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Will architects build our cyber-future?

By ignition in Technology
Wed Jun 06, 2001 at 12:16:28 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Following a day of lectures in London, focussing on design in a digital world and how much contemporary architecture is affected by digital technology several interesting points were raised.

I know nothing about architecture, and was there as a multi media developer, but was very interested to see that architects concern themselves as much with philosophy, sociology and culture as they do about the design of their final product. It was also interesting to see characters such as Douglas Rushkoff invited to speak.

Two main points raised were-
  1. the rise of cyber culture and Internet activity has shifted the focus of social activity away from traditionally public places- and therefore the role and location of public space needs to be re-defined or re-thought.
  2. as the world is increasingly being developed to incorporate a new dimension- a cyber dimension then the architect's role must shift to this realm as well, as project managers/ directors
Are architects the best people to design for cyberspace? Will their sense of space management lend itself to online environments? Or are they simply trying to latch on, feeling threatened by an online eventuality?

The premise is that our social activities are changing and therefore the role of traditional mediums are also changing, which are not new concepts to readers here.

First we had a water pump in a village which everyone gathered around- hence it became the most social point in the village. Then we had piped water to the home. Now you didn't need to go to the pump and therefore the social importance of the water pump changed and so on.

As more and more people spend more time in cyberspace or virtual environments- whether it is the Internet, games, etc then we do not need to enlist the services of public spaces- such as shopping malls and libraries. Hence the social aspect of these places change. This is of prime concern to architects, as it is partly their role to design these places and entice people to use them. They are questioning whether they have any control over these habits, and can they 're-socialize' people- or whether they can only react to the inevitable and thus the role of architecture in society diminishes.

The logic is that these people who have designed the spaces previously used in social interaction, are best suited to design these new spaces- i.e. cyberspace, and there is a new trend beginning to emerge, where architects align their skills as part of a wider skill set, such as consultancy.

It can be argued that these guys spend a long time project-managing large-scale operations, which can have far reaching implication; and thus have the pedigree that lends itself to this 'new medium'.

However I would argue that it is not necessarily an obvious next step for this industry. It may be that many architects have the skill base and wherewithal to design our interactive world, but this 'cyber world' led primarily by the Internet has been built with new skill sets or a combination of differing skills that may not have been obvious before.

Sure Architects potentially have a lot to offer, so do network engineers, multi media designers and gamers etc etc. After all these are the guys who at present occupy the cyber world more and have a greater feel for it.

Or perhaps the discipline of architecture is a necessary levelling device in an increasingly chaotic world, and this discipline is required to attract more main stream and everyday use from the Internet. (Assuming that this is the goal- its not mine though).

Food for thought or just another old industry looking to hijack the Internet?


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Will architects build our cyber-future? | 42 comments (29 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
The true architect of our cyber-future is... (3.66 / 6) (#4)
by your_desired_username on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 10:13:46 AM EST

Christopher Alexander

Yes, but ... (4.75 / 4) (#9)
by Simon Kinahan on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 12:21:26 PM EST

The relationship between Alexander's theories in architecture and design patterns as used in software is tenuous. The one was certainly inspired by the other, but thats as far as I would go. I'm not criticising either set of ideas here.

It is key to Alexander's philosophy that he believes in "The Quality that Has No Name", which is a kind of absolute good that inheres in well made objects of any kind. Kind of like Robert Pirsig's idea of "Quality" in "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". Alexander created (at least) two different techniques that help to produce that quality. One was incremental improvement, and the other was design patterns. Incremental improvement means that the people living in or using a building have the opportunity to constantly bend it to their way of life. Design patterns are a form of expert advice, where the architect, when asked by the inhabitants/builders of a building, can say "ah, well, you need more light, make a window" (where window is a design pattern). They are supposed to be generative, in that if you apply the patterns in the right places and at the right times, you get a Good building.

The key difference is that in software, design patterns have nothing whatsoever to do with fulfilling the needs of the actual users, but of the developers. It makes no difference in principal to the needs to my users that I implemented an undo feature using the Command and Memento patterns, rather that a few million lines of spagheti. It makes the lives of myself and my colleagues a lot easier, but thats quite a different thing. Its roughly analogous to architects inventing a way of building buildings that makes them easier to draw.

