How machines are changing the way we work and think*


One of the first major evolution in architecture came with the Industrial Revolution that began in England about 1760. It was characterized by the radical changes at every level of civilization, but in architecture specially with the growth of heavy industry that brought a flood of new building materials. The mass production of iron, steel and glass in large quantities made them economically plausible as building materials. For architects and engineers it was a new dawn where devised structures hitherto undreamed of in function, size and form. Factories have evolved to new forms and utilities: they are the technology that are becoming part of us in our daily life.

We are now facing the same paradigm of (r)evolution as the one started in 1760: new materials and new ways of building – such as 3D printing, metamaterials, Virtual and augmented reality, and so on.  Architecture (similar to many other areas) is once again facing a massive disruption with a strong impact on society.

We have developed tools and technology to assist in the pursuit of our goals. Large shifts in technology have resulted in large shifts in social structures, and how individuals both contribute to society and make a living.

One way to trace human history is to follow the evolution of work. Intelligent processes, enabled by digital technology, create a virtuous cycle of constant improvement fed by continuous feedback. Machines dominate our workplace and workspace. This have been made possible by the explosion of digital technologies.

Today, technological advances are rapidly making it possible to automate much of the work currently carried out by humans.

Technology is a set of tools that we use in different ways to increase efficiency. While technology has always removed the need for some types of jobs, it also creates new ones. The new jobs require a completely different skills set.

Science fiction has long imagined a future where we no longer have to work and can spend our time on more noble pursuits. Could it be that we are reaching that inflection point in human history? As William Gibson statement, “the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed.”

Technology is bringing to architecture the world of computational design. It means that architects are pursuing new frontiers where architecture can be generated through the writing of algorithms and software, where interactive physical mechanisms can be built that respond to their environment, adapting and evolving as necessary.

Machines are not improving the quality of design in architecture, they are allowing for more vast and quick possibilities. “There is no greater influence on building design and office culture today than technology,” said Stephen Guest.

The way we interface with a machine have gone beyond the screen: rapid prototyping evolves to rapid fabrication, parametric design, etc. Architectures with the ability to recognize and incorporate sophisticated sensors already inherent in cell phones, clothing, and other products will permit powerful feedback loops about their users, thus improving the design and usefulness of environments.

We should keep exploring and take advantage of technology but not being blinded by it. “Just because technology is capable of doing something does not necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do.” Heather Martin


* This article was originally published in the book “Making – Alternative designs for factories” by Non Architecture Competitions [2016]

Image: Cover of the book

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