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Posts tagged with "computers":
This is the third column of “Practice Values,” a bi-monthly series by architect and technologist Phil Bernstein. The column focuses on the evolving role of the architect at the intersection of design and construction, including subjects such as alternative delivery systems and value generation. Bernstein was formerly vice president at Autodesk and now teaches at the Yale School of Architecture.Disabling (Professional) Expertise
In 1977, social critic Ivan Illich argued that the mid-20th century should be named “The Age of Disabling Professions,” asking whether “if this age, when needs were shaped by professional design, will be remembered with a smile or with a curse.” Illich’s skepticism about the importance and role of doctors, lawyers, and architects was an inflection point in the ascendance of the professional class that began with the industrialization of America. What followed for architects—who, at just about the same time as Illich’s query, were subjected to the emergence of alternative forms of project delivery (like design-build), new incumbents treading on our turf (like construction managers), and influence from extrinsic forces (like lawyers and insurance companies)—was several decades of existential angst with which we are all familiar.
Forty years later, there are more architects, and more work for us, than ever—yet the existential angst remains: If recessions, construction managers, and liability insurance underwriters didn’t manage to dismantle the profession, now what? Answering that question comes the Oxford duo of Richard and Daniel Susskind and their 2015 tome The Future of the Professions, an exhaustive examination of how the broad influences of digital technology may be the end-of-times challenge to the professional class so desired by Illich. The Susskinds argue that it will not be a loss of faith in architects, lawyers, and accountants, but rather the broad democratization of expertise through big data and data sharing, expert systems, and automation that will “transform the work of human experts.” As knowledge work begins the same transfiguration in the world of computation that manufacturing experienced with machine automation, the bespoke relationships curated by architects with clients will be circumvented by widely accessible knowledge systems, architects will no longer be the anointed “gatekeepers” of professional knowledge or judgment, and the increasing complexity of building problems will face economic pressures demanding that architects provide even more service for less money. Large swaths of professional services will be routinized by computers, further decomposing those services into discrete automated tasks. New systems of design and construction delivery will reconstitute from traditional professional scopes disintermediated by algorithms and big data.
But if the essential value of architects is our ability to design—see the world creatively, synthesize disparate information, generate new and innovative ideas—aren’t we safe from this digital onslaught? Not so fast, according to the Susskinds, who ask, “To what problem is judgment the solution?” They cite the 60 million disputes on eBay resolved with automated mediation (and no lawyers), medical advice dispensed by WebMD on smart phones around the world, or the online tax-preparation software used by millions of taxpayers each year; many of these folks would have never dreamt of hiring a lawyer or an accountant. And this is the core of their argument: Technology will democratize expertise, making it available to many more recipients than could ever by curated by 1:1 professional relationships.
Since society created the professional class to codify and distribute professional expertise, shouldn’t this trend to democratization be embraced? And since architects design a small percentage of the built environment, isn’t this trend, in theory, all for the good? Should architects cede our authority to algorithms, it’s likely we’ll lose all control and influence over the forces that often reduce great design aspirations to mediocre results. It is difficult to argue, however, that the changes that automation and the resulting process innovation that the Susskinds predict will put great pressure on the role of our profession while simultaneously eliminating the need for broad swaths of production work like working drawings.
How to respond? As far back as Illich’s original provocation, architects have decried our diminishing influence while embracing new technologies and their opportunities with at best mild enthusiasm and at worst outright hostility. This wave of automation-innovation will be much more profound than CAD or even BIM. Perhaps it offers a chance to deeply examine the value proposition of architecture and architects, and, using our skills, to design our roles in the future supported and accelerated by new technology rather than, once again, threatened by it.