I suspect Alexander's ideas might be (even) more productively applied to the actual external behaviour and GUIs of software. There have indeed been efforts to do this, but on nothing like the level of success of "Design Patterns".


If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
It was intended as a joke. (3.50 / 2) (#21)
by your_desired_username on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 02:13:45 PM EST

I've read the speech Alexander gave at (I think) OOPSLA 1996. I'm somewhat aware of the concerns you raise, and I agree with you - but I was replying to a submission which contained a pun, with another pun.

[ Parent ]
Yeah, I know (3.00 / 1) (#31)
by Simon Kinahan on Wed Jun 06, 2001 at 05:44:53 AM EST

But at least one other person took you seriously, and I really do think building architecture and software architecture have a lot to share. Its just that we need to make sure we share the right things and understand one another properly.


If you disagree, post, don't moderate
[ Parent ]
noooooooo (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by core10k on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 10:20:10 PM EST

You mean the Command pattern (whatever that is) is part of elegant Undos? My professor only mentioned Memento as usefull for undo. Which I promptly looked up. And failed to understand the use of the memento pattern for undos, completely. AAAARGH.

[ Parent ]
Interdisciplinary studies (3.00 / 4) (#5)
by slaytanic killer on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 10:42:30 AM EST

I think there is an error in the formulation of this issue. It is definitely not a case of "architechts vs. developers." As desired_user_name pointed out, Christopher Alexander has had a huge effect on program design because of his influence on design patterns. So, the important thing is to wonder how we can transfer the best skills from the world of architecture to bit-management and the user experience.

At the conference, did they consider the idea of setting up a website to communicate ideas from architecture, so that technical people from other fields can learn about what goes through an architect's mind? It is not a competition, since there is room for everyone; after all, many ambitiously beautiful architectural creations have gone astray because there wasn't proper engineer support.

BTW, I understand that perhaps architecture is an intensely aesthetic technical area. But to consider this a barrier would imply that most programmers run around with only one brain hemisphere, which they really don't despite stereotypes.

Lecture was from design not tech perspective (5.00 / 1) (#8)
by ignition on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 11:41:44 AM EST

The lectures themselves were from a design/ archtiture perspective as opposed to a technical perspective.

And hence another 'concern' for them was to not allow technicians/ programmers/ and structural engineers to impede upon their creative flair- encouraging them to embrace as much technoogy for themselves.

Whilst this is not a bad thing- it is funny to me that the 'structure' is always some hw seen as a necessary burden.

I get this a lot where I work- which is a design company. And no matter how much they agree that design and technology should push each other along, they would never allow the technical backend the influence more than say 30% of a project.

What this actually means is that twice as much programming of web sites needs to be done when we do websites to maintain design intrgity and the sites are often slow to download- because the text remains as gifs and not html text (the font must be right and there are problems with embedding fonts that for both the Mac and PC platform.)

SO the answer to the question is that whilst it would be interesting to have a web site dedicated to the architects thought process, these guys were already architects but wanted to get inside 'our' minds.

Another interesting point raised- which is really another discussion was the concept of open source design. Architectures with a GPL!

[ Parent ]

But what is a "programmer"? (3.00 / 2) (#10)
by slaytanic killer on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 12:24:56 PM EST

And hence another 'concern' for them was to not allow technicians/ programmers/ and structural engineers to impede upon their creative flair- encouraging them to embrace as much technoogy for themselves.
That is sort of what I was getting at. Dialogues need to be opened up, or there will forever be stereotypes. For example, even with high levels of communication, people have odd stereotypes of Perl vs. C programmers, even though a person shouldn't really be defined by her profession but by her abilities.

I believe that architects could learn a lot by watching us learn. And programmers would return the favor by continuing the dialogue. It is already occuring in biotechnology and has occurred a long time ago with Knuth and typography. But the interchange has to begin somewhere, or architects will be left behind by other architects who really know how to use new advances to deepen their art.

