However I would consider visualisation technology something akin to language, it simply communicates the thought, it does not form it. I understand the arguement that 'the means by which we choose to communicate defines the parameters of what we choose to communicate' but could you elaborate on exactly how you see this link and what you believe may lie ahead.
Could the recent trend towards information technology improve the standards of communication, within architectural practices, provided architects could come down from their egocentric heights and establish cluster based work groups in practice. That is a very intelligent focus for this discussion indeed, since the idea of using information technology and the organisation of people and how we relate to each other, are issues which have become very much inter-twined indeed. I think the answer is yes, information technology can improve communication in work groups in architectural practice, but some qualifications are needed also.
The architects ability to draw, means that he/she is completely portable â€“ his/her very own Compact Flash storage medium, application software, display hardware, A1 printer, scanner, digitizer and all in one very handy, neat 5 foot nothing and a half package of designing ability. A bit like the sharks roaming the ocean floors, the architect is natureâ€™s own design â€“ pound for pound they are all predatory natural aggressive instinct, raw muscle, sharp teeth and streamlined fins. They are on top of the information food chain for a long, long time now.
He/she simply doesn't need a computer since he/she is simply way too far ahead of them. The wonderful thing is, they get up every morning, boot into work mode, never pay upgrade license fees, never have to be re-booted, never crash when you change channels, never run out of battery power, get viruses, or become obsolete. Only the 10 million dollar IBM mainframe computers can rival them in longevity. However, the bottom feeders nowadays are all IT based, and if architects actually want to communicate with them, it does take alot more than verbal language nowadays.
Architects hate getting too committed to digital - as you need some information point to access and collaborate. This is difficult given the physical and time constraints imposed by an often very tumultuous, dynamic lifestyle of the architect. Design is concerned as one famous architect put it â€œwith smelling the landscape, and touching the earth lightly". Not with spending hours interfacing with nerdy IT, geeky kinds of gizmos.
Nevertheless, in the past 10 years, a lot of Architects forced the younger generations to 'go computers' at work. Young architects are spending a greater proportion of their time in the exchange, synthesis and gathering of knowledge through the means of IT. While still trying to exercise the necessary natural instincts they are trained to use. I often compare architects having to use information technology to putting wild crocodiles into captivity.
Just like the natural environment of crocodiles, the natural environment of architects is fast disappearing. That environment, to which the architect was suitably adapted, has been swallowed up by vast rows of â€˜robot-typeâ€™ people, who sit all day long staring at display screens. In the old days, architects used to look at their teams of workers drawing lines on a drawing board, or building a model from wood/cardboard in front of their eyes. Now all they actually see is the backs of peoplesâ€™ heads staring at screens all day long. The idea of using computers to communicate doesnâ€™t look promising so far, but maybe that is just another challenge.
Every time the architect turns their back, computers have gotten faster, cheaper, cleverer. They are becoming increasingly available to a wider audience and people are using them to do new and sometimes strange tasks. Computers and the web will continue to consume more and more information about us, and our lives. Every day another small piece of our privacy evaporates, never to be regained again. In three hundred years or so, not much of the privacy we now enjoy and take for granted will be left.
Charlie McCreevy has bought JD Edwards data mining software, which sends AI bots scanning their way into the vastness of taxation records, peering around for all kinds of glitches and sending back reports. No place will be left unchartered by the march of information technology! Even the small cheap systems which architects hope will furnish them with an easy to manage, formula for doing everyday tasks are becoming more 'connected' and more powerful everyday. They do leave a trail behind them a mile wide, stretching across continents. But never have architects been so close to their employees and design teams, but yet so far removed from them.
Some people say the pencil is an extension of the architects hand and brain. The next Playstation will become more powerful than most desktop systems are today - kids will grow up wearing the web like some prosthetic third limb, which they have trained their conscious brains not to reject. While their physical state devolves back to that of a mollusc. With this proliferation of technology, it is not difficult to imagine nature or evolution making that critical leap to where machines actually gain intelligence and the desire to reproduce - humans eventually being suspicious their toasters might be conspiring against them!
The computer technology and software industry is very dynamic by nature. How do architects keep their position as top of the food chain in this information saturated environment? At the moment they are merely hanging onto a desperate struggle against complete extinction. It is like being the only vegetarian at a barbecue.
