Eleanor Jolliffe delves into the evolving role of Artificial Intelligence, where innovation collides with questions of authenticity and the architect’s role in the design process

Ellie cropped

Discussion on the role of AI in UK architecture is ubiquitous. There is fear, and excitement, and we are all becoming more aware of its potential power as a tool in architecture. I can see the benefits but I’m wary. A friend recently told me of how they had been approached by a potential client ‘because Chat GPT told us to call you’. This was the first time I had really been aware of an impact, however marginal, outside of visuals and renderings. It made me curious to discover a bit more.

In recent years, the architectural landscape in the United Kingdom has undergone a profound transformation, thanks to the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) into design processes. As technology continues to evolve, architects are embracing AI tools to enhance creativity, efficiency, and sustainability in their projects.

One of the most significant impacts of AI in British architectural practice is the optimization of design processes. AI algorithms can analyse vast amounts of data, helping architects make informed decisions during the conceptualisation phase. Design optimisation through AI allows architects to explore countless variations quickly, ensuring that the final result meets aesthetic, functional, and regulatory requirements.

Generative design is a groundbreaking application of AI that has gained popularity in the UK architectural scene. This technology enables architects to input design parameters and constraints, allowing AI algorithms to generate numerous design alternatives. This iterative process not only sparks creativity but also produces solutions that may not be immediately apparent through traditional design methods.

AI plays a pivotal role in promoting sustainability within British architectural practices. By analysing environmental data and energy consumption patterns, AI helps architects make data-driven decisions that lead to more eco-friendly designs. The integration of AI in sustainable architecture ensures that buildings are not only aesthetically pleasing but also energy-efficient and environmentally responsible.

Future of the Profession

The incorporation of AI-powered AR and VR technologies has revolutionised the way architects present and visualise their designs. These immersive technologies allow clients and stakeholders to experience architectural spaces before they are built, enhancing communication and understanding. AI-driven simulations also help architects identify potential issues and make necessary adjustments early in the design process.

As British architectural practices embrace the potential of AI, the industry is witnessing a transformative shift toward innovation, efficiency, and sustainability. From design optimisation and generative design to sustainable architecture and advanced project management, AI is reshaping the way architects approach their craft. With continued advancements in technology, the synergy between AI and British architectural practice is expected to yield even more remarkable results, pushing the boundaries of creativity and functionality in the built environment.

I do not believe AI will ever be able to achieve ‘architecture’

Now if it seems like my exploration is a little empty - seemingly full of information but actually lacking in significant substance I would wholeheartedly agree. All but the first paragraph was written by Chat GPT. I have cut a couple of paragraphs and corrected americanised spelling, but apart from that have left it unedited. What it has argued has some merit, but it doesn’t have any reality, depth or understanding of the nuances of life. It may be that this will change over time as its knowledge base grows. However, we have only to look at the embarrassment around the AI failures in image generation of mixed race families, or in Amazon Fresh stores to see we are still a little way off this yet.

AI will likely become a key tool in our drawing and writing arsenal - however, it’s key that we never forget it is only parroting us. AI’s output will only ever be as good as the source material it’s founded on, and it has no discrimination over which source material is most valid. (I also acknowledge there are significant questions for the architectural services industry over the ownership of the intellectual property of this source material but that’s beyond the scope of this column).

However all this aside AI will never be human, and humanity is, for me, the difference between building and architecture. Building is necessary and pragmatic and fulfils its function. Architecture does this professionally while balancing art and emotion. To be a little more lyrical architecture is the moment where your soul fleetingly lifts. It is human, momentary and hard to define. I do not believe AI will ever be able to achieve ‘architecture’ because you cannot codify joy or transcendence. AI will always ring hollow because it can only copy, it cannot become.

>> Also read: AI is challenging us to up our game – as architects we should stop focusing on images and capitalise on our true value