The fourth industrial revolution will change interior design and architecture in the following ways:
- Ergonomic (“biological”) data will be automated.
- If designers stagnate with traditional drawing methods, they will be less employable.
- Artificial intelligence will mimic human thinking, including creative thinking.
- Architects will harness out their inherent intellectual ability for spatial mapping and translate it into a more modern and abstract career in coding.
- It will be vitally important to analyze the potential impacts new tools may have on the discipline.
How Will Technology Change Architecture & Interior Design?
Over the past five years literature based on the writings of Ha and Choi (2015) and Schwab (2016) has attempted to describe the drastic and accelerated development of technologies and their impact on society. This trend in literature has been coined as The Fourth Industrial Revolution; and similar to forerunning influential and adjudicate revolutions, it is important that its potential repercussions are adequately investigated and prepared for by those who may fall victim to its effects. The first industrial revolution was associated with the discovery of the steam engine, the second with combustion, the third with the computer, and the fourth with the development of intelligent machines and communication technologies that unlock both globalization and methods of automation in the workplace (Johannessen, 2018).
The fourth industrial revolution is defined by the exceptionally accelerated development of complex new technologies such as artificial intelligence and 5G communications. According to Schluma (2017), the combination of these new technologies with biological input and user experience will particularly distinguish the fourth industrial revolution from the preceding revolutions. This raises some interesting concerns for disciplines between the realms of art and technology, including “practical” design disciplines such as interior design and architecture which assess ergonomic (“biological”) data. Today, interior designers and architects are beginning to take advantage of intelligent machines for methods of computation and visualization, examples of which will be explored in later sections of this document.
The exponential advancement of technologies such as algorithmic modeling techniques and automation has restructured the everyday designer’s workflow. Developers responsible for creating these technologies are improving the way intelligent machines work alongside designers, and as intelligent machines improve, the gap between machine and human ability shrinks (Newport, 2016). Previously, employers may have been interested in finding the best human resource in order to ensure work is delivered at the best quality and time, however, today employers are becoming increasingly likely to hire ‘new machines’ instead of ‘new people’ (Newport, 2016) and this is what puts the typical interior designer or architect at risk. Through the creation of assisting technological tools, developers have facilitated a new relationship between people and technology that can exploit the computational capacity of machines and allow the designer to work alongside the results (Alexander, 2016). The designer thus becomes dependent on how well they are able to cooperate with the decisions and recommendations provided by intelligent machines. If designers stagnate with traditional methods of drawing and presenting, they will be less employable by not taking advantage of the increased efficiency and quality of work that these new technologies unlock for several other designers in the market. Furthermore, improvements in communications and collaboration technology are making remote work easier than ever before, motivating firms to outsource vital positions to global stars – resulting in the local talent pool being at risk of unemployment (Newport, 2016).
According to Carl Newport in his book Deep Work, three groups of people will have a particular advantage in the fourth industrial revolution: those who can work well and creatively with intelligent machines, those who are the best at what they do, or those with access to capital to invest in new technology. If the designer does not have access to free capital with which they are able to invest in the development of new technologies, they are forced to focus their attention on being exceptionally competent in using the new technology as well as being the very best at using it. Designers with the particular ability to work with and tease the most valuable results out of increasingly complex machines will thrive above those who maintain traditional methods of design. The will of the designer to explore unfamiliar methods of design using intelligent technology will need to accompany the ability to quickly master hard things and the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed, if they are to thrive in the future market (Newport, 2016).
It has been argued that computers are not good at open-ended creative solutions and this skill is still reserved for humans (Mendelson, 2018). Similar suggestions have been made by renowned computer scientist Donald Knuth, who stated that science is what we can explain to a computer and that art is everything else we do as humans. This argument suggests that artificial intelligence, intelligent machines and new technologies will not be able to be developed at the capacity to which it can imitate the decisions made by the human creative mind. The attraction of intelligent machines in the architectural discipline comes from the benefits of automation. Automation refers to the hardware or software that is able to operate without human intervention, whereby the designer can delegate repetitive tasks to a machine and use the free time to work on making complex design decisions that computers cannot make (Hankiewicz, 2018). Literature makes it evident that automation does not threaten the architectural discipline – but academics are rather concerned about the potential of artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence succeeds automation technology, it refers to software or hardware designed to mimic human thinking, including creative thinking, and eventually supersede human behavior and intelligence.
