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  • Writer's pictureRealFacts Editorial Team

AI Can Turn Hours Of Architecture Work Into Seconds. But At What Cost?

architecture sketches

Eli Hoisington, co-CEO of HOK, sat on a plane from St. Louis to Atlanta, sketching on his iPad. As a visual artist, he cherished the tactile pleasure of putting a stylus on screen. Just a year ago, those sketches would have marked the beginning of a lengthy iteration process, often involving junior architects. Today, within an hour of landing, he could upload, clean up, and overlay his sketches, pressing a button to let artificial intelligence generate several variations in mere seconds.

AI Enters the Architectural Mainstream

AI tools like DALL-E, Midjourney, and Veras have matured, becoming valuable assets for architects, who are increasingly integrating these technologies into their workflows. These tools supercharge early-stage ideation, enabling firms to generate dozens of images in seconds. "It's great for early-stage storyboarding and sitting down with clients to create a vision quickly," said Matthew Shaffer, Managing Partner at Radical Galaxy Studio, which specializes in renderings for commercial developments.

However, the adoption of AI in architecture isn't without its challenges. Concerns about security, privacy, and the future of the workforce loom large. Hoisington recalls a moment of realization: "Who am I teaching? I’m teaching a software program, not a person."

The Transformation of Design Processes

AI's integration into architecture mirrors its adoption across various fields, from marketing to medicine. At the recent American Institute of Architects conference in Washington, D.C., several seminars addressed AI's role in the profession. Architects Lindsey and Thad Rhoden led a session on implementing AI in architectural practices. They recently founded Pebble, a consultancy to help firms incorporate AI, viewing it as a pivotal moment akin to the advent of computer-aided drafting.

For now, AI’s primary role in architecture is generating images for early design stages. However, this technology, still in its infancy, is rapidly evolving. "It's emerging in most firms," said John Marx, co-founding principal of Form4 Architecture. Firms are cautiously exploring AI’s potential, especially regarding data protection. Hoisington emphasized the importance of creating a secure firewall to protect sensitive information while interfacing with AI.

Balancing Innovation with Security

HOK is contemplating developing its own AI tool to maintain control over internal processes. "Some things we're okay sharing, but some things we're not," Hoisington said. The firm is forming an AI team to address opportunities and challenges, aiming to establish a strategy this year following an investigatory phase.

Pedro Pesantes, an architect exploring AI independently, noted that many firms are developing bespoke AI tools. However, questions about ownership and legal implications of AI-generated images persist. "There are all sorts of ownership and copyright ideas that we’re really not sure of quite yet," said KGD Architecture principal Tom Donaghy.

The Human Element in Architecture

While AI threatens certain aspects of architectural work, particularly lower-end visualizations, high-end renderings remain safe for now. Radical Galaxy Studio, an early adopter of AI, sees the technology as a tool to enhance rather than replace their work. "We're excited to leverage AI to push things further on the higher end," Shaffer said.

Despite these advancements, human architects remain essential for legal, safety, and creative reasons. There is, however, a looming question of how much work AI might eventually replace. "There is a great danger of that happening," Marx admitted, though no architects reported clients fully bypassing human architects yet.

The Future of AI in Architecture

AI's current limitations include producing unrealistic images, necessitating hours of adjustments. But its capabilities have improved exponentially in the past year. "Just because we're not there yet doesn't mean we won't be there tomorrow," Pesantes said.

Architects see AI’s greatest potential in automating mundane tasks, freeing up time for creativity, and reducing human error. "If AI could evaluate projects based on codes, that would be a huge benefit and lessen my risk," Donaghy explained.

As AI continues to evolve, it is clear that it represents the next frontier in architecture, promising significant industry disruption. "I don't think it's a fad. I don't think it's going away," Shaffer concluded. "The advancements in the last year or two are pretty groundbreaking."


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