How Automation in the Construction Industry Will Unleash Creativity
Most construction professionals are already somewhat sold on the value of computers – but, when it comes to unlocking their full potential, they're only just scratching the surface.
The whole premise of computer-aided design (CAD), by definition, is to allow computers to do what they're good at – and in turn, enable human experts to do their best work.
Computers automate things; they learn and obstinately enforce rules; they perform millions of calculations in an instant. Humans, meanwhile, are able to express innate creativity and come up with original ideas and concepts.
At least, that's the theory.
In reality, just look at the way most projects work. In most CAD software packages, you have to start every single project from scratch. There's a maddening amount of clicking, drawing and menu navigation – repetitive donkey-work that involves about as much creativity as peeling potatoes.
The consequences of this are significant. Human experts – architects, for example – are spending so long on these manual processes that there simply isn't time to be creative. They're given incredibly restrictive briefs by clients, asked to work in ludicrously short timeframes – and this results in a huge amount of compromise when it comes to producing designs and models.
Still, many in the industry bristle at the idea of computer-generated or 'automated' designs, principally because they're bafflingly regarded as the antithesis of creativity. Computer aided design would surely result in projects that lack imagination and are underpinned by mere conformity to existing principles, right?
On paper, this is a compelling argument, but it misses an essential point:
True creativity cannot be achieved when all 'creative people' have time to do is waste time on repetitive, mind-numbing tasks (which, by the way, could just as easily be done by computers.)
This argument also assumes that, under the current, deeply-flawed model, architects are flooding every project with swathes of creativity and original, new ideas.
In reality, due to very real and very significant time pressures, the vast majority of architects are forced to repeat styles, ideas and concepts from previous experience – all while vehemently protesting that automation will “impede their creativity.”
It would be a mistake to assume that computers would only be able to come up with basic, functional designs. There's plenty of evidence that computers are able to learn the core 'rules' of different artistic styles. Pablo Picasso is famously quoted as saying, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist." But, in reality, even the most creative people and projects have their own sets of rules which can, at most, be subtly changed and redefined (yes, even architects!)
For example, there are AI-based applications that allow a user to upload a photograph – and then use software to convert that photograph into the style of various famous painters by applying specific 'features' that characterise the style of each artist.
What this means is that computers are now more than able to learn the 'rules' that characterise different design styles. And whereas currently, this takes many, many months – increasingly sophisticated computers are now able to crunch the numbers and create fully classified, fully costed BIM models in a matter of seconds. Our team here at Kreo is working on a software tool that will not only do just that, but also create a full BIM model by defining key design criteria.
The onus will then fall on us human experts to do what we really should have been able to do all along: be creative! Use the solid, foundational starting point offered by that automated design model to actually experiment with shape, form and features – all the while, being able to accurately monitor and report how those experiments affect the overall cost and scheduling of actually building it, just as Kreo has been built to do.
Just think about how that could affect the whole process. What if, instead of spending weeks creating a fudged design model that is exclusively based on 'tried and tested' ideas from previous projects – and questionable leaps of faith around cost and time – an architect was able to simply enter parameters for a particular project. What needs to be built? Where? How many floors? Over which dimensions? The computer, given the information it needs and furnished with the proper rules, regulations, practices and standards, would be able to create a BIM model in seconds, including every piece of information required, for architects, floor planning experts, structural engineers, HVAC engineers, electrical engineers and more.
The user could then choose from numerous in-built styles and templates – before finessing the design with tweaks, experiments, and changes – in other words, infusing the whole project with actual creativity, and assessing the impact on time and price with immediate feedback from the software.
Automated design is already becoming a reality in other fields, notably in aircraft and car design. As much as it's being resisted with thinly-worn arguments around limitations on creativity, we believe not only that automated design is an inevitability – but that it will have a truly transformative effect on the level of creativity involved in every construction project.
Get ready for the shackles to come off!