Wouldn't an architect really love to get rid of engineers by having programs point out possible incompatibilities with building codes, or show that there needs to be extra support in some areas and helps the architect find the most aesthetic way to shape it? A useful frame of mind might be to ask, "What would da Vinci do?"

[ Parent ]
'creative flair' / flexability (none / 0) (#32)
by ignition on Wed Jun 06, 2001 at 09:52:51 AM EST

The thing for me that has psurned a lot or multi media development/ programming and definatley the internet has also been a cross pollination of ideas by the 'do it yourself ' ethic. Minds applying themselves to areas they are not trained in, but diligently work towards. This is especially true with programming whree people have taught themselves at home, spurned on by the availablity of 'copied' software they then learn graphics and design- As yes sure there are more casualites than winners, but it is this freedom which has given breakthoughs, and has challenged the way design and IT previously developed. This cross pollination is often crushed under a strict regime. A balance between the two is required.

[ Parent ]
Listen to those who have spoken up, before! (4.50 / 8) (#12)
by jd on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 12:47:15 PM EST

To any who just don't like Prince Charles, I'll say this: You are perfectly capable of ignoring this post and moving on.

To the rest, I'll attempt to give you the gist of what he said to a hall of Architects, many years ago...

"Construct things of beauty. People need beauty around them, far more than they need concrete prisons, however 'functional' they are. It's not the buildings that do the work. It's people. And people work better content than miserable."

(Yes, I know, these aren't his exact words. If you want those, I'm sure you can find them on some search engine or other.)

How is this relevent here?

Simple. Architects are the =LAST= people you want to design the future of the Internet. Prince Charles was mocked for trying to place quality of experience above cost-efficiency, planned obscelescence and "modern simplicity". But, you know what? HE is the one the Internet designers SHOULD be listening to.

In the end, which is going to be of more practical value? An Internet that is mechanically "functional" or an Internet that is a pleasure to use, because it's design is so beautiful in and of itself?

One of the reasons I'm in computing is that the "outside world" is, frankly, sickening. If you're in the US, go for a drive, sometime. Count the barbed-wire, electrified fences; the "No Trespassing" signs; the identical, Xerox-copy houses; the darkened glass windows of the office blocks; the tightly-controlled vegetation; the "immaculate" (but lifeless) yards; the total sterility of the place.

This is what "Architects" have produced. Function at the cost of individualism. There are only so many ways you can make a perfectly-square block of concrete. There are only so many ways you can live around such absolutely, flawlessly identical spectres.

I don't believe the Internet needs that. Of course, it's not my decision to make. (If it was, I'd insist on 2 terabit pipes to every house, with guaranteed capacity in excess of 1 gigabit and gigabit ethernet cards for all, with built-in IPSec, hardware packet filtering and hardware multicast support, hardware RSA, hardware Elliptic Curve, and a Tux doll. So, if an Internet President position is ever created... :)

Don't Blame The Architects (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by tudlio on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 04:16:31 PM EST

Don't you think more than architects are to blame for the way the United States looks? What about governmental policies that subsidize sprawl? What about developers whose overriding concern is profit, and who therefore go for mass manufactured housing? What about a culture that values new and cheap over old and beautiful?

I know a couple of architects and they despise the cookie cutter architecture you disparage. They'd love to build beautiful spaces but are rarely given the opportunity.

insert self-deprecatory humor here
[ Parent ]
America (3.00 / 2) (#24)
by slakhead on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 09:19:28 PM EST

I was discussing all this with a friend of mine who moved here to America from England and he was criticizing our urban design for being to artsy and inefficient.

And he is right. There is more thought being put into art and design than into functionality as anyone can tell from driving around in some modern suburban areas in the US. There are culdesacs with more curves than Eccentrica Gullumbits and it is just silly not to mention wasteful (needless sarcastic note: America will never run out of space, natural resources, etc because we are too cool for that. Remember all that about Manifest Destiny, etc).

So when it comes to the future of the internet I would much prefer the cold, calculated logic and efficiency of an engineer than an architect.

