Esther McVey is wrong about architecture in every dimension

Robert Adam

Housing minister’s much-ridiculed discovery of ‘3D architects’ betrays a deeper misunderstanding, writes Robert Adam

Esther McVey’s 3D architects “doing it with it on a computer” is rather like someone who has just discovered milk comes from cows. We all know that for decades architects have been taking up the most useful advances in digital technology, from the Sinclair calculator in the mid-70s to Rhino 6 last year.

McVey, like many architects, thinks that digital technology is a kind of fairy dust that sprinkled liberally will turn us all into Wonder Woman or Superman. In the end, however, buildings have to be designed by people who are trained to understand things in three dimensions, know how they can be put together and how they will stand up to wear and tear. Modelling programs can be a great help but are of little use without basic human intelligence.

Like all technology, digital technology only does what you want to do better and cheaper. And like all technologies it has its own advantages, limitations and characteristics. Digital product development supported by digital marketing can, as shown in Larry Downs and Paul Nunes’ book Big Bang Disruption, move very rapidly indeed, from experiment to obsolescence in a matter of months. This is a timescale unsuited to the construction industry where buildings generally take months and even years to design and years to build. New products that must stand in the open air for decades cannot be tested in months, however rapid their invention and production.

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