informed final decision.

New fabrication and rapid prototyping technology like 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC machines, allow us to physically model entire buildings or detail small elements to find innovative and cost effective solutions for our clients. In the example below, we modeled multiple iterations of a small table, 3D-printed scale models to refine those concepts, and laser cut a full-size version of the table, all in a short amount of time.


What does all this mean?

The integration of technology and design is the next evolution of architecture, but what's so exciting is the impact it will have beyond architects, engineers, and interior designers. The changing face of design means solutions that are more personal, processes that are more collaborative, and decisions that are more informed. In the coming weeks, we look forward to sharing more information with you about DC’s pursuit of the future of architecture and design and what these changes will mean for you.


Adam James
Graduate Architect