AI Special: Changing the designer’s role

31 January 2018

Image: Groupe Canam

The race is on for the design community to adapt its skills, writes Denise Chevin.

Using computers to automate repetitive aspects of design is already used in engineering and to a lesser degree architecture, and is “already having an impact on the way we structure teams and use manpower”, says Carolina Bartram, an associate director at Arup.

As software packages automate designs of components like beams and floor slabs, fewer junior engineers are needed to do the traditional detailed design work and more time is spent looking at iterations and improving the design, she adds.

Bartram says that the front end and concept design will continue to be done manually – for example, looking at the overall design of the structure, deciding whether the structure will have load-bearing walls and similar decisions.

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“Machines might generate different options, but humans are still needed to make the choice of which to use and it’s likely to remain that way for the future. With engineering there is never just one answer – there are always multiple answers,” she reasons.

Phil Langley, director of integrated design and operations consultancy Bryden Wood, agrees.

“AI/automation significantly changes the role of the designer from the ‘author of the outcome’, to the ‘author of the system’ that generates the outcome. This is obviously a new approach and the conventional skills will become less relevant – the race will be on for the existing design community to develop the necessary skills to respond to this technological challenge,” he says.

“AI/automation will mean fewer people doing traditional design tasks – and focusing human knowledge and expertise in the areas where they can add value.”

Graphisoft’s Ákos Pfemeter thinks similarly. “Machines won’t take over from architects any time soon in terms of aesthetics. Someone still needs to make decisions and only humans can do that.”

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