[ Disclaimer: Not all engineers are cold and calculated logicians. Those who aren't still manage to make such wonders as the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge. Not all architects are concerned solely with design but that is a major part of the job.]

[ Parent ]

the bridge and logic (none / 0) (#34)
by core10k on Wed Jun 06, 2001 at 01:33:09 PM EST

Disclaimer: Not all engineers are cold and calculated logicians. Those who aren't still manage to make such wonders as the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge.

It's somewhat disengenous to blame the designers of the Tacoma-Narrows Bridge for failing to predict that a design flaw that did not receive attention would become a problem. The T-N Bridge is a scapegoat and an illustrative example of a general design problem.

To use the T-N bridge to attempt to support your own pet theory about the superiority of 'cold and calculated logicians' is to use a logical fallicy in the support of logic itself.

[ Parent ]
Where are the joking tags? (none / 0) (#35)
by slakhead on Wed Jun 06, 2001 at 04:13:42 PM EST

Yes I was being some what facetious on that last bit. I am sorry I didn't convey that properly but anyway

I live in Washington and it is kind of a joke around here...


[ Parent ]
You're blaming the wrong people (3.00 / 1) (#36)
by kumquat on Thu Jun 07, 2001 at 01:27:22 AM EST

Architects, for the most part, are not the ones responsible for culdesacs and street layout. Blame the property developers and their marketing researchers for those. You see, marketing surveys reveal that most people claim they want to live on winding, tree-lined, dead-end streets. As a result the developers cram as many of these as possible into their developments, the end result being a curving, four lane highway lined with 'streets' that are approximately 100 yards long and contain exactly 4 houses each.

Architects also have almost nothing to do with the houses in those subdivisions. They 'charge too much', so the builders hire people called designers to generate blueprints. Architecture is a licensed profession requiring (in the US) 5 years of school and passing a fairly difficult test. Absolutely anybody can hang out a shingle and call themselves a designer.

Architects also have just about zilch to do with the shopping centers and such that line the roads you drive on every day. The name of the game in commercial development is, just like residential, doing it as cheaply as possible. So even when you do get an architect involved on one of those projects they tend to be bottom of the barrel talents.

This is why, like I said above, architecture is dead. Architects have almost nothing to do with the creation of the places we spend the majority of our time in.

[ Parent ]

right on (3.00 / 3) (#14)
by agentk on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 12:52:30 PM EST

This stuff is right on. The future (well the one i'd like to live in) is going to be all about visualization, of both content and structure. Images both beautiful and meaningfull.

When, Where, and by Whom will the Cathedrals of *our* age be built?
out of

Architecture is dead (2.75 / 4) (#15)
by kumquat on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 12:58:46 PM EST

It died in the mid-20th century as architects became so concerned with obscure theory that they lost touch with reality. Because of this they lost commissions. They pushed too far and too fast. They know this, and they often pay it lip service to the need to change their profession, but they never do it and I sincerely doubt they ever will. As a result, the world we live in is not designed or planned by architects.

In answer to your question, they are sincere and honestly believe they can help, but in the end all they do is blow hot air.

re: Architecture is dead (4.25 / 4) (#30)
by flameboy on Wed Jun 06, 2001 at 05:22:51 AM EST

Yes, sure architecture is pretty well dead. I think this probably has more to do with the change in style of architect training. Traditionally architects have studied several core subjects and then studied whatever papers they wish to (within reason). However more recently (the last 20 or so years) this has changed to a very rigid prescription with maybe (if you are lucky) one or two optional papers. Most studio papers are farcical, basically coming down to who can make up the best story behind the work. Quality of the final product is rarely taken into account (or even the actual assignment objectives). Technical papers can be interesting, if you have forgotten high school physics (or never took it like a lot of people even though it is supposed to be a requirement). The one thing that made going to class each day worth while during the time I spent studying architecture (before dropping out and studying Comp. Sci.) was the people. That was the one thing I miss, particularly the group of people I spent a lot of time with, who were amazingly smart, interesting and wonderful people. Almost none of that group has made it through till their third year of study (out of 5). Two thirds dropped out after the first year, at least two tried to commit suicide during the first year. Those that stayed were generally academic achievers with no passion for design. I hope that things get better for future students, but unfortunately I doubt it. Unfortunately this does not bode well for interesting architecture in the future. fi

[ Parent ]
You too? (4.50 / 2) (#37)
by kumquat on Thu Jun 07, 2001 at 01:30:03 AM EST

That story sounds awfully familiar. The only difference is that when I dropped out (also 3 years in) I dropped out of college all together.

