Two young architects

How Programming Skills Today Create the Architects of Tomorrow

Every Job is a STEAM Job is our series looking at why your kids will need tech literacy and coding skills to succeed in their future careers, no matter where those careers take them. Previously, we looked at how technology is changing journalists, small business owners, and the professionals protecting our national parks.

Today, your child is playing with programming toys and identifying color patterns, but tomorrow she could be designing skyscrapers or constructing eco-friendly college campuses.

The worlds of technology and architecture are closely intertwined, both because of the skillsets required to succeed in the fields and because of the types of people the industry attracts. Kids who love designing, tinkering, and creating could have lucrative careers as architects one day.

Here’s how the industry has changed to embrace technology, and why kids with STEAM backgrounds will have a leg up on some of the best designers in the world.

Programming Teaches Problem Solving

At its core, architecture is about problem solving. Architects compare what a client wants with what they’ve been given and work to make those two ends meet.

“Designing buildings means taking the requirements of what the building will be used for such as building size, how spaces are organized, and general feel of the spaces, and putting it together into a package that is usable, functional, and most of all, aesthetically pleasing,” Ryan Hansanuwat writes at the Architecture Career Guide.

He explains that most people assume architects need strong drawing and math skills, but this isn’t necessarily the case. “The skill an architect should have is the ability to creatively problem-solve.”

Pursuing an interest in coding doesn’t naturally mean your child is predestined to have a career in technology. The skill is widely in-demand across multiple industries — many of which are starting to embrace technological advancements to modernize their fields. An early interest in coding could be a way to grow their creative problem solving skills and foster a lifetime or curiosity.

A little boy playing with blocks

“The field of architecture is dynamic, as technologies and techniques are always evolving rapidly,” Elizabeth Trovall writes at The Intern Group. “Architects have to constantly educate themselves in order to keep up with the field, which makes it both challenging and exciting. The day-to-day life of an architect can vary, with some days spent in the office, others visiting clients, and some days out on site.”

Trovall also points out that architects develop a greater appreciation for the city around them. If you’ve caught your child taking apart the TV remote to see what’s inside, this field will give him an opportunity to (metaphorically) tear apart the city to understand how it works.

Your child might not be drafting blueprints just yet, but the problem solving skills he’s learning today in school and through after-school coding activities could set him up for a successful architecture career.

“Architecture school teaches you to solve problems like no other education,” Michael Riscica, AIA writes at Young Architect. “Architecture school is often about examining information [that] we already know and using that information to creatively solve new problems. Architecture school rewires your brain, and most students graduate being a very different person from when they started.”

While building design as an abstract concept might seem straightforward, the best architects are able to view a problem from multiple angles and creatively think of new solutions to solve it.

Architecture Requires Multiple Fields of Expertise

Architecture is no longer a siloed field. Other industries are increasingly calling on architects to collaborate on projects, while design firms are bringing on specialists who can provide their expertise.

“Architecture as we know it is likely to disappear and, in the future, the role of architects may be very different to how we recognize it today,” Lidija Grozdanic writes at Archipreneur. “Specialists in, for example, environmental science and social anthropology will become active team members in design studios, working on complex projects that require knowledge in different fields. It is reasonable to expect that the emergence of specialists from various fields will eliminate many of the job profiles currently existing in the construction industry.”

Architecture itself is becoming more of an interdisciplinary field. Today’s biologists and social scientists will be just as comfortable sitting on architecture teams as the structural engineers themselves.

“[Instead of paying] a lot of attention to the artifact — the physical thing — [we’re putting] a greater emphasis of the opportunity represented when people gather,” Steve McConnell of NBBJ tells FastCoDesign.

McConnell provides one example in which the client wanted to increase the opportunity for spontaneous run-ins between employees to further increase in-house collaboration and communication. The architecture firm mapped possible pathways that could be taken by employees and tried to maximize intersections between them.

A building mid-construction

Other disciplines need architects to collaborate toward the greater good, allowing today’s architects to dream beyond building design and consider applying their skills to the fields of  biology, physics, and the arts.

“Like many fields, architecture is increasingly influenced by the call for more collaboration among disciplines,” Blaine Brownell writes at Architect magazine. Brownwell co-taught at the University of Minnesota by combining graduate design students in the school of architecture with biology students.

“In this half-semester course, we gave students the option to pursue not only biomimicry but also biodesign, a method of working directly with living systems rather than mimicking them. The regular participation of biologists in the studio and design review settings revealed several benefits of bringing together separate disciplines in pursuit of a clear objective.”

Coding Skills Help You Do Better Work Faster

Even within the traditional architecture field, coding helps designers do more with that they’re allotted.

Case in point: ArchDaily reviewed 928 job postings from the top 50 architecture firms in the country to identify what skills, tools, and accreditations employers were looking for. They also filtered this information by experience level in the field. The majority of those postings required applicants have experience using Revit and/or AutoCAD, two popular drafting and design software tools in the industry, Vanessa Quirk writes at ArchDaily.

“We must admit that we were disappointed (but not surprised) to see that Grasshopper [an algorithmic modeling software] was only required for 3% of the jobs. And good old-fashioned hand-sketching was only explicitly called out in 4% of these jobs.”