One solution, and the one most adopted in practice, is merely to allow hundreds of years of natural evolutionary â€˜shark- like aggressionâ€™ to be unleashed in the direction of information technology. This is my point about architects being too perfectly evolved, like the Great Irish Elk was during the Ice Age. It is hard for them to adjust to quickly, because their horns have simply grown too long. Will architects become the great Irish Elks of the Information Age. Will the archaeologists and scientists, years from now discover their remains while sifting through the digital archives?
The trick to survival is actually to remain a generalist, since they tend to survive. It is to ignore hardware and IT completely, which are only decoys. Brighly coloured lures, which distract the sharks focus away from the main prey, by appealing to that same natural aggressive, predatory instinct. Architects love to be the centre of attention; they crave for peoplesâ€™ approval and admiration. Like the cute cuddily family pet dog who suddenly reverted back to being a vicious wolf, when the new born baby arrived in the household. The arrival of shiny new Intel powered information points, did spark off more than a little bit of deep-seated insecurity within the profession.
The profession must invest the time becoming familiar with the new vocabulary of knowledge management. In order for the architecture species to remain competitive and to survive, it must learn to deal with this.
The most fascinating thing of all about technology is how data can became manageable, valuble and shared amongst many co-workers. No one will even remember the IT infrastructure used to capture knowledge in 5 years time, but the data remains as valuable. So the notion of capturing the knowledge wealth of a company becomes important to us today. Instead of knowledge being stored in the human brain as the architect is used to. It can be captured and shared within and outside an organisation. It can become an actual form of business capital, and can be bought or sold.
If a partner walks out, dies or retires, everything isn't suddenly lost with that person's untimely departure.All organisations today, and not just architects are finding the leaking of valuable knowledge capital too heavy a loss to bear nowadays with employees not committing for very long. The science of knowledge management is all to do with addressing this issue. Trying to integrate architecture and computers into a team based collaboration solution.
In other words, people cannot retain the amount of information held in the databanks nowadays, and to try to do so is merely futile. Years and years of evolution in learning how to communicate merely through face-to-face personal discourse will have to be unlearned. Those horns have just become too large to carry nowadays, there isnâ€™t enough plentiful meadow grasslands to feed on. Being replaced by the forest of Information Technology. Indeed, the trauma of this change in environmental conditions, has induced amongst the species has not helped either.
What is it that makes the work load of the architect so elusive to computerisation? I managed in true IT fashion to download an MP3 of Bernard Tschumi speaking in a lecture at Columbia University in New York. It set me thinking in a certain direction as regards information technology and architectural design. In order to investigate the nature of that problem, I was forced to explore architectural design as a four-dimensional problem solving activity. This critical but elusive fourth dimension of architecture is seldom even mentioned in any of the schools today.
I believe this extra fourth dimension is the answer to how eventually architects might integrate in some useful fashion with computer technology in future. But for the time being we have just got to work around the limitations of the current technology. Four dimensional file formats are just the stuff of Steven Spielberg movies.
I spent endless hours looking at what information is now being captured in the 2D/3D CAD file format. I noticed that real people are actually quite small physically in relation to the scale of a building or institution - say on a 1:200 scale drawing. But this is actually rather deceptive, and a vastly oversimplified way of looking at peoples relationship with their physical environment. When people move, even on foot they tend to cover miles - you can track it on a map at 1:2000 scale. When rail lines are introduced, the spatial relationship changes again, and so forth.
I point you here to a reference, Noel Bradyâ€™s Building Material magazine essay called â€˜Strategic Citiesâ€™. http://www.irish-architecture.com/aai/journal/five/strategic_cities.html
It is not such a tragedy that current 2D/3D CAD technology, doesnâ€™t capture a fraction of the whole picture of what architects do. As long as one accepts that rather than try to deny this very real limitation of current technology. I would point you here to another reference, a book written by two Finish professors, Helmer Stenros and Seppo Aura called Time, Motion and Architecture. Where they proceed to destroy the notion that architecture can be effectively communicated in any form of drawing, model or visualisation.
Le Corbusier, Richard Meier, Steven Holl, Bernard Tschumi, James Stirling, Tom Mayne, Tadao Ando and others have explored the idea of the 'movement' of people in their projects. So the job of an architect is always to define a relationship between a human being and the physical conditions of their environment. The one they work, play, socialise, travel, protest, marry, pray and finally die in. Everything from the hospitals where we are born, to the cemeteries where we are buried, and everything in between. Time is the fourth dimension of architecture.