Many arguments have been made in support of the creative field being among the disciplines that will be least affected by the fourth industrial revolution, however, few arguments of this nature have been made from the direct perspective of a developer or from someone who understands both potential of artificial intelligence as well as the epistemological requirements to produce good architecture. Hernandez, an architect and a developer, has a fatalistic perspective on the future of the architectural discipline. He suggested that architects harness out their inherent intellectual ability for spatial mapping and translate it into a more modern and abstract career in coding. A similar recommendation is made by Schluma, who reminds his readers that at the center of the creation and growth of any technological solution there is always the aspirations, curiosity, creativity, competence and passion of the people within the industry who have imagined, prototyped and tested technology.
It is quite difficult to discern whether the arguments against the creative field being threatened by technology are blissfully ignorant or if the fatalistic arguments are invalidly dismissive of the discipline’s future. What is certain is that new technologies have and are being developed. Architects know how to critically assess situations and if they are able to do this from a global perspective this would be more valuable than transposing careers from design to apparently exciting careers such as programming (Valencia, 2018). Whether the designer chooses to embrace new technology or not, it will be vitally important to analyze the potential impacts new tools may have on the discipline. The rest of the paper will briefly discuss two of these technologies.
Grasshopper vs Finch 3D as Tools for Automation
The first example will discuss a technology called Grasshopper that first appeared in 2007. Grasshopper is a visual programming language that makes use of node mapping to create interesting forms in 3D that wouldn’t have been possible using traditional methods of modeling (Ravenscroft, 2019). By defining algorithmic instructions, the designer is able to minimize tedious and repetitive tasks and freeing up time for design work (see figure 1). Therefore, Grasshopper will be considered as a form of automation. If the designer embraced learning the programming language, they would be able to work quickly and have unprecedented control over the inputs in the geometry of their designs (see figure 2).
Figure 1: Minimising Repetitive Tasks. (Beneitez, 2019)
Figure 2: Control Over Geometry (Sayaray, 2019)
However attractive the results, designers were dissuaded by the daunting task of learning the programming language – but this has been resolved by a Swedish architectural firm. Wallgren Arkiteker has collaborated their knowledge of architecture and programming in the development of Finch 3D (Ravenscroft, 2019). Finch 3D will allow architects and interior designers to create interesting forms using a parametric design but without any prior knowledge of coding (see figure 3).
Figure 3: Finch3D Parametric Layout (Finch 3D, 2019)
This example illustrates a situation not uncommon to architectural technologists today. Architects who could not afford to adopt the technology and programming language in 2007 will almost invariably assume the simplified plugin in 2020. This provides a great shortcut, but the architect who does not educate themselves in the programming language will always be at the financial mercy of the developer of the plugin. Whereas if they had adopted the language in 2007, they would be able to customize and stray from the constraints of what the plugin allows. Designers who work well with intelligent machines and systems will not need to wait for new releases, bug fixes or new features. This is how automation will potentially be used as a weapon against designers who do not value mastering intelligent machines or being the very best at teasing value out of them, and it will come at a great financial and capacitive cost. This effect supports Newport’s (2016) claim that if the designer does not have the capacity to work well with intelligent machines or be the very best at it, the designer will need access to additional capital to invest in it.
A project that may have benefitted from an algorithmically calculated form is the Bosjes Chapel by Steyn Studio (ArchDaily, 2017). It boasts a crisp white dynamic roof structure that allows the structure to float in the surrounding Cape Town vineyard (see figure 5). Without automation technology, it would be taxing to design and specify the construction of this organic form. Without the computational power of automation technology, complex designs like the Bosjes Chapel become a strenuous task for the everyday designer.
Figure 5: Steyn Studio. Bosjes Chapel (ArchDaily, 2017)
The following can be concluded from the research completed in this document.
Automation does not threaten the interior designer, but rather saves them time and allows them to harness the computational power of machines to create complex forms that could not be designed before. Automation also refines the designer’s workflow by allowing them to assign repetitive or meaningless tasks to the computer. Designers should educate themselves in the language most applicable to algorithmic forms of automation and master them, or the designer will need access to capital to invest in others who will. South Africans are in the process of adopting automated processes within their design processes, and it would be recommended for all who wish to harness the computational power of intelligent machines and to work well and creatively alongside the results.
Intelligent machines and artificial intelligence threatens the designer’s responsibility of technical drawing, ergonomic assessments and making quantitative decisions. The debate as to whether the power of AI would supersede the human’s abilities to make creative decisions is a current debate in literature – it will be recommended that architects and interior designers harness their ability to critically assess the situation and take sensible precautionary measures as the precise effects of intelligent machines become more evident in the next few years.
List of References
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