How AI is Changing Architecture

No more drafting tables

Key Takeaways

  • Artificial intelligence will one day be able to design whole buildings from scratch.
  • Architecture designed by AI is likely to be very different from human designs and show its own creativity, experts say.
  • AI can also make architecture more efficient by processing large data sets to find quick solutions.
Digital AR image of a house display on a tablet
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Instead of hiring an architect, artificial intelligence software may one day be able to design your new home or office.

AI is already influencing architecture. New technologies ranging from smart speakers to smart thermostats are changing the way architects think about living and workspace. But the architecture of the future that’s designed by AI may be unique, according to the authors of a new paper in the International Journal of Architectural Computing.

“The result is something new, different, alien, strange, and wonderfully beautiful—maybe the first genuine 21st-century architecture," Matias del Campo, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Michigan, and one of the researchers who carried out the study, said in an email interview.

Teaching an AI to Build

In their recent study, del Campo and his colleagues used algorithms to create imagined designs. They worked with DeepDream, a neural network-based model that simulates the brain processes that allow humans to have psychedelic dreams, and fed it architecture plans from the Baroque and Modern eras.

The result is something new, different, alien, strange, and wonderfully beautiful.

"When you train a neural network to learn features from a database of Baroque plans and apply those features to a Modern plan, you would expect to see a Modern plan that maybe has some Baroque traits," del Campo explained. "The machine learning process creates a strange restructuring of the features—it understands things like poches, folds, mass, and void and fuses them with modern features to produce an architecture that is surprising, different, defamiliarized, and speculative."

Faster, Smarter Designs

AI may also help with more prosaic aspects of architecture, experts say. 

"There are many inefficiencies within the architecture process in the realms of design, delivery, and simulation," Bill Kwon, vice president of IT and digital transformation at the architecture firm CallisonRTKL, said in an email interview. "AI will inevitably wean out the waste through optimized and predictive modeling, create efficiencies, and reduce errors through automation and continuous learning."

Instead of designing buildings, architects need rather to design the systems that inform the built environment.

Kwon predicts that AI will one day be able to design whole buildings from scratch, though its first iterations will have a "great deal of human behavioral bias" and be very familiar.

"Over time, as the AI learns from different or self-created learning sets, the potential for unique outcomes is more probable," added Kwon. "Ultimately, it will take longer than we think for AI to truly 'design,' but once it can, the impact will be more profound than we [can] imagine."

Saving Time and Pencils

AI design can quickly consider many different combinations of features and options that would take an architect a long time to discover, said Roger Duncan, a former research fellow at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, and co-author of the book The Future of Buildings, Transportation and Power, in an email interview.

"For instance, AI can take big data sets, such as the sun’s impact on a site over the course of a year, and give very precise modifications to such features as windows and overhangs," he added. "We have yet to see if such intangibles as ‘beauty’ can be communicated to an AI. But even if not, the tremendous permutations and options AI provides increases the possibility of designs that people would consider beautiful."

Couple organizing virtual house model
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AI architecture is such a hot field that the New York Institute of Technology is starting a new graduate program in Architecture, Computational Technologies

"Instead of designing buildings, architects need rather to design the systems that inform the built environment," Pablo Lorenzo-Eiroa, an associate professor of architecture and director of the program, said in an email interview. "The contemporary architect designs algorithms, robotic systems, robots for construction, and even new materials, that inform architecture." 

The day may soon arrive when AI will be designing your home and office space. Even stranger, the designs that AI comes up with could be unique in ways we can only imagine.

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