The computer is hailed as the most significant invention of the last century. Computing devices caused a global revolution by increasing the speed at which information processing could occur. Over the decades, many programs have been created to further exploit the computational power of these systems. Today, computers influence most aspects of human social and professional lives. Many fields have been transformed by computer usage among professionals in the disciples. One field that has exhibited profound changes due to computer technology in the field of Architecture. Architects over the past decade have increased their use of computer technology in their profession. Computer-aided design (CAD) tools have become a mainstay for architects in most countries. As such, computer technology has had some profound impacts on architecture. This paper will analyze how computer technology has changed the field of architecture with emphasis on the various CAD software used by architects.
How Computer Technology has changed the field of Architecture
Computer technology has increased the speed with which the design process can be carried out. Traditionally, the design process involved the manual drawing of drafts and the final plan for the building. Architects were required to engage in tedious computations for the various dimensions of the building. Computer technology has made it easy to carry out long calculations with minimal effort. Jefferis and Smith confirm that with AutoCAD, a designer can make use of third-party software programs to carry out many mathematical calculations required for structural analysis (38). In addition to this, the architectural software packages used are able to automate most of the design processes. Tools such as AutoCAD automate most of the tedious tasks that architects have to engage in during design drafting. This automation increases the efficiency of the architects while at the same time dramatically reducing the errors that would have been made if the design were done manually. The high reusability of CAD drawings has also contributed to the increase in speed of design by architects (Wakita and Linde 23). Architects can therefore borrow sections or even entire parts of past drawings. With a package such as AutoCAD, the architect is able to save certain modules and use them as templates in future works. This saves architects the effort and time that would have been required to carry out certain tasks from scratch.
Computer technology has increased the efficiency of architects by aiding in collaborative efforts during specific projects. Yehuda admits that architectural designs and building construction have always been collaborating efforts carried out by many individuals from different disciplines (359). For the project to be accomplished effectively and efficiently, these collaborative efforts have to be well managed. Traditionally, managing collaboration was a complex and daunting task. Computer technology facilitates collaboration in several ways. To begin with, this technology aids in the communication efforts of the various collaborating parties. Yehuda explains that using the building information models, a person can store and convey significant information compared to what could be stored and conveyed using traditional drawings and models (360). Some CAD packages are created with collaboration in mind. The architecture software program Allplan is an “interdisciplinary platform” that supports multiple file formats. It is possible to distribute various parts of the design to the various professionals involved in the project.
Design improvement in the field of architecture has been promoted by the use of computer technology. CAD makes it possible for the integration of design information into shop drawings therefore improving design realization (De Lapp et al. 285). Using programs such as AutoCAD, architects are able to create detailed drawings and include detailed annotations containing details that are of importance to the architect or other professionals who will review the design. The various professionals from the fields of Architecture, Engineering, and Construction disciplines can therefore exchange information efficiently while working together to accomplish a specific project. Computer technology assists in the management and coordination of activities. De Lapp et al. agree that through the utilization of IT tools, the efficiency, accuracy and coordination of projects can be increased significantly (284). Each member is able to access the data on the project and provide their input, which is then accessible to other members. Technology also increases the accuracy of the design process by enhancing information transfer between the design team.
The level of innovation in the architectural field has increased significantly due to computer technology. Architects can design complex structures due to the versatility offered by various software. Szalapaj confirms that using tools such as AutoCAD, architects can develop extraordinarily complex building systems (5). The creativity of architects is therefore enhanced when they make use of computer technology in their work. Nanu reveals that CAD programs used in the field of Architecture offer many creative capabilities for architects (2). The software programs enable the architect to experiment in a safe environment. Szalapaj reveals that it is possible for architects to engage in interactive design and analysis using CAD modeling programs (5). Using such tools, architects are able to experiment with new geometries generated by computers and use the same on modern buildings.
Any important change brought about by computer software has been an increase in the dependability of the buildings designed by architects. While carrying out their tasks, architects are always concerned about the feasibility and structural integrity of their designs. In the absence of a safe means of testing the integrity of their designs, architects would be forced to stick to safer designs. Using computer models, architects can assess the feasibility of the proposed design since it is possible to determine the structural integrity of the design. Dizikes demonstrates that with the help of computer simulations, architects are able to make designs that are increasingly complex (2). Yehuda confirms that computational assistance has made it possible to design buildings that are lighter and taller than it would have been possible without using computer technology (365). Computers play a crucial role in determining the viability of novel designs. The situation surrounding the construction of the famous Sydney Opera House best exemplifies this. When the Danish architect, Jorn Utzon to local officials in Sydney, first proposed this building there were concerns as to whether the design was structurally possible (Dizikes 1). Proceeding with building the structure without certainty that it will be viable would have been an unjustifiable risk. To solve this problem, computer programs were used to test the viability of the design. By using mathematical models, it was possible to carry out structural and environmental analysis of the proposed design. These models were used to determine how the structure would respond to gravity, wind pressure, and other environmental factors. Following the analysis, the relevant changes were made to the initial design until the computer models determined that the design was structurally feasible.
A consequential change that computer technology has made is increasing the significance of architects in the building and construction industry. The field of architecture has always held great significance in building and construction. However, the primacy of this field was slowly beginning to fade as designs remained uninspiring and some architectural products unrealistic. However, with the use of computers, architects have been able to reclaim their leadership role. CAD software has led to the production of innovative designs by architects. Solomon states that mostly because of CAD, architects have been able to come up with outstanding and inspiring buildings (55). This has elevated the importance of architects in contemporary society, therefore, increasing the prestige of the field of architecture.
