Yes, it’s 2010, hurray. It’s no mystery that technology is moving quickly these days. This speed of change is causing us to become increasingly excited, yet perhaps a bit more critical of our interactions with computers in our day to day lives and as they relate to our field of architecture and planning. As the rate of computing power increases ever more quickly for a set unit of time, we have grown to expect technology to be able to do anything. This leads us to ask the technological gods such mundane questions as, “why do we need to launch twenty different software applications to realize the design of a building?” Or, “why are we still connected to our computers via a mouse and keyboard, which is no less frustrating than trying to experience the depth of space through only a hand held telescope?” “Why am I not immersed in a three dimensional environment allowing me to actually experience the spatial implications of my design, as I design it, living it, breathing it, launching me into another world in the way I have a second life in Second Life?” Aren’t we ready for the next breakthrough in the direction of what seems to be inevitable?
Don’t get me wrong, the last decade was incredible in terms of technological advances as they relate to our design profession. In the early 2000’s, BIM was a mysterious acronym that had to be explained to all but your most up to speed colleagues at the coffee counter. As we move into this next decade, these conversations it seems are becoming as overplayed as gossip about Tiger Wood’s personal life. BIM is, of course in hindsight, an obvious technological step in what we do. Why should architects, planners, and designers have to bother themselves with managing massive loads of information and the repetitive, monotonous tasks that computation can quickly do for them? No human brain can contain within it all the interworkings of what goes into the commissioning of a single building. We need to record each piece of the puzzle step by step as part of a comprehensive database, and deliver them in a way that is translatable to the creation of a final product – a usable, efficient, timeless building. In our profession, that’s one of the main things computers are for — to help us organize the immense complexities of it all. Their other is to help us visualize our designs as part of our creative process. The 00’s finally began to deliver in both these regards.
During the previous decade, with BIM came Revit, which, at least in our firm, has nearly infiltrated every last corner of our digital universe. It was of course clunky at first, but nicely improved through each annual upgrade. The true beauty in Revit, as I see it, is that it has allowed my generation to disconnect from the idea of “drafting,” a term which is about as awkward as referring to your music player as a “Walkman.” However, AutoCAD, as much as everybody hates to admit it, has not disappeared. It is apparently still crucial for quick planning and just getting some easy lines down on “paper.”
And now, even with AutoCAD still opened on our desktops, as we move fearlessly forward into the 2010’s, we sense this buzz of the future of 3D visualization brought to us by our cinema friends with Avatar. To me even this seems pretty obvious and underwhelming; after all, we are designers of 3D environments so of course we should be processing our design knowledge through fully immersive virtual 3D world! I’ll be satisfied when I actually feel as though I am standing in three dimensions designing the space around me. So we wait. We wait for somebody to bring into view the next technology that will yet again transform our profession.
One of the most immediate changes I would like to see is the disappearance of our machine umbilical cord (the measly mouse and keyboard connection we have with the digital world). This would allow us to more intuitively become a part of what we are designing. A full immersion of the senses in creating space would seem too good to be true.
Aside from 3D immersion, it would seem that the nature of social networks, the “hive mind” movement of our technological culture, the digital interconnectedness that we are all beginning to become a part of, could fundamentally transform our process for designing spatial environments. The installation of a hive mind process cannot, however, be forced. It will take time. In this previous decade we’ve already seen the likes of open source architecture begin to take shape, and I would predict we have barely broken the surface. I would bet that in 2020 we will look back at 2010 and see open source, or network driven design, as being as obvious an idea as BIM is to us now looking back at 2000.
We can glimpse with excitement the (near) future and what that might be, and in this world of overwhelmingly rapid change, we are overcome with impatience. The technology curve has so far proven unstoppable and even the unimaginable (by most) is probably only a few years away. We can sense imminent change thanks to the sheer speed at which all other parts of our technological lives seem to be progressing (for instance, the last decade delivered to us access to all the combined knowledge of the human race from devices we can carry around in our pockets). The 2010’s will no doubt be transformational.