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How will the development of computer visualisation and modelling influence the future of architectural education?

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23 Oct 2006

There is an ongoing debate about the way in which modelling and visualisation technology is changing the way in which architects design.

There is an ongoing debate about the way in which modelling and visualisation technology is changing the way in which architects design.

Often those involved in visualisation are congratulated for producing an image that really looks like the real thing, but was drawn before the earth was turned on site. However, it is also easy to look at early visualisations and the final product and criticise the product on the basis that it looks like a computer model, in other words that it lacks a sense of materiality. Sketch-Up is a fantastic tool, but is there a danger that it becomes an alternative to considered design thinking by an experienced architects? No-one likes to be considered a Luddite and without or without Sketch-Up there will always be some buildings that will be built without any serious design development, on the basis of what the contractor decides is possible. However, the development of ever greater visualisation and modelling software is generating anxiety in some Schools of Architecture and is seen by some as part of the process of dumbing down architectural education. In a recent article on the AECbytes website, a forum for those involved in architectural and engineering construction technology, Renée Cheng, Head of the Department of Architecture, University of Minnesota, argues that Building Information Modelling (BIM) is being embraced too quickly in the education process. “If BIM is introduced in the curriculum without respecting its considerable liabilities, design thinking will not survive. Now more than ever, this way of thinking and seeing should be valued—it is architects' most sought-after expertise,” she says. Cheng is concerned that BIM could lead to, designs with pre-defined answers or forms. That a BIM led approach denies the path of "self-discovery" that are a crucial part of education. She is concerned that BIM provides pre-rationalised answers of a more technically-oriented nature and thus molding students into subservient custodians of information they're not yet fully prepared to grasp, especially given the rigors of experience-driven (and liability-filled) professional practice. “All representation tools—digital or analog—affect the design process, and leave their mark on the built form. The potential effect of BIM on the design process is unprecedented, and the ease in which it can translate directly into built form can equally be viewed as exciting or alarming,” she says. In response to Cheng’s points Paul Seletsky, Associate AIA, is the Director of Digital Design for Skidmore Owings and Merrill’s New York office argues that BIM has the potential to create a new type of design process that could provide a much-needed stimulus for the modernisation of architectural education. He argues that it is cynical to see BIM as a set of tools leading toward conclusive rather than deductive or exploratory ends. “BIM uses digital means to enable critical analysis of such data and, most importantly, engenders its exchange between architects and engineers via new collaborative methods. This type of information and its inherently collaborative process can well be regarded as positing an entirely new, entirely fresh approach to design, one that would mandate a need to be practiced very much beginning in architecture school.”

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