Democratizing Design: How Tech Is Transforming Architecture

Historically, architecture is a highly professionalized field, requiring years of training, but in the last several years the industry has seen a revolution, and subsequently, a dramatic democratization. In particular, drafting software, 3D printing, and the popularization of modular housing have all made architecture a DIY project. In other words, no matter where you come from or what you do, you could design your next home from the ground up.

Thinking Open Source

Open source design technology is at the heart of digital democracy, and in many ways, it’s what has made today’s internet possible. In architecture, though, open source programs have wrought something even more valuable: programs like WikiHouse, a non-profit developing a future-oriented design strategies. The group’s underlying premise is that our current approach to architecture can’t serve our changing world. As it stands, architects only design 2% of buildings today around the globe. Furthermore, a DIY approach to home development could make housing more affordable and minimize the need for mortgages.

Setting The Scene

For those looking for a more polished approach to architecture, more specialized software is also increasingly accessible. For example, while the average individual may not be able to use AutoCAD or other drafting programs commonly used in architectural design, there are other tools lay designers can use to design the overall built environment. One of those architectural rendering programs, Lumion 9, comes with a full library of several thousand objects. That means any designer can manipulate the materials used for flooring and roofing, tackle interior design, and even create landscapes. Because these objects don’t need to be individually crafted, anyone can manipulate the aesthetic elements of the rendering.

Creating In 3D

Of all the innovations shaping architecture, the most widely recognized is 3D printing. Overall, though, 3D printing is best known for its ability to create personalized products, rather than its architectural uses. However, more recently, 3D printing has found a niche in the construction industry, turning lines of code into physical structures. Today, it’s actually possible for people to live in 3D printed houses, rather than just using the printer to create miniaturized models.

In addition to 3D printing customized structures, this technology also has an open-source element. Starting with a digital blueprint, users can crowdsource printing, modifying the blueprints into new structures. And in 2016, this new technology went industrial with the construction of the first 3D printed office building.

Democratizing History

Finally, and with a unique twist, innovative architecture technology has also made it possible for archaeologists, historians, and others to preserve classical architecture. Restoration is ordinarily time and cost prohibitive, but 3D printing technology makes it possible to quickly and inexpensively recreate building adornments and other detailed work with limited labor. In many cases, it’s even possible to scan a façade to pick up details that can then be automatically rendered by the computer. Archaeologists and historians have used these replicas to create hands-on museum displays and other educational experiences, bringing architecture to the public.

Though there will always be demand for high-end architectural services, open source creation with modular elements, enhanced rendering tools and 3-D printing tools are transforming how we think about design and construction. Individuals and peer groups can now collaborate to create new structures without the oversight of professional architects, kicking off a new DIY revolution.


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