• Architects and urban planners will require time and may even struggle to adopt AI technologies, which could lead to disparities and an urban-rural digital divide.
• It is vital raise awareness of AI and its potential among students in these disciplines, and to develop tools that offer a positive user experience.
In architecture and urban planning, the creation of an aesthetic vision that complies with technical and legal constraints has always been a major challenge. Right now, there are hardly any artificial intelligence tools with the capacity to provide automated solutions to complex problems posed by real-world projects, but members of both professions are already aware of the potential benefits. Nonetheless, “there is a good deal of scepticism about AI tools among architects,” points out Phillip Bernstein, associate dean and adjunct professor at Yale University of Architecture. The former vice-president of software publisher Autodesk points out that architects are often slow to adopt new technology, and it is till too early to say how AI will be used in the profession. “It can help us find solutions to improve building performance, but architects tend to work with very limited resources in terms of time and money.”
Urban planners have relatively limited knowledge of analytical methods and artificial intelligence
Saving time spent on repetitive tasks
In other words, certain design optimisation tasks could be processed automatically, which would enable architects to spend more time on other aspects of building projects. “It is important to note that AI has the ability to streamline information flows in the construction industry,” points out Phillip Bernstein. He further adds that “routine tasks involved in designing buildings, which are technical and boring, could in the future be automated. For example, if the plans for a hospital include 700 doors, several parameters have to be defined for each of them. “You need to know whether they open to the left or right, if they have a fire rating, what kind of frame they need, what the framing material is, and whether they have to be lockable, etc…” Similarly, floors and ceilings may need to be adapted to take into account the installation of doors. “It’s relatively simple to train an AI make sure things are well co-ordinated, rather than asking a junior to spend a week of his or her time on doors.” There is a solution for every chore.
Technological solutions for different skill sets
Certain start-ups producing software tools for architects believe this is the case, among them the makers of cove.tool who point out that “the most tedious of design details could instantly be solved with the use of AI algorithms in most project phases, from initial planning and scheduling to construction, data processing, and facility management.” Although the reality in the profession has yet to live up to this promise, the American Institute of Architects has reported that 90 percent of US architecture studios 90 per cent expect to be using artificial intelligence technology more over the next three years. “The adoption of these innovations will be incremental,” explains Thomas Sanchez, who teaches urban planning teacher at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). The researcher conducted a survey of close to 30,000 urban planners, which included a question on their opinion of AI tools. “Contrary to what you might think, it’s not just a matter of young people who are enthusiastic and a reluctant older generation – it’s a mix.” The survey also revealed that knowledge of analytical methods and artificial intelligence among urban planners was relatively low, which leads Sanchez to observe that with regard to the use of these technologies by the profession, an urban-rural digital divide may develop over time, which would negatively affected planning activities outside of urban areas.
A focus on training and user experiences
The most urgent need right now is to raise awareness among young professionals. “These people need to be given the opportunity to think about the practical implications of these tools, because in three years’ time, when they have been available for a year or two, that will make all the difference,” points out Phillip Bernstein. The co-author of a white paper for UN-Habitat entitled AI & Cities: Risks, Applications and Governance, Professor Shin Koseki of the University of Montreal’s School of Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture, believes we relate to AI in much the same way that we related to computers a few decades ago. “It’s very difficult to say which projects have specifically benefited from IT over the last 30 years.” For Koseki, the success of AI will depend on its integration in professional tools. “When a tool is well integrated, you don’t see it anymore. The tool will simply help us to prevent problems and optimise technical details like building envelopes and the configuration of spaces.” In other words, architects urban planners are ready to take advantage of the opportunities offered by AI as long as they don’t have to spend too much time thinking about them.