It’s here! Sashaying effortlessly into the discipline of architecture, glittering with the promise of being immaculate, revolutionary and invincible: ChatGPT. OpenAI’s latest chatbot has been received with a frenzied reception that feels all too familiar, as it is touted as the “next big thing”. 

The idea has already garnered a horde of those who vouch for it, and an even bigger horde of those who don’t. But first let us unpack where technology has led us, and what more lies in store. 

Technology interruptus 

The tendency to glamorise moments of technological glory may have been founded in the early successes of CAD and BIM at a time when manual drafting was the norm. However, not everything translated into the disruption it was meant to be. Despite its indications of rapid production, cost efficiency and waste minimisation, the vision of 3d printing was never fully realised, and the technology struggles to see large-scale adaptation today. 

What does it take to succeed? 

The innovation must be accessible and adaptable, supported by a proportionate level of skill, hardware and other resources. Architectural technology, particularly, must have the added aspect of utility, or the knowledge of where it fits in the machinery of the design process. 

If it becomes an integral, indispensable cog in the machine, it will inevitably be sustained, as AutoCAD, BIM and generative design have been. But if it cannot prove itself critical to the process and remains optional or supplementary – such as 3D printing, virtual and augmented reality – it is less likely to flourish. 

A Wikipedia image of the Shard (right) vs. four Disco Diffusion generated visuals. AI’s knowledge extends only as far as existing databases. Consequently, AI responds like a heavily influenced architect to the prompts “glass, pyramid, tower, London cityscape”.

Which technology to choose? 

Each technological innovation operates within a specific domain, delineated by its functions, to produce a specific result. It is ultimately the decision of the architect to ascertain the route to obtain the desired outcome.  

The way ahead 

We have come a long way from pen-and-paper architecture. Most artificial intelligence (AI) software such as DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, Disco Diffusion, Midjourney and even ChatGPT, operate by utilising data derived from open-access cyberspace to generate responses based on text prompts provided by the user – giving tangible shape to an idea in minutes. This reveals exciting new avenues in architecture, as designers are already discovering. 

AI as architect? 

Using AI to engineer a building from scratch is still a distant dream, albeit a plausible one. With its hyper-dependence on recycling data in cyberspace, AI is vulnerable to blindly imitating architectural styles, resulting in consumerist copy-paste architecture.  

A more resourceful approach is employing image-based AI in the post-production phase, to augment the rendering process, or even in supplementary design needs of marketing and online content creation. Text-based as well as image-based AI can be employed at almost any stage of the design process.  

In theory, asking software the right questions could potentially assist in exploring an idea. Yet this is problematic because of the way AI works. 

AI vs architect 

In a way, architects also work based on prompts that the client provides directly, through a brief, and indirectly, through their personal subjectivities. This layer is then superimposed with the architect’s own sensibilities, his or her individualistic style, and interpretations.  

Embedding this knowledge within artificial systems of intelligence may yet take some time. Meanwhile, let us bask in the knowledge unfolding before us, taking it with a grain of salt and not overestimating its capacity. 

Full acknowledgement and thanks go to www.archdaily.com/ for the information in this editorial. 

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