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Embracing Innovation in Architecture

While Architecture is not the world’s oldest profession, its antiquity has never been cast in doubt; yet it has managed to always be a role that has continually evolved.

Centuries ago, design and construction would typically be undertaken by the local artisan, and it wasn’t until the 18th century that the role of the Architect diverged from that of a craftsman.  Eventually in the early 19th century the Institute of British Architects in London was formed to promote and direct the education of the Architect, and was then renamed to be the Royal Institute of British Architects that is still operating to this day alongside other Architectural Institutes such as the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists.

One way or another the role of the Architect has had to change in relation to industry innovations.  Introduction of the pencil in the late 16th century along with the earlier introduction of paper in Europe allowed for the production of pre-construction drawings.  Later, the specialisation of the trade led to innovations around the drawing board such as the introduction of parallel motion but the availability of personal computers and the advent of Computer Aided Design (CAD) has effectively led to their demise. Today the majority of drawings are being drafted using polylines and layers as opposed to pens and razor blades.

Despite requiring a large amount of entropy, Architecture has always met change with opportunity.  This can be seen in the evolution of the role and its migration to the T-shaped professional model, where the Architect is no longer solely a master of their own profession, but knowledgeable of other construction design professions, document control procedures, CAD management, the build and installation process, and more recently data analysis and software application development.

Now with the introduction of efficiency gains and automation brought about through the application of the Building Information Modelling (BIM) process, Architecture has another opportunity to innovate, if sufficient leadership can be demonstrated.

Work by BRE Academy in collaboration with CIAT, CITB, IEMA, and Ecobuild has demonstrated a skills gap within the industry around technology and digital aspects of design and construction with BIM and Smart Technology skills identified as those most in need. The survey then suggests that Architectural professionals who excel at data analytics and software development may be early adopters of the professions future profile.  However, there is a conflicting view.

Within the construction industry Architectural roles have always been the most ‘human’; roles that deal with relationships, negotiations, and active listening.  Indeed, research by the World Economic Forum identifies these traits are among the most desirable skills for future professionals including:  Complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, and coordinating with others.  Due to its mastery of such skills, the role of the Architect or Technologist has been identified by the BBC as highly unlikely to be automated (Will a robot take your job?, BBC 2015).

So then there is a decision to be made: when considering the future role of the Architectural professional within construction, should the role move towards the ‘man’, or the ‘machine’?