My advice to architecture students on getting ready for the future
A few days ago, I had the great fortune of being invited to CEPT in Ahmedabad. My interactions with the extremely talented students there were energizing for me personally. In the time since that visit to Ahmedabad, I’ve been thinking about the discussions I had. I realized that there were some common threads with the interactions that I have had previously with architecture students in other places too.
If we look at the world of architecture pragmatically, an architect's ultimate aim is to turn his or her vision into reality. For this, stalwarts like Frank Lloyd Wright used 2D and pencil drafting for designing their masterpieces. Frank Gehry, on the other hand, used 3D modeling tools. The objective was the same. The path to reach them were different.
The past couple of decades has seen such a proliferation of technology that now we can hardly imagine a world without tech. Whatever we do, technology seems to come up with a better way, or at least an easier and more convenient way, of doing things. Clearly, nothing has made a more defining impact on the everyday lives of the people as technology. The world of architecture is no different and technology has fundamentally changed the way we do things. In my career in architecture that spans over 25 years, I’ve benefited from adopting technology much of the time. Over that span, I’ve gone from 2D AutoCAD to using 3D modeling tools. I can claim that I have been an active witness to the benefits that technology brings to architectural design.
When it comes to the construction industry, we can see the immense progress this industry has made. Once upon a time, this industry wouldn’t be seen as the space that lent itself easily to new-age, disruptive technology. Time has proven otherwise. Today, there are a multitude of options being employed by this industry to speed up project execution as there are a plethora of options in building materials. Construction technology is being employed extensively to not only drive sustainability but also make project management and execution smoother and more streamlined. Extensive research is driving the emergence of new building materials such as self-healing concrete to reflective self-cooling paint. Modular and pre-fabrication (prefab) construction methods are being employed to produce buildings in lesser time and technologies such as BIM (Building Information Modelling) are helping the industry with better planning and design, reduced costs of errors, prefabrication support, and savings on materials.
I have come to believe that most students struggle to resolve two dilemmas - first, does form follow function or function follow form? The other one being, is architecture an artistic science or a scientific art? I believe we need to add one more question to this list – “Does technology aid creativity or kill it?”
With the wave of change coming across in this industry, I feel that the education system needs to keep pace with the pace of technology adoption. We, therefore, need to enable students to explore new design tools which aid visualization. While creating an aesthetic edifice is essential it is equally important to make students aware of all the technology options that can play a role in making the design executable and operational. This holistic approach can perhaps be emphasized more in today’s architectural education, more so at the undergrad level.
My interaction with the students of construction technology and management at CEPT threw light on what they are learning at an academic level. While the course content is quite comprehensive, I feel that continuously tying up academic knowledge to real-world examples will keep such courses fresh and relevant, especially since technology applications keep expanding.
Talking about using technology to understand what happens after the design is done is a good starting point. However, we also need to consider how to employ technology to hasten execution and ensure that the same is done within defined timeframes. We need to evaluate how to use technology to eliminate or at least reduce wastage – of time, effort and of materials, and ensure that projects are completed within the allocated budgets. We need to start evaluating how technology can be used to maintain these aspects during the project lifecycle.
Students also need to know that the operations and maintenance costs of any building are more than double the design and construction costs. They would do well to work on identifying ways to keep this in check. Technologies such as Facilities Management Solutions and BIM are of great utility here. They can help us realize how to efficiently operate a building and understand that such effects can only be unleashed when construction is done keeping those methods in mind right from the drawing board stage. Using technology, we can build without guesswork and with clear and specific data.
Clearly, with the plethora of technology tools available today, we are at an advantage as we can analyze building performance over its lifecycle. And what, I feel, is really pertinent in today’s day of stringent timelines and faster execution is the ability to build virtually before we start building physically.
My advice to architecture students would thus be to look at technology and the various technology options, available and emerging, to assess how to build better, build faster, and build without wastage. They must assess how and where technology can be adopted to bring about change in the entire building ecosystem for greater sustainability.