- American Architectural Foundation - http://www.archfoundation.org -

Civic Design Leadership Forum, Cambridge, MA

This spring, the American Architectural Foundation convened two forums in Cambridge, Massachusetts to discuss the intersection of design and technology in partnership with Otis Elevator Company [1]. The forums were designed to explore the impact of technology on architecture and the design process, and how architects interact and engage with technology in their professional work. Topics discussed included technology’s role in increasing density, understanding big data related to people and places, and potential ways to apply the technological knowledge behind vertical elevator travel to horizontal travel in buildings and cities.

The first of these two forums, held on Wednesday, April 27, and moderated by AAF Regent Ted Landsmark, assembled architecture students from Boston-area universities with the help of the American Institute of Architecture Students [2]. This forum’s discussion ranged from the use of computer-aided drawing and modeling tools and how those influence their designs to design opportunities created by advances in manufacturing and materials technologies. All of this discussion seemed to revolve around a central idea about the impact of technology on social behaviors and questions about how the next generation of architects and designers can create social spaces that help facilitate human interaction, and are intuitive to navigate.

The second forum, held on Thursday, April 28, and moderated by John Syvertsen, assembled practicing architects from the Boston area. These architects came from many different backgrounds, and lent diverse perspectives to the discussion. Overall, this discussion was more focused on design challenges related to environmental concerns and moving people through the built environment. This group was more excited by the potential opportunities afforded by advancing technology. Stephen Chung noted that drone photography “gets me excited because I think we could showcase architecture in a much more dynamic way,” and other participants mentioned the use of augmented reality to stand in a space and experience a design in three dimensions before construction has commenced.  They noted, however, that many of these exciting new technologies currently aren’t built to work together for a more holistic workflow on a project.

Both groups were concerned about balancing utility and user experience, particularly in taller buildings and the importance of data. The practicing architects noted that when properly analyzed and understood, data can be an extremely powerful tool to support their design decisions to a client.  They also expressed concerns over being able to effectively analyse and use the ever-increasingly available amount of data that is generated to help in their design, with Elizabeth Christoforetti noting that raw data does nothing for us if we don’t know how to analyze it to pull out the human stories from it, and Daniel Lear noting that much of the data now generated by individual consumers through social media and smartphones is curated, and perhaps less accurate than we may initially believe.