[ Parent ]
No hijacking, though some blending is inevitable (3.00 / 2) (#16)
by cbatt on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 01:07:57 PM EST

Architects are already designing our electronic future. However, they're usually people with library science and information management backgrounds. The company I work for calls them "information architects" and their purpose is very similar to meat-space architects, though they deal with a far more abstract medium than most architects... even if their purposes and initial focus are very similar.

They appraoch things much as a traditional architect. They plan for usage patterns, structural integrity, and even aesthetics. However their tools and methods are very different.

Even though there are significant differences, there are probably even more similarities. That's probably that the discussion at the conference was trying to promote. Maybe from a technical standpoint, most architects do not have the knowledge necessary to head up a massive electronic environment project, but their philosophies are similar enough that their input would be very valid.

But I never ever want them to design the UI. I don't ever want to obtain my information through an interface that attempts to mimic reality, no matter how pretty they can make the buildings. ;-)

PS: I'd love to provide some links, but one of the best companies in the business, is no longer in the business. Though their book is still available from O'Reilly: Information Architecture for the World Wide Web

Before you can understand recursion
you must understand recursion.

Faulty basis (4.50 / 8) (#18)
by SlydeRule on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 01:18:07 PM EST

The premise is that our social activities are changing and therefore the role of traditional mediums are also changing, which are not new concepts to readers here.
Perhaps they should have spent more time examining the premise.

It has become de rigeur to declare that "The Internet Changes Everything", but in fact Internet has changed very little. Consider, for example, that if you wanted to be part of the Internet Revolution, the place to be was Silicon Valley; real estate prices in the SF Bay area became totally outrageous, but people were willing to pay in order to be "where the action is". But if the Internet Revolution was destroying geographical boundaries, why did it have a pronounced geographical center?

The areas which have been affected the most are the ones which deal with the myriad forms of physical media: periodicals, books, catalogs, post, music CDs, etc.

Elsewhere, the effects have been minimal, and architectural changes will be incremental.

Evidence: (2.75 / 4) (#25)
by spacejack on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 09:25:38 PM EST

My sister was an architect. Now she's a web developer.

Hooey (2.66 / 3) (#28)
by John Milton on Tue Jun 05, 2001 at 10:57:07 PM EST

I'm giving this a +1, but I think it is wrong. I don't see any less people in the mall when I go there. The very premise that people are spending less time in real space is false, and quite frankly, I don't want those people touching the internet. There hasn't been a decent architect since Frank L. Wright.

"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Good architects (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by flameboy on Thu Jun 07, 2001 at 04:17:53 PM EST

There have been good architects since Frank Lloyd Wright, but they have almost all been Asian or European.. just my opinion.

[ Parent ]
Architects (long rambling comment) (4.16 / 6) (#29)
by flieghund on Wed Jun 06, 2001 at 02:32:54 AM EST

Architects have been around for a long, long time. (Though he was by no means the first, the oldest I can think of is Imhotep.) Historically, Architects (big-A) were seen as a kind of devine conduit, able to bridge the gap between a vision and physical reality. As Master Builders, keepers of the sacred art of construction, they received the patronage of the aristocracy, the ruling class, and the religious leaders (often all the same people). They also held the awe and respect of the general populace.

