Will Robots Take Over the Building Design Industry?

Image of robot with text overlay that says: Will Robots Take Over The Building Design Industry?

Many jobs are being automated these days.

Some McDonalds locations are laying off workers and replacing a lot of them with automation.

Other restaurants are doing the same.

Home Depot, Walmart, and other retail stores have been replacing traditional checkouts with self-checkout.

What used to be 8 lanes with 8 employees are now 8 lanes with 1 employee.

Self-driving vehicles are threatening to put various driving jobs, from taxis to truck drivers, out of business.

The threat of AI replacing jobs is hanging over the heads of many.

It’s one of the few things that people from both sides of the political aisle can agree upon.

Will the AI be coming for your job?

It wouldn’t be difficult to build an AI that “designs” houses.

All we need to do is create objects such as walls, windows, and doors.

Then, give them rules to follow.

It would be debatable whether or not those designs are aesthetically pleasing, but it could be done none the less.

The software could operate as a series of questions about what the design should have, which the user answers, and then it generates a design and floor plan.

The user can then hit a button to regenerate a new design as many times as they want.

Perhaps an advanced feature could be to save certain parts of the design, like the master bedroom and bath, during regeneration.

We’re talking thousands of possible designs generated in seconds.

It wouldn’t even be difficult to work BIM into the equation.

The user could specify a maximum energy consumption and the AI could use that as a parameter when designing the home.

You could plug in the requirements for LEED certification and the algorithm would automatically make sure your building will be qualified.

Then there’s also “generative design”, which would be the architecture you see that tend to look like bones, webs, or other organic things.

Buildings Generated From Nothing

Black and white flowchart of the generative design process.

Generative design comes from algorithms just like the previously mentioned ones, but instead of having predetermined walls, windows, etc, the AI would just design something out of the air.

That’s why generative building design, and generative designs in general, come out organic looking.

There are supports where needed.

There is space where no support structure is needed.

Nature’s gone through millions of years to figure out where a bone needs to be strongest.

We can build algorithms that can figure it out for a building while you’re out to lunch.

Humans will always want to create, and other humans will always want to own those creations.

There will always be a market for human-hand custom designed homes.

Robots won’t be taking over the home design industry anytime soon.

But, as a designer yourself, you can leverage this technology to make your jobs much easier.

Imagine automating large portions of your work.

You would be able to take on more work, and still for less time.

You would be able to save costs on employees, as well.

For an example, take a look at the new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Germany.

The architects used generative design in this concert hall to design the wall and ceiling panels according to very specific parameters.

First of all, the sound map of the auditorium had to be accounted for.

The acoustician knew that some areas needed deeper divots than other areas, based on the room’s geometry.

The panels had to be unique but consistent.

It had to be visually attractive.

And, if any particular panel was within reach of an audience member, that panel needed to be softer.

All of these factors were put into the algorithm to create 10,000 unique panels.

This is not something that could have been done by hand.

Embrace Technology

While many doomsayers may be predicting an end to various jobs, and they may be right for some of those jobs, it’s unlikely that it will happen to building designers any time soon.

Instead, look for ways you can utilize automation in your practice to make your job easier.

For example, I automated the creation of ARDA Winner pages with a relatively short Python script.

I’m able to export all of the winning entry information into one spreadsheet.

Then my Python script takes all of that information, puts it into the appropriate spots of HTML code, and spits out a web page.

Then I just copy and paste it in.

Something that used to take 8 hours to do by hand now takes me about 30 seconds.

Technology shouldn’t be feared.

It should be embraced and used as a tool to better our lives.

2023 Update:

It’s been 5 years since I wrote this, and now AI is all the rage.

I decided to give it a chance with designing floor plans.

The prompt:

I need a floorplan for a 3 bedroom 2 bath one story house that is 1000 square feet.

The responses:

I’m not worried since many of these rooms don’t even have doors.

The rooms that do have doors don’t even make sense.

I used the same AI to “enhance” the prompt:

Create a digital photorealistic floorplan for a 3 bedroom 2 bath one story house that is 1000 square feet. Use a top down perspective and include all necessary measurements. The style should be clean and modern with neutral colors and minimal decoration. The floorplan should have a clear flow.

The results weren’t any better:

Overall, I’m not worried.

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