Computational design expert Nathan Miller shared his own rocky experience with coding in an April 2016 piece at the Building Design and Construction Network. Miller said he tried a programming class in high school and completely failed. This lead him to pursue a career in design and sketching — something he considered the exact opposite of computer programming.

It wasn’t until he realized how the two could work together that he formed an appreciation for the skill.

A young architect working on her laptop

“Throughout my design education, 3D modeling and technology was a huge interest of mine,” Miller said. “However, I never returned to the world of coding until I began working as a professional designer. In the midst of burning the midnight oil on design competitions something about the value of coding and automation started to click.

“… Not only could a little coding make complex tasks easy: it also allowed me to do things with design that would not have been possible otherwise.”

This lead to a full-on romance with coding, and today Miller provides software customization to clients and actually programs for fun.

“Although visual programming languages can work without text commands, a designer who can code can extend the functionality of any software and catch on to new programs easier,” Connecticut-based architect Michael Kilkelly, AIA tells Architect magazine. “Coding trains one to think in a structured way, which also helps in problem solving.”

While many of today’s software tools can help architects shape a building’s design to their specifications, the ability to dive behind the scenes and make changes manually can speed up the process or create opportunities to design unique structures.

The Industry Has Seen Increased Demand for Robotics and 3D Printing

Of course, not everyone interested in technology and the architecture field has to become an architect. Robotics development continues to make construction safer and more efficient, making developers and inventors an increasingly important part of the creation process.

“Robotics is coming to the construction industry,” Stephanie Orlich, AIA writes at VOA. “It won’t be long before we are assisting in designing to a construction process that involves assembly robots. Assisted robotics, in which a human and robot work together to direct the construction process, is also on the horizon.”

Along with robotics, 3D printing and cutting have taken the field by storm, as top architecture firms start investing in this technology. These firms will need employees who are familiar with the equipment and the software.

“Until now, architects had to output digital designs for laser cutting, 3D printing, or CNC production by cobbling together Kluge-like 2D-to-3D workflows that require multiple software tools, screenshot sharing, and a lot of hoping for the best,” Randy Deutsch, AIA tells Architect.

“The line between design and construction means and methods — which existed for liability, legal, and insurance reasons — will start to blur, and the industry will be closer to a unified workflow.”

3D printers create impressive scale models for client review, and allow the design to easily make changes with just a few clicks on the mouse. Something that used to take days now takes a few hours, and allows teams to multitask for increased productivity.

“With a 3D printer you can make your design come to life while saving yourself the hours of work that creep into creating a scale model,” the team at i.Materialise writes. “Once you place an order for a 3D print, you can continue working on other important tasks — the 3D printer will do the job autonomously. 3D printing is especially useful if your design is made of complicated design elements (such as double-curved surfaces or complex facades).”

Speaking of increased productivity, it’s astounding how much time and resources 3D printing and robotics can save in the actual construction process. Austrian architect Wolf D Prix — founder of  Coop Himmelb(l)au — recently spoke with Dezeen about the the Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning Exhibition (MOCAPE) in Shenzhen, China. The museum, known for its irregular curves and angles, was assembled with the help of construction robots and 3D printing.

“Normally this part of the building would take eight months with 160 workers on the site,” Prix said. “Now we need eight workers on site, and it takes 12 weeks. Using robots, we can construct buildings in a very short time and very economically, so that opens up a really great possibility for investigating a new aesthetic.”

Essentially, as more technologically minded innovators develop robots that make construction easier, artistically minded designers can have more freedom to stretch the boundaries of building creation.

Employee and Client Relations Improve With Technology

Even on the low end of the technology scale, today’s architects need to have basic tech literacy if they hope to survive in the field.

“Building Information Modeling (BIM) and digital technologies will, with the power and capacity that is provided through cloud computing and more powerful computers and servers, become a game changer for the industry over the next five years,” Henrik Garver tells BST Global. “Digital technology will force the AEC industry to rethink what services they provide clients and how these services are best created.”

Once the design is complete, modern technology allows clients to offer immediate feedback, reducing turnaround times for edits and improving client relations.

“As a communication tool, these technologies are powerful,” Stephen Guest of RMW told the Sacramento Business Journal. “They enable us to move efficiently through design iterations early in the process, with everyone on the same page.

“Furniture and finishes can be easily visualized, and roadblocks to technical systems integration anticipated. Clients and building users become actively engaged in the design process, which benefits everyone in the end.”

Even architects who rise to management levels need tech literacy and an understanding of programming.

“How does one expect to navigate the vast landscape of technology options and understand how they play within their enterprise without staying plugged in to the teams that implement those technologies?” Brandon Bryson asks at InfoQ.

“How does an architect expect to stay nimble in response to changing project requirements without staying connected to the delivery? A good architect must work closely with the delivery team. This is imperative to evolving a successful architecture, which leads to a successful delivery.”

When talking to his peers, Bryson found that many architects viewed actual design and software use as a lower-level skill, and expected to code less as they took on managerial roles. However, tech literacy is crucial for a manager who hopes to successfully lead her team and implement changes.

Programming is revolutionizing how we design and build. As construction methods continue to evolve, the architecture profession will need more problem solvers who have the right skills and mindset to push the limits of building design and development.

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