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How Architects Add AI to their Digital Toolbox

Arch Daily | May 28, 2024 by Amy Bunszel

At the turn of the century, architects embraced 3D parametric modeling through building information modeling (BIM), and in the last 10 years connected BIM to the cloud to improve coordination and productivity. But BIM struggles to unify data and workflows across the entire plan, design, build and operate lifecycle. Integrating AI—along with granular data and automation—will empower the next generation of architects with a more connected and outcome-based approach to design, enabling them to focus on outcomes like building performance or sustainability from the very beginning of a project. 

Today, the creativity of architects is being tested by the need to maximize building density and use of space without negatively impacting people’s quality of life or the environment. This is precisely where AI and outcome-based design come into play, enabling architects to arrive at solutions faster and more efficiently, and giving them the time to focus on creative solutions to the biggest challenges we face.

For these reasons, trust and optimism for AI today is high. In my recent conversations with US and European architecture firms, they shared an openness to AI that is rooted in the belief that it can help expand and reimagine their value propositions. These sentiments mirror the findings of Autodesk’s 2024 State of Design and Make report, where 76% of respondents say they trust AI for their industry and 44% of architecture, engineering, construction, and operations (AECO) professionals see improving productivity as a top use for AI.

AI and Sustainability: Intelligent Insights in Early-Stage Design

In the past few years, AI has leaped to the forefront as a catalyst for businesses to meet their sustainability targets. This makes sense, as the bulk of a project’s sustainability impact is determined during the conceptual design phase when teams can use AI to optimize decision-making for specific outcomes, such as decarbonizing the built environment. To help architects achieve this, Autodesk recently released Embodied Carbon Analysis in Autodesk Forma. Supported by AI capabilities, the solution enables architects to take the lead in sustainable design by testing the carbon impact of their decisions at the beginning of project planning. This is a meaningful shift away from relying on sustainability specialists who have historically stepped in once the design work has been completed. AI is making this possible.

AI also makes it easy for architects to incorporate environmental and other contextual data into plans when optimizing designs. It provides architects with a wide variety of scenarios digitally, in a risk-free environment, to find optimal solutions within chosen parameters. 

Take The Phoenix, for example, a 316-unit modular housing development in West Oakland, California, on a site that is heavily impacted by congestion and noise pollution. In a collaborative effort between MBH Architects, Factory OS and Autodesk, a multidisciplinary team harnessed the power of technology to share data and workflows and tap into AI-powered insights across the project lifecycle to make housing that was faster to design and build, while also being more sustainable.

In the early phases of the project, the team made data-informed trade-offs between goals for operational carbon, embodied carbon, cost, and livability. For example, MBH Architects used Autodesk Forma’s AI-powered Rapid Noise Analysis in early-stage design to test the impact of different configurations of buildings on the project site to reduce the impact of noise from highway traffic for residents. As a result of technology like AI, The Phoenix will be built at about half the cost, time, and carbon footprint of a typical multi-family building in the San Francisco Bay Area, therefore achieving the desired project outcomes.

AI Assistants: Human Expertise Remains Irreplaceable

Despite the benefits that AI brings to the industry today, it is understandable that many architects are still wary of the threat of job displacement. We envision AI serving as an assistant in the design process, with designers retaining their role as decision-makers, controlling the creative process, and ultimately making the final call. It is the architect who has the real-world understanding of local specifics and needs—be they cultural and aesthetic concerns, regulatory issues, such as local and regional building codes, or the complex web of multi-layered relationships with stakeholders and customers. 

So, what’s next for the architect’s toolbox? It is an exciting time and it’s undeniable that AI is here to stay—both in our personal and professional lives. The practice of architecture is poised to leverage AI as an indispensable tool for transformation. It’s already expanding the realm of design possibilities, bringing us closer to meeting increasing demands from building owners, developers, citizens, and municipalities, all while creating a more sustainable built environment that can stand the test of time. 

Amy Bunszel is the EVP of architecture, engineering, and construction solutions at Autodesk.

Published: Arch Daily


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