We are living and working in a digital time with rapid advances in technology making it possible for architects, designers, engineers and other professionals in the built environment to streamline and optimise every step of the design and construction process.
New technologies can be used to produce more energy-efficient structures, for example by using geospatial data to determine wall and window placement as well as applying algorithms and computational design methods to generate multiple permutations of a design solution and select the best from thousands of possibilities.

To stay relevant and be able to keep up with the demands of modern architecture and design, as well as tighter budgets and timelines, the use of appropriate technology in architecture is becoming more and more important.

This infographic is a brief overview of the digital technologies that are available to architects, designers, engineers and the rest of the professional team for designing and constructing buildings:

Design
•    Drawing tools
As a basic starting point, computer-aided design programmes automate the manual drafting process in both 2D and 3D. These platforms are available for architects, designers, draftspersons and engineers to generate precision architectural drawings, technical illustrations and documentation for 3D models with real-life sophistication.

•    Rendering software
Different from 3D modelling software, 3D rendering software enables the production of realistic rendered visualisations, including animation and walkthroughs of architectural models.

•    Performance-based design tools
These tools enable architects and engineers to model energy and daylight outputs in order to design high-performance buildings. What’s more, modern software now allows the impact of these changes on building performance to reflect instantaneously, which makes it much easier to explore different options, rather than having to wait for feedback after every change.

•    Parametric modelling
In her book Integrating Innovation in Architecture: Design, Methods and Technology for Progressive Practice and Research, published by John Wiley & Sons last year, Dr Ajla Aksamija explains that parametric modelling “allows the adaptation of an object through the use of rules and constraints or ‘parameters’ to influence an object’s properties”. These rules may represent structural loads, environmental data or simply changes in dimensions. Therefore, analytical data can be used to derive multiple design options without having to recreate the entire model.

•    3D printing
An additional tool to yield 3D models, it involves the creation of 3D objects by laying down successive layers of material, which can have different mechanical and physical properties. Besides modelling complete building shapes, 3D printing can be especially helpful to interior designers who produce furniture objects that can be moved around in an interior – helping clients to visualise layouts and use of space.

New in 3D scanning
This year, Autodesk is making 3D scanning technology more accessible with the launch of a more affordable 3D scanner, the Leica BLK360, together with a reality capture app, ReCap 360 Pro, which registers scans.

According to Autodesk Gold Partner, Baker Baynes, this is a big step forward. “The technology used for capturing existing conditions at a project site is powerful and precise, but it can be very expensive and complicated. And even though the cost and complexity of scanning technology has come down over the last few years, it still represents a significant barrier for many small to mid-size companies. As such, the majority of building renovation or expansion projects still rely on 2D drawings, manual measurements or outsourced scanning. However, as-built documentation doesn’t necessarily reflect real as-built conditions, while manual measurements are inherently error prone and the cost of hiring scanning contractors can be overwhelming,” Thabelo Netshivhungululu, BIM Specialist, explains.

•    Virtual reality (VR)
Bringing CAD, BIM, Revit or other 3D models into a virtual reality space is made easy with these kinds of software, and with a bit of programming knowledge, the VR models also become fully customisable. The outcome is interactive walkthroughs that provide clients with a realistic experience of what it would feel like to actually be in the simulated environment.

New in virtual/augmented reality
According to Thabelo Netshivhungululu from Baker Baynes, virtual and augmented reality real estate and construction solutions are used in the sales and design phase to yield faster project approvals and more positive client interactions.

With Autodesk’s launch of Revit LIVE, it is now possible to seamlessly convert a project visualisation into an interactive model in the cloud. This experience draws viewers into the story of an architectural design, much like a video game. It enables architects, engineers and other construction professionals to customise and share the experience with clients to explore on their own, enhancing communication of a digital design before a project ever breaks ground.

•    Artificial intelligence (AI)
This self-learning technology is growing at an exponential rate due to the increased volume of data that can be gathered and stored. AI has the potential to influence various stages of the architectural design process, from assisting with site research to the constructing and operating of a building. For example, architects can harness AI to develop a design proposal by inputting certain project parameters, after which the system can come up with a range of solutions to fulfil these criteria.