Fast forward to today. Partly because of an increasingly litigious environment, and partly because of an explosion in the sheer amount of knowledge that goes into building something, architects (small-a now) have been largely relegated to building designers. Where Architects of old would produce and supervise just about everything from the design to the construction, today architects work with engineers, contractors, interior designers, construction managers, and dozens of consultants to develop design ideas into built projects. Despite a rather dramatic loss of responsibility, architects still enjoy a fairly high place in society. IIRC, a 1998 (or so) survey revealed that architects were the fourth-most respected occupation in the United States (I think after doctors, teachers, and maybe police).

From ancient times to today, the role of the architect has ultimately come down to that of coordinator. Sure, they design stuff, but 90% of people in an architecture office never design anything, and the remaining 10% [the "designers"] typically spend 90% of their time on notably non-design tasks like meetings, paperwork, site visits, etc. But these days, coordination (and basic production) is really the name of the game. See my recent comment about the joys of just one aspect of the project I'm working on... What makes architects such great coordinators is that they tend to know a little bit about almost everything (a remnant from times when architects like Leonardo da Vinci and Thomas Jefferson were also scientists, inventors and philosophers).

The previous paragraph notwithstanding, some architects are talented designers. Not all of them, not even most of them -- of those 10% of the profession who are designers, maybe half fall into the "talented" category. (The others tend to be "lucky" =) So what makes someone a talented designer? Probably a lot of what makes a talented programmer: the ability to take an amorphous set of goals and requirements and transform them into a final product that causes the client to say, "Wow, that's exactly what I wanted."

Architects and technology have had a tenuous relationship at best. The basic tools of an architect remained pretty much unchanged until the advent of computer aided drafting and design (CADD) in the 1970s and 1980s. But it has taken over twenty years for the majority of architecture firms to adopt CADD -- and even then, it is almost exclusively in a production (drafting) capacity. The technology of drafting has changed little from the times of dragging an ink-ladened quill across a sheet of parchment; today architects merely drag a cursor across a computer screen instead. Design still tends to occur through sketches drawn by hand on scraps of paper, which are then input into the computer and printed back out to be worked over by hand again.

Slowly -- very slowly, too slowly IMHO -- some architects are beginning to adopt more computer-centric design methods. To think that a profession that has barely changed its methods in 4000 years will suddenly undergo some kind of dramatic transformation in the span of a decade is more than a bit optimisitc. However, the fact that little has changed in those four millennia harkens to something important: architecture remains a constant in the ever-changing world. The basic concepts behind architecture -- shelter from the elements, aesthetically pleasing manipulation of forms and light, effecient arrangement of programmatic functions -- have not changed. More importantly, they can be "easily" translated from the physical realm to the digital: protection from potentially harmful outside influences, an interface that is pleasant and easy to use, a straightforward arrangement of information/whatever.

Physical, "real-world" architecture is not going to disappear. If anything, there will be more and more of it as population centers continue to expand. At the same time, however, the digital world -- our "cyber-future" -- will also continue to grow. Just as architects will have to eventually move from 2D drafting to true 3D design, people will eventually move from a 2D "point-and-grunt" information interface to a 3D environment. When will this happen? What will it be like? Anything you imagine today will likely be hopelessly outdated even in the near future... Could people even 100 years ago really comprehend the level of technology we have today? Why do we expect technology 100 years from now to be any less alien? But I digress...

Why would you want an architect designing such a 3D environment? Because they have been designing 3D environments for 4000 years! While laying the groundwork for a digital architecture firm, I came across a wonderful thesis paper about the future of digital architecture. In summary, it described the myriad possibilities the freedom of the digital world can offer (just think -- no gravity!), but ultimately decided that a full-scale abandoment of "traditional" spatial relationships (up, down, forward, back, etc.) goes too far against natural intuition. This does not mean the future of the digital realm lies in some kind of crude metaphor based on traditional architecture; rather, it will built upon a foundation of traditional spatial thinking. (This kind of makes sense when you think about it. Even 2D environments function best when they stick to traditional spatial relationships, like forward and back, rather than inventing a new paradigm.)

None of this should be taken to imply that architects should or will be the exclusive designers of future digital worlds. What a bleak future that would be! It may be cliche, but variety is the spice of life. Given that most of the traditional barriers of entry into the building design professions (namely safety and liability) do not apply to the digital realm, there is no good reason not to expect folks of many different backgrounds to join in the creation of the "cyber-future."

