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Imagine living in a perfectly designed city that sees no traffic jams, has a self-regulating system that monitors the level of air pollution and totally relies on the Internet-of-Things (IoT). Does it sound like a sci-fi fantasy, that’s probably decades away? In fact, it’s not. Such a place has been designed with the help of big data and AI digital tools for architects in Chongqing, China.
This is where the campus of a unicorn startup Terminus Group will be based. The company combined AI with the IoT concept to construct smart buildings forming a smart city. Their AI-run city campus will rely on the Terminus AI City Operating System (TACOS) that controls everything in the city from traffic to the fire service and will create a connected and sustainable ecosystem. Collecting and distributing IoT data, TACOS will use it to inform various services in the city, continuously upgrading the ecosystem. According to the project’s design, people’s homes on the campus will have automatically adjusting solar panels and windows with the capacity to change their opacity depending on the time of the day.
This is a great example of how far the advancement of AI in architecture can get. But it’s not the only one.
AI and the success of machine learning (ML) depend on big data. Over the past years, the volumes of big data have been dramatically increasing creating more opportunities for AI-powered solutions in various industries, including architecture.
According to Statista’s projections, the global big data market is expected to grow to $103bn by 2027. This is more than double of what was expected of its size in 2018. The software segment will become one the largest in the market with the forecast to reach a share of 45% by 2027.
Architectural datasets are rich and complex and can provide architects with huge amounts of invaluable information that is well-suited to train AI systems.
One of the solutions with the involvement of AI digital tools for architects is software allowing to automate routine tasks on the project. Incorporating data and automation into their everyday workflow, architects and designers can focus on the creative component of their work.
In fact, architects and engineers have been already using automation. Computer-aided design (CAD), for instance, has been there for half of a century and is responsible for an industry shift from paper to digital versions of designs. The next step is to marry existing software to ML and further automate some of the routine tasks, including calculations and making drawings.
The Higharc startup is one of the companies offering a notable solution of this type. Its automated all-in-one web platform for home builders uses ML algorithms to draw architectural layouts taking into account a broad spectrum of factors that would require a time-consuming human effort otherwise.
Some companies are already incorporating AI in construction-related software. The Building Information Modelling (BIM) platform has been helping architects and engineers to streamline the construction process and make it more efficient and cost-effective for nearly two decades. Upgrading it with the help of ML will make the whole process even more efficient and save time on the project work.
With ML BIM software can learn from available data and detect patterns, allowing it to make independent decisions on the automation of the construction process. AI-backed BIM software is capable of monitoring an array of aspects of the construction project and coming up with solutions faster than humans. What’s more important it lowers the risk of human error.
Another major advantage is that this approach allows to improve safety on sites since AI-powered BIM software can analyze the situation on set from images and identify risks, including fall hazards.
Architects and engineers spend many hours designing buildings, creating several variations and checking the parameters of the buildings. This is where AI can be very useful. With access to the datasets of existing projects, AI can generate designs with the needed parameters and within the budget much faster. What’s also important, it can learn from each iteration and practise in coming up with more suitable designs, becoming a stronger tool in the future.
The Spacemaker platform for early-stage real-estate development that combines cloud computing and AI is one of the companies implementing this approach on a scale. It offers AI-powered generative design to create more sustainable buildings and cities. With this tool designers can test and evaluate ideas for design in minutes.
All these opportunities lead to a question — will AI replace architects?
There are fears in the industry that further advancement of AI in architecture will leave hundreds of thousands of architects around the globe jobless.
A controversial statement by New York-based designer Sebastian Errazuriz saying that “90% of architects’ jobs are at risk” due to automation stirred a debate online with many disagreeing and saying that it’s better to take AI as an opportunity rather than a threat.
The latter sounds reasonable since AI can be used as a tool to streamline workflows and replace tedious tasks. What’s more important is that AI and ML are good at monitoring and analyzing big chunks of data, but when it comes to generating new ideas, human minds are still outperforming.
In an interview with Common Edge, Frank Stasiowski, the founder of PSMJ Resources, a management consulting firm that specializes in architecture, engineering and construction, said that half of the industry would be using AI for 50% of the work by 2030.
“It will mean a new role for architects. As an architect myself, what I get excited about is, we’ll have the ability to push a button and get alternatives instantly. So your opportunity to spend more time researching alternative designs and adding real value is significant. It’s going to change the entire profession,” he said, commenting on the role of AI in the future of architect’s profession.
The success of ML will depend on humans who will have to determine how good AI is at solving complex problems. But for now it’s safe to say that in the foreseeable future, major decisions in architecture and construction will be made by humans.
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