Envisioning our digital design future


Working with digital design tools is more or less a necessity today for the modern architect. From older platforms to more advanced 3D modeling and coordination software, most practices rely on a combination of digital design tools for their day-to-day work. We’ve come a long way from when only 30 or 40 years ago drawing boards were the tried and true form of operation. This fairly rapid evolution from manual drafting to digitally generated architectural drawings and models is indicative of the advancements we could see in the decades to come.

As Head of Digital Design at Warren and Mahoney (W+M), my role is part of a larger firm digital initiative, where we are responsible for keeping tabs on the latest developments in the design world. digital and the new tools and changes we need. to prepare. Inevitably, this involves staring into a crystal ball, and while some trends come and go, I think there’s plenty to be excited about.

Zaha Hadid architects are famous for their experimental architectural forms. Image:

Nick Guttridge

My interest and knowledge in this field was greatly influenced by my time with Zaha Hadid Architects in London, as well as my studies at the Architectural Association. London has been at the epicenter of speculative and experimental research into digital design processes, and my time there exposed me to platforms like Rhino 3D, Grasshopper, Maya, and creative coding. It has broadened my perspective on what is possible in architecture, and in the past five years since returning home, I have noticed that interest in digital design and its translation into the building industry is really starting to take root.

The evolution of our digital design expertise here in New Zealand allows us to start mixing it up with some of the most digitally progressive design companies in the world. At W+M, we use some of these more specialized design tools when complex digital design skills are required.

Digital design process image for Te Arikinui, Pullman Hotel Auckland. Image:


Digital design process for Te Arikinui, Pullman Hotel Auckland. Image:


This sector can be expected to grow over the next few years. Projects such as the Pullman Auckland Airport Hotel – Te Arikinui and Heke Rua Archives New Zealand, for example, show the benefits of investing in specialized digital skills needed to run parametric tools like Grasshopper, enabling additional design opportunities and the generation and refinement of certain geometric elements.

As our industry becomes more familiar with these platforms, we are also seeing a move towards exploring generative design tools. Generative design uses genetic algorithms to test a number of design options against a set of goals and slowly optimizes the results until it reaches an “optimal” solution. These tools are becoming increasingly useful for tasks such as general planning, programmatic and spatial configurations, and geometry optimization. It’s easy to see this type of workflow being used more commonly, in which generative tools are used to test, iterate, and optimize at a speed that trial and error of manual design cannot. As these tools become more user-friendly and nuanced, they will in turn become a more easily usable and accessible tool.

Generative design solid studies exploring planning constraints and solar radiation. Image:


Generative design solid studies exploring planning constraints and solar radiation. Image:


Another area of ​​potentially massive growth in the next few years is artificial intelligence (AI). Over the past few months, AI has been gaining attention online, especially AI image-making platforms like “Midjourney” or “Dall-e 2”. These tools have learned associations between words and images and can create new original images based on simple textual descriptions. Although AI has already been used extensively in task-oriented applications, these are some of the earliest widespread examples of its use for creative purposes. Currently, this approach is mostly limited to 2D images, but it’s not hard to see it evolving into a 3D equivalent, and one could imagine it becoming an essential tool in the creative process, especially in the early stages of design. ‘a project.

Mario Cucinella’s TECLA was constructed from 3D printed clay. Image:

Iago Corazza

The potential of the technology also extends beyond the design, to the construction and manufacturing process. 3D printing is widely explored and there are already examples of experimental houses being built using this technique. The boom in robotic construction also continues to grow; bricks stacked by drones and reinforcements assembled by robotic arms are just a few examples of robots supporting the building process.

The technology also improves the building abilities of humans on site. One such example is the use of augmented reality (AR) or “mixed reality,” as demonstrated by companies like Fologram. This technology allows digital models to be mapped on the physical site and simultaneously become visible to builders using AR headsets. Builders can see where and how to build against a real-time AR representation of the proposed model, increasing building accuracy and eliminating the constant back and forth between drawings and the real world.

Finally, as the design and construction industry continues to move towards the virtual world, the idea of ​​a “digital twin” is becoming more common, in which real-world structures exist simultaneously in a virtual environment. Additionally, there is a growing movement towards architecture that exists exclusively in the virtual world. For example, there are design companies that focus exclusively on designing buildings and enclosures in the metaverse. Of course, real-world buildings always contain something unique that the virtual world cannot replicate, however, I suspect practices will begin to be asked to design for both real-world and virtual-world clients on a more regular basis.

A design for The Row, Metaverse, by artist Alexis Christodolou. Image:


Given the above, it is exciting to envision what the future of architecture and design might hold over a 10 to 30 year horizon. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that the use of AI could extend to the 3D world as well. AI may be able to solve much more complex design problems than we humans can currently do. AI could produce various design solutions that are more thoroughly studied and quantified than humans can do manually.

A design for The Row, Metaverse, by artist Alexis Christodolou. Image:


Nor is it beyond the realm of possibility for the metaverse to become a considerable platform in which we live our lives. Particularly in terms of architecture and design, there is an opportunity for unprecedented creative freedom and investigation in the digital realm that does not rival the fragile environmental condition of our planet.

In all of the above, the role of the designer will undoubtedly continue to evolve. Whether we are collaborating with AI, designing purely in a digital space, or designing with the systemic constraints of a natural ecology, I hope that our creative energies and abilities will always be essential, albeit applied from a different way.

To stay ahead of the curve, it will remain important to continue thinking about the direction of the industry and technology, as well as anticipating the changes we need to prepare for.

The future of digital design for our industry excites me. The only thing that is certain is that the future is uncertain, and these digital advancements will inevitably bring challenges. However, they will also provide us with new opportunities and expand the options we can offer our customers – I hope we welcome them with open arms.


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