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
Be careful with those 3D tools (5.00 / 1) (#38)
by kumquat on Thu Jun 07, 2001 at 02:25:32 AM EST

As things stand now most architects don't know fuck-all about how things actually get built. And yes, I speak from experience. I deal with this daily and have been doing so for a number of years. The further you abstract design from the process of building the worse this will become, and I see 3D tools as something that are going to marginalize the profession even more than it already is.

As an example, most US architects draw a 2x4 framed wall as being 4" wide. Framing studs, both wood and steel, are 3-5/8" wide. You know this, but you don't bother drawing that way because it's easier not to and you don't think it matters. Yes, 3/8th's of an inch can matter quite a bit, especially if there are several walls in parallel and you don't dimension correctly.

You don't believe me? Ok, take a bathroom that's 5' wide and will have a molded fiberglass tub/surround at one end. If both side walls were framed from the outside edge of your dimensions then your opening is now 3/4" too big, which is way too much to caulk. Sure, you can drywall one side before installing the tub and cut that down to 1/4", but the drywallers come in after the plumber does his top-out, and there's no way they're going to make a special trip just to hang one sheet. So now the framer has to buy a piece of gypsum and install it, which pisses them off because that's not their job and he charges extra for it. It doesn't do any good to tell him that he should have caught it before because he's going to say it was the architect's responsibility and he just built what was on the plans. Plus, for all he knew the tub was going to be tiled and it wouldn't have mattered. Now when the drywallers do their job they need to double up that wall so that the edge trim of the tub doesn't look like crap, and of course they charge for the extras, too. Now if your plumber was smart (which is rare) he knew the extra 1/2" was going to be on the walls and he stubbed out his sink lines far enough. But the electrician sure as hell didn't think of it and now all his boxes are set 1/2" too far back. If you're lucky he'll fix them and charge you for it, but most likely he'll just shim out the receptacles and use longer screws for the plate. Now the plug will always be wobbley and may become a fire hazard in the future. All that for 3/8".

Now, back to the 3D tools. Set up the program for US measurements and guess what the default wall thickness is. Yup, 4". Standard in AutoCAD Arch. Desktop, ArchiCAD & Vector Works. And for a few more laughs, let's take a look at the default framing surounding window and door objects. 2" wide, of course. What does that 2" represent? It's way too big for either the window frame or the window's RO dimensions. It's also 1" too small for a door frame. If your door object barely fits in the model then it won't fit at all in the actual building.

But boy, those 3D rendered walk-throughs sure do wow the client, don't they?

[ Parent ]

2x4s and 3D tools (4.00 / 1) (#39)
by flieghund on Thu Jun 07, 2001 at 10:35:57 AM EST

Not trying to dispute anything, but the 2x4s I've measued here in Los Angeles are 1.5"x3.5", not 3.625", and that's what we're taught in school. YMMV wherever you happen to be; they change the dimensions largely based upon the availability and quality of wood. There are sections of my frat house where 100-year-old 2x4s (really 2"x4"!) are nailed right next to "modern" 2x4s (1.5"x3.5"). Looks really weird.

As for 3D tools, repeat after me, anything by Autodesk (especially AutoCAD) is generally not as good as its competition. But what makes AutoCAD in particular so damn popular is that it has become the Borg of CAD programs -- other programs innovate with new features, and the next release of AutoCAD assimilates them. There are few tasks for which AutoCAD is the best program available; however, unlike most of its competition, AutoCAD has the capacity to handle 90% of the tasks out there. The competition tends to be specialized into specefic design niches, while AutoCAD is this huge, lumbering, general-purpose tool. If you only want to spend $3000 on a program once, AutoCAD is a good bet. It doesn't do much well, but it does a helluva lot okay.