The problem is the vocabulary changes from one end of the design process â€˜journeyâ€™ to the other. The dynamism of individuals circulating inside a building can be articulated by means of natural light, materials, colour etc. Time at this scale is measured by the sun changing its position in the sky, by the people going for lunch breaks or driving home at the end of a long hard day. At the other end of the scale, we are talking about transportation, infrastructure and planning vocabulary. At this scale, time is measured in generations and government administrations. I will point you here again, to that most wonderful reference, the â€˜Strategic Citiesâ€™ essay by Noel Brady.
Architecture is like a trip on the great old Orient Express train. One has to move through a whole continent full of different customs, tribal variations, cultural contrasts, changing terrains, and dramatically changing sights, sounds and smells. The architect tends to be unique in knowing something about it all. The Indiana Jones character being a flamboyant but useful analogy to draw here. I believe architectural design to be a four-dimensional thought process - and one that is almost impossible to capture in todayâ€™s digital file formats. The notion of the body moving through spaces, of negotiating the physical reality of the environment is not going to be simulated using today's technology.
At some point the computer will actually connect right into our brain, in some kind of matrix way, or Star Trek holo-deck fashion. So you can spend the whole afternoon walking around and experiencing a simulated reality of a project. Imagine explaining to a client of loosing a valuable member of your practice, or even a whole design team, owing to a glitch in the holo-deck software! Instead of the information becoming lost to the architect, the architect becomes lost inside the information - fascinating.
A time machine would also be very useful to explore the planning scale of time. A trilogy of films that comes to mind here is Back to the Future. See this post here by Markitect for a better illustration: http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=7218&perpage=25&pagenumber=3
As ridiculous as this all sounds, it does provide another clue to using information technology effectively. Notice the naturalness, ease and accessibility of interfacing with the information. With current technology it is simply a struggle to retrieve any form of digital content relevant to a project.
Working in three dimensions does allow one to capture more information relevant to a project in digital format. It is not inputting the data that is hardest. It is the subsequent efficiency and logic of retrieval of that information for whatever purpose, which causes the problem. Architects always blame the 'computer' for being too slow - the information just doesn't come back fast enough, or without a wrestling match. Despite faster processing speed, new software features, availability of cheaper, faster storage space and broadband internet connections.
Despite better training and awareness of how to use 3DS VIZ technology, IT appears to be much too slow and energy consuming. Like our friend the high-tech humanoid robot, the complexity level rises and eventually we hit into a complexity barrier. Although technology does impose many restrictions upon interfacing and communication, lets just look at some of the more promising developments.
All the emails, time sheets, animations, video clips, photographs, models, drawings, voice recordings associated with a particular project should be available from all computer terminals, to everyone in the whole organisation. Bill Gates has guaranteed to solve that question of â€˜Where is my stuffâ€™ in his next generation operating system called Longhorn. But even today some third party products do exist such as Scopewareâ€™s Vision software. http://www.scopeware.com/
The ultimate reference on this kind of thing is by Susan Conway, a book published by the Microsoft Press called 'Unlocking your Knowledge Assets'. http://www.microsoft.com/mspress/books/sampchap/5516.asp
Project wise is an entirely web-based collaboration software tool from Bentley, which tracks the various stages of the scheme as you design it. So it is possible later on to recall certain changes that were made during the design process. It says who made the changes, and what people thought of those changes at that time. You can decide to go back to an earlier version of a scheme and work it up in a different direction - exploring â€˜what ifâ€™ type of questions. Indeed, it enables separate design teams to explore alternative designs for a scheme simultaneously.
The current situation of architects being unable to retrieve any form of digital information whatsoever about a project, is unsustainable. The best thing the profession could do, is admit this crisis of information management and to confront it head on. I have seen often myself, forty and fifty-something year old architects, just picking up two week old plots in their own practice. And then proceeding to spend an entire day, at Â£75 an hour correcting this out-of-date information. Rightly so, these principal architects point out it is not their fault when someone realises their error. Is this how architecture firms need to be run today?
Communication? Perhaps speaking the same language might help! Drawing was an international language, one that travels across the world. IT based communication between employees in architects, doesnâ€™t yet appear to be capable of travelling between different rooms in the same building.
It is not uncommon in large practices, not to know what is going on all around you. A project tends to be just done and dusted, put away and you just go onto the next project. There is an unspoken awareness that all the knowledge capital that was created during a project is solely kept in the minds of certain employees. But in this merry-go-round of IT, digital files, valuable knowledge resources are squandered endlessly.