This article is part of The Architect’s Newspaper’s “Passive Aggressive” feature on passive design strategies. Not to be confused with “Passivhaus” or “Passive House” certification, passive design strategies such as solar chimneys, trombe walls, solar orientation, and overhangs, rely on scheme rather than technology to respond to their environmental contexts. Today, architects are more concerned with sustainability than ever, and new takes on old passive techniques are not only responsible, but can produce architecture that expresses sustainable features through formal exuberance. We call it “passive-aggressive.” In this feature, we examine three components—diagram, envelope, and material—where designers are marrying form and performance. We also look back at the unexpected history of passive-aggressive architecture, talk with passive-aggressive architects, and check out a passive-aggressive house. More “Passive Aggressive” articles are listed at the bottom of the page!
BIG Ideas is an in-house think tank at the Danish studio Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). It delves into three initiatives: simulations, product design, and conceptual ideas. The simulations are carried out by a team of experts in computationally derived methods of design. With this close collaboration, they solve the designs from BIG’s architectural department while addressing the sustainable and environmental needs of a project, maximizing its potential when they see fit. An example of its work can be seen with its ski-slope-sporting, smoke-ring-spouting Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy Plant currently being constructed in Copenhagen.
The Architect's Newspaper senior editor Matt Shaw sat down with Jakob Lange, a partner at BIG and director of BIG Ideas. Lange has been working with Ingels since 2003, when the pair were both at PLOT, Ingels’s and Julien De Smedt’s now defunct studio. Shaw and Lange discussed the role of parametricism in realizing and optimizing the diagrammatic passive-aggressive schemes at BIG.
The Architect’s Newspaper: What setup is in place at BIG Ideas that allows parametricism and sustainability to go hand-in-hand?
Jakob Lange: We have engineers working in-house, which facilitates a continuous loop of iterations, creating a build-up of simulations that can then become parametric. This breaks away from the old-school way of calling up an engineer, where you can get bogged down by discussing fees while having to wait to get a result weeks later.
With this new setup, we can do this on a daily basis. Once the project is in the system, it takes two minutes to change the parameters and see what the output is—say, if we change the overhang of a building. Here we can see how much energy it uses if, for example, we just cantilever it a little bit more. We also look at how it changes the big picture, which can be addressed by building all this information into our system.
To achieve this, we’re collaborating with Dell Inc. We have a supercomputer that allows us to accelerate the amount of simulations that we can do. Prior to this, one of the limiting factors of doing very comprehensive simulations was computer power. Subsequently, this means that the quality of the results that we get out is much higher than what was previously possible.
Now it is very simple. The designers-architects send us an email with a link to the 3-D file and a little description of what they need. There may be a few questions back and forth—depending on how busy the guys are—but it’s done in a short time.
The engineers are actually based in Copenhagen, so those in that office can just simply walk up to them and ask. Some simulations are also difficult to set up, so they take a bit longer, but it is usually a very short back and forth.
As far as this diagrammatic idea of expressing sustainability as “fun” goes, how did that emerge in BIG?
It’s been in our DNA from the beginning. All projects, back from when Bjarke had PLOT, had to have an idea, an idea that we couldn’t just design a beautiful sculpture or something. And of course, very often one of the main idea-drivers is to solve a challenge. A climate around your building is always a challenge; say, if you’re in the Middle East or in Finland. Then, of course, we have this idea that making sure that whatever makes your building so nice is that you’re improving the life quality around your building.
So do the simulations end up altering the form of the building?
Oh yes, often. We did a facade for a museum in Marseille [France] that has louvers, but instead of using horizontal louvers, we used some that curved around with the building. Depending on the location of the sun, the louvers can also be angled individually to be most effective.
To do this, we made some parametric models into which we could feed the facade—no matter how organic it was—and it would generate the optimal angle and then space the louvers out onto the facade.
We are also currently doing a project in Amsterdam and we simulated a facade system. We set the simulation up and just let our supercomputer run all night. In the morning we had a wealth of data that was then compressed, giving us the final result. It really enables us to do some very, very high-quality simulations.
For more "Passive Aggressive" articles, explore: our feature article that features projects from across the world, how WORKac’s Arizona House revives the super sustainable Earthship typology, our brief, unofficial history of recent passive-aggressive design, and MOS Architects' Michael Meredith on sustainability.