The future of architecture may lie in the hands of artificial intelligence (AI). I recently experienced the mesmerizing capability of AI in the realm of architectural design during an interview with Wanyu He on CNN International. He is the Shenzhen-based architect and founder of XKool. In mere seconds, I observed a hotel complex being constructed, deconstructed, and modified in ways that would typically take human architects hours, if not days.
A Revolution Already in Motion
Though many believe AI's influence in architecture to be a future eventuality, there's ample evidence to suggest the revolution is already here. Image-making tools, such as Dall-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion, are making waves in the architecture community. These tools allow for instantaneous generation of whimsical and groundbreaking architectural ideas, ranging from skyscrapers reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright to staircases that seem to defy logic and physics.
However, as Neil Leach, the author of "Architecture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence," pointed out, the most transformative use of AI might not be in these captivating images. Instead, AI's potential lies in automating the entire design process from the conception of ideas to final construction.
XKool: Leading the AI Charge
Founded by Wanyu He and former OMA (Rem Koolhaas’ architectural firm) colleagues, XKool is pioneering the application of AI in architectural design. Disenchanted with traditional methods, they were inspired by AlphaGo's success against a human champion in the game of Go in 2016. They asked: Could this form of intelligence be applied to design?
XKool's software encompasses various aspects of design. It can assist in masterplan layouts, adhering to parameters such as local planning regulations, space standards, and daylight requirements. Furthermore, it can transform a 2D image of a building into a 3D model and generate detailed floor plans from mere room sizes. The result, as I witnessed with the Shenzhen hotel, is a design process that is astoundingly efficient but lacks the human touch.
Data Integrity and Ethics
While the potential is exhilarating, there are valid concerns regarding AI in architecture. Martha Tsigkari, head of applied research and development at Foster + Partners in London, cautions about the potential for misuse and misinterpretation of data. Garbage data in, garbage design out. Additionally, there are significant concerns related to data privacy and intellectual property rights.
Impacts on the Role of Architects
The adoption of AI in architecture raises questions about the evolving role of architects. While tools like ChatGPT and Midjourney are invaluable in streamlining some processes, the worry remains: will architects be relegated to mere overseers of AI algorithms? The late Zaha Hadid’s firm, ZHA, for instance, has widely used AI in initial design phases.
Moreover, the possibility of a future where architectural styles and methodologies of now-deceased architects could be replicated and mass-produced using AI could further dilute the unique human essence of architectural design.
A Tool, Not a Replacement
The consensus among the frontrunners in the field is that AI should augment, not replace, architects. Tools like Spacemaker, now known as Forma after its acquisition by Autodesk, showcase the potential of AI in enhancing collaborative discussions on projects, promoting transparency and trust among stakeholders.
Perhaps the ultimate vision is not one where architects are replaced, but where their expertise is augmented and enhanced by AI tools. As Euan Mills, co-founder of Blocktype, an AI tool for developers and planners, suggests, architects could charge not for their time, but for their algorithm-driven knowledge.
The integration of AI into the architectural realm is inevitable and already in progress. While the tools offer enhanced efficiency and the possibility of groundbreaking designs, it is essential to approach this new dawn with caution. Balancing AI's capabilities with human insight, creativity, and ethical considerations will define the architecture of the future.