Specification
•    Estimation software
Construction estimating software is used to calculate, track and manage the total cost of a construction project. These kind of programmes automate formulas that otherwise would be calculated in manual spreadsheets or with calculators. It can help to quantify estimated costs for tenders, as well as to manage costs throughout the project.

•    Online specification tools
While there are some specification libraries available as part of certain online offerings, many product manufacturers and suppliers have their own interactive online tools or applications that provide specifiers with the appropriate wording for technical product specifications.

Construction
•    Building Information Modelling (BIM)
Although BIM is not just software, but rather workflow for creating and managing shared information between the entire project team across the lifecycle of a project, it must be noted when talking about technology. Probably one of the biggest game changers in the industry at the moment, the BIM process can save thousands of hours in design, documentation, construction and commissioning activities, and improve overall construction project delivery.

•    3D printing
In construction, 3D printing is used to create customisable, prefabricated components or even to print entire buildings. In time, 3D printing could cut construction time, labour and material costs, as well as reduce waste generation. In addition, recycled products can be used as construction materials in 3D printers.

•    Robotics
Robots and drones have already been used to construct several architectural structures with great success. The debate about robot vs human is an ongoing one, but the benefit of using robots is that they can be used in places or conditions that are difficult or dangerous for the human workforce.

According to Randy Deutsch, associate professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois, digital design-to-fabrication tools will continue to mature and scale. “The line between design and construction means methods, which existed for liability, legal and insurance reasons, will start to blur and the industry will be closer to a unified workflow,” he predicts.

Your choice
Whichever tools you prefer will depend on the kind of projects you are typically involved in, as well as the type of computer you use and the software you need to interface with. It is therefore best to discuss your objectives with expert representatives from technology companies to get the perfect fit.

However, in this day and age, it is important to keep up to speed on what is out there, and what is to be expected in the future, to ensure that you are not missing out on the power of technology to realise your visions and build the best buildings possible.

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Incorporating technology in design
Not only is the use of technology to better design and build important, but the incorporation of the latest automation technologies in the buildings itself is also becoming more and more imperative.

These kinds of technologies include connectivity, automation, energy tracking and more. It is about enabling people to customise their environments according to their needs and to provide experiences, whether at home, at work, in retail or while travelling.

The Internet of Things
It is all about being connected – with smart devices popping up all around us, people are getting increasingly used to personalising their environments according to their needs. Before arriving home, they would like to be able to switch on certain lights, maybe music and check the driveway remotely via a phone or tablet, and perhaps have the gate open when it senses the car approaching. However, to achieve this, buildings need to be embedded with sensors and network connectivity that enable all the electronic devices to exchange data.

Invisible technology
All this technology should be unobtrusive and therefore be incorporated in the initial design of the building as early as possible. Today, many devices are wireless and some are even made to look like something else. For example, televisions that turn into a work of art when switched off or speakers that double up as wall coverings.

Energy-tracking applications
Especially when doing renovations, these web-based applications can help to establish a baseline from where to improve, as well as help facility managers to ensure that buildings are operating as efficiently as possible long after construction. Otherwise, these can help building owners to track and manage their usage and identify problem areas timeously.

Electric/driverless cars, drones etc.
Architectural designs also have to adapt to accommodate new technologies that will influence people’s behaviour and will have an impact on their environment. There will have to be drop-off points and landing pads for drones, charging stations for electric cars and more. It may still seem far into the future, but when designing a building today to last for 50 years or more, one needs to start thinking about how our buildings, precincts and cities will be able to incorporate these new technologies in the future.
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Full thanks and acknowledgment are given to Autodesk, Baker Baynes, www.viatechnik.com, www.architectmagazine.com, www.dezeen.com, http://3dprintingindustry.com and http://archinet.com for the information given to write this article.

*Note: There are a plethora of tools and technologies available today to help architects and specifiers. This is just a brief overview to serve as a reminder of what is available out there.