As for the CAD drawings produced in my firm, you can bet that by the time construction documents are produced, all the walls (interior and exterior) are drawn in accurate dimensions. This is largely due to our in-house Architectural Forensics team who watch over our drawings like hawks and have 30 years of experience dealing with other architects' mistakes. But regardless of this, the eventual size of the walls only makes a difference when clearances between the wall and something else are on a scale of an inch or so. This is because dimensions are generally given from the center line of interior walls and the exterior face of the building for exterior walls. If a wall happens to get a little narrower or a little wider, nothing truly bad happens: the general arrangement of rooms remains constant, and things like doors and windows remain constant as well.

Back to CAD, there are 3D tools out there that are really "next-generation" programs. Revit springs to mind first because we are actually beginning to use it at my office. It bills itself as a "true parametric building modeller," which in layman's terms means that rather than drawing lines on a virtual sheet of paper, you're actually "building" a virtual wall that retains certain attributes like thickness, height, length, materials, cross-section composition, and (really really sweet) variable relationships to other building elements. You can view the model in normal orthographics (plan, section, elevation) or in 3D (ortho, iso, perspective); AND if you cange anything in any view, the change automagically ripples through the entire building model. The program even generates reports and schedules (like how many doors of what type), that are also parametrically tied into the building model.

I bring up Revit because I feel it is the direction that the future of CAD (and architecture) will follow. However, the program itself has some significant drawbacks (compared to other 3D packages out there). It tends to run slow, even on fairly fast machines with 3D acceleration. Though it plays nicely with AutoCAD, the interface between the two is kludgy. And though it uses "RenderMan" rendering technology, IMHO the renderings look obviously artificial. Even the "gallery" on the Revit site is underwhelming. Supposedly they're working on it, but right now you pretty much have to export your Revit file into 3D Studio or something to make a rendering that doesn't look like ass. But hey, if I have to pay for 3D studio in the first place, why am I fscking around with another 3D program?

And once again, the Borg that is Autodesk (Kinetix is an Autodesk subsidiary) has you firmly in its grasp...

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
[ Parent ]
Revit sounds way cool! (none / 0) (#40)
by Mantrid on Thu Jun 07, 2001 at 10:56:28 AM EST

IANAA hehe, but it does sound neat. I've always thought 3D computer graphics were really cool (since Tron maybe). I play around with 3DS MAX R4 and it's great for me making stuff that looks neat. I've always wondered about real tools though...wonder if MAX has plugins for real building materials?

[ Parent ]
Autodesk & such (none / 0) (#41)
by kumquat on Thu Jun 07, 2001 at 11:07:13 AM EST

Well, I rather like it AutoCAD. I hated it for years and years though, and put up mighty resistance for as long as I could. But after trying and intensly disliking everything else and then having ArchiCAD lose 1/2 the model between saves, I decided to give the ol' standard one more shot.

The modeling tools that come with the Architectural Desktop are as buggy as everyone elses, but if you stay in 2D and surrender yourself to AutoCAD's eccentricities then you may find yourself rather pleased with it. Another thing is that I've not managed to crash the program even once. I've brought it to a crawl with dozens of full layers on at once, but never crashed it.

Yes, it is still ridiculously expensive and chock full of litterally hundreds, if not thousands, of features I'll never use. But the more I use it the more I think it's the standard because of more than just good marketing. It just feels right.

Anyway, I do absolutely believe that 3D design tools will fundamentally change the profession. But I am quite positive that the tools now available are not yet up to the task. And once any developer or civil engineer has the ability to rapidly knock out plans that are somewhat buildable you guys are in real trouble. Don't kid yourself with the belief that people will be drawn to superior design skills. A quick look around you should reveal how laughable that belief is.

Your profession needs to get heavily involved with design/build, and it needs to do it quickly if it wants to survive in any meaningful form. I've been pretty harsh to architects all throughout this story, but that's because I actually have a lot of respect for good architecture. It pisses me off that the built world we live in is full of shit because all the good designers are too full of themselves to even consider getting involved with unglamorous, mundane projects. Forget the museums and $250/sf residences. Do something about Wal-Mart.

[ Parent ]

Will architects build our cyber-future? | 42 comments (29 topical, 13 editorial, 0 hidden)
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