Computer technology has increased the accuracy of the designs produced by architects. Accuracy is critical to the success of the building project undertaken by architects. De Lapp et al. forcefully assert, “The complete and accurate realization of design intent is critical for construction project success” (284). In construction, the process of designing is of critical importance. This design phase is the first step in the construction and great care is taken to ensure that the product obtained from this phase is excellent. A report by McGraw-Hill Construction in 2012 showed that by using computer technology tools such as Building Information modeling (BIM), architects were able to reduce the errors and omissions in their documents (Bernstein 20). Increased accuracy means that architects are able to save time since they do not have to engage in reworks to correct their mistakes. This increased the productivity of architects and their ability to meet their project deliverables.
An important change brought about by computer technology is that it has increased the involvement of clients in the building design process. This change has been facilitated by the development of 3D modeling techniques. Jefferis and Smith contend that the ability to build and manipulate solid models using CAD tools is one of the biggest advances in the architectural field (38). This ability makes it possible for the drawn structure to be rotated so that it can be viewed at any angle. Traditionally, clients presented the architect with the design idea or a list of requirements for the building. The architect then produced drawings and models that met the specified requirements. However, understanding the drawings was often hard for clients leading to little client input. With computing technology, it is possible to make elaborate 3D models of the proposed building. This makes it easy for the client to have a realistic picture of the building designed by the architect. Imrie and Street confirm that it is possible to produce beautiful computer-generated graphics using computer technology (132). By using CAD software such as Artlantis Render, architects are able to create realistic renderings of the building being designed. Using such software, the architect is able to walk the client or other professionals involved in the project through different sections of the proposed building (Wakita and Linde 102). This realistic review enables clients to make positive contributions to the project. Clients are able to propose changes and offer their views concerning what they do not like with the current design. Computer technology, therefore, encourages an interactive approach to the building process. This increases the likelihood that the client will be satisfied with the end product.
Computing software has led to a focus on the end product by architects. This has been achieved by making it possible for the architect to visualize the complete building project at the very early stages of design. Architects are motivated to work and make decisions with the end product in mind. Using CAD software such as Allplan, the architect can mimic real-life conditions such as light and wind effects. The diverse visualization tools available in this software enable the architect to keep real-life situations in mind even as he/she is designing the building. Jefferis and Smith elaborate that by using 3D drawings, architects can engage in a walk-through of the structure before the working drawings are even started (39). These models can save huge amounts of time by providing insights into issues such as heating ducts and electrical conduit placement.
Computers have profoundly changed the manner in which architects work. Traditionally, the primary tools of the trade for the architect were a drawing table and a wide array of measuring equipment and pencils. Solomon declares that computer technology has led to the prevalence of digital tools usage among architects (54). All modern architectural firms today make expansive use of digital tools for improved efficiency and accuracy. Consequently, computer technology has led to the increase in reliability of the work generated by architects over the years. This outcome has been realized by a significant reduction in the number of redrawing errors made by architects. De Lapp et al. observe that CAD reduces the number of repetitions made during design, therefore, accelerating the drawing development (286). By substituting electronic files for paper-based drawings, computer technology makes it possible to come up with editable drawings. The architect is able to make changes or improvements to the drawn design with little effort. Repetitions are reduced since CAD increases accuracy and reduces the errors that could occur in the process of redrawing the design in the paper-based system.
Computers have changed the field of architecture by increasing the frequency with which design repetition occurs. A core feature of all CAD packages is that the drawings are saved in electronic format. Most architects and contracting firms maintain copies of all the projects they have engaged in. In many cases, architects reuse their past drawings for new projects. De Lapp et al. explain that in some cases, the architect only needs to make a few changes to the original design to fit the requirements of the current project (287).
Architects have for generations adapted their work practice to the technology of the time. They have made use of social and scientific development to inform their designs. In the 21st century, computer technology has been the most influential agent of change in architecture. CAD has had a dramatic impact in the field of architecture within a relatively short period of time. The widespread adoption of computer technology by the architectural field is the result of the numerous benefits that computers present to architects. In addition to this, developments in graphical user interfaces and increases in CAD software sophistication have led to the production of tools that are more accessible to designers. These tools can be used intuitively and they offer tips and assistance making it easy for architects to use them.
Due to the ease of use and inherent advantages presented by computer software, many individual architects and medium and large architectural firms are increasing their reliance on CAD packages to increase their productivity. As the field of architecture develops, computer technology use will become a core component of architectural work. The current trend in the field of architecture suggests that architectural design is moving in a direction in which CAD becomes a central tool for designing buildings. Bernstein warns that architects who continue to practice without using computer programs will soon become obsolete in the field (15).
This paper set out to analyze the changes that computer technology has brought about in the field of architecture. It began by acknowledging how computers have revolutionized many aspects of modern society. The paper has shown how architects use computers to aid in sketches, idea and theme developments, test the design in a virtual environment, and produce drawings. The paper has also illustrated how computer technology has helped architects work more efficiently and effectively. This technology has also encouraged innovation in the field of architecture with significant positive results for the consumers of architectural products. From this paper, it is evident that computer technology has significantly changed what it means to be an architect by changing the role that these professionals play and how they interact with other professionals in the design process. Since most of the changes initiated by computer technology have been positive, it can be expected that computers will continue to play a central role in the field of architecture in the years to come.
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