The following is an excerpt from http://www.cadenceweb.com/2003/0803/coverstory0803.html
ArchiCAD is one of the first computer-aided design tools to utilize building information modeling. The virtual building is built from the beginning in 3D with plans, sections, and elevations, available as different views of the building. The software also serves as the building database throughout the lifecycle of the project.
The five principals in Design Atlantic are all hands-on ArchiCAD users. The company works in civil projects and more recently with the U.S. Coast Guard. Jernigan is a strong believer in the virtual building model and in maintaining a design database of building information from the get-go. His firm has also started an alliance with other smaller firms to take on larger projects. But part of the litmus test they use as they screen potential partners is whether the firm's principals are hands-on CAD users, or willing to become hands-on.
"Building information modeling pretty much requires the designer to work in the software," he says. "It's more than just pretending a computer is a word processor. Rather than drawing lines or producing prints, this approach is based on databasing all the information in the building process." Because senior designers are responsible for this information, he says, they're more likely to want to be involved with technology in a BIM approach.
All architects are hands-on at his firm, fully utilizing the ArchiCAD virtual building model. "The small size of our firm and the concentrated experience of our principals allows us to take active hands-on roles in every project," he says. "It's our philosophy to remain a small firm since it permits us to practice rather than to direct or 'delegate' to less experienced staff.
Another interesting approach to using computers in architectural design is that of Frank Gehry. Frank believes that in the twentieth century, the architect did not in fact, â€˜protectâ€™ the clients financial interests in a project, as is so often said. Instead the builder normally went to the client, behind the architectâ€™s back and just said â€˜Hey, if you straighten out this wall, It will save you 1 million bucksâ€™. So the building contractor became parental in the equation, whereas the architect was the child.
Using his highly developed CATIA based design process, Frank Gehry now hopes to reverse this equation. By doing a lot more of the work traditionally done by a builder â€“ the choosing of construction materials, components, sizes and specification â€“ Frank Gehry in effect now does a lot of the building contractors work for him. And the contractors love him for that, but his insurance policy makers are currently stumped as to how to â€˜cover himâ€™, and his lawyers cannot properly say where he stands legally in relation to all of this.
As Frank himself will admit, the parts do not dovetail together properly as yet, and maybe that is why he is the only person doing what he does today. So getting back now to everyday practice in this particular country. There are a lot more barriers to communication in practices nowadays, some of which I will deal with finally.
My final point has to do with the perception of young graduate or under graduate architects in college or in practice. A very common phenomenon nowadays, is to see architectural technicians studying for degrees to become architects. While being involved in a group-based project in one Irish architectural college, I offered my services to do some 3D visualisations, or even to help do some of that work with the group. However, that group already contained a qualified architectural technician with computer skills. I was informed that the technician, and only the technician would be doing the 3D visualisation work. If this is how the kids play in the playgrounds, this how are they going to behave in practice?
While working in practice, I was booted off a job completely because my furniture in a set of apartment CAD drawings was the wrong colour. Somehow, architectural technicians in offices donâ€™t like to see students of architecture competing in what they see as their own territory. I will not even get into the full set of working drawings I did for a large apartment block, which mysteriously disappeared from the main file server. Even though the contractor had already laid foundations! I was merely expected to keep my mouth shut, while a brand new technician in the firm re-did all the drawings again from scratch.
I wouldnâ€™t actually mind if these were unfortunate accidents, but they are becoming the norm today. It doesnâ€™t really affect the principals in offices, as they are only too pleased to pass the â€˜donkey-workâ€™ off onto the CAD monkeys, but I feel it is a real problem now for younger graduates. I reminds me of the Dead Rabbits versus the Natives, in Martin Scorsesseâ€™s recent film, The Gangs of New York. With young architects everyday having to â€˜go into battleâ€™ with the architectural technicians, â€œPrepare to receive the true Lord!!!â€
And I can assure you all, in spite of being a young architectural undergraduate I have had to put a few notches on my stick too. The profession increasingly reminds me of the â€˜Boss Tweedâ€™ character in that film, merely hiring one gang to stamp out the other. I am curious to know how the architectural profession is going to deal with this â€˜turf warâ€™ going on in the offices presently over rights over who has information access and creation rights of digital content for the project? I think personally, it would be a great tragedy to see young architects completely banished from all possible contact with their medium â€“ that of drawings â€“ or more to the point, that of information access rights. Information that is relevant to the projects they are doing.
I would hate to see the young architects being used as the â€˜Dead Rabbitsâ€™ in the Five Points of Architecture.