Trading places

When computers replace humans, BIM will replace the architect

In the future, we will be the software, and BIM will be the architect. The client will log on to a website, locate the site on the OS map and enter its requirements. The website will check geological records, the land registry, and history archives. It will check for sites of special scientific interest, and for listed structures and unexploded ordnance. It will consult recent data from sensors in the vicinity to check sewer capacity, utilities connections, pollution levels and local weather. It will prompt the client to carry out surveys for any information that may be missing. The client will click on a link to a comparison site and find the highest rated surveyors local to the site. The surveyors will upload the information they find such that the client, and anyone else, can access it.

The website will make a jelly mould of allowable massing based on adjacent properties and their uses. It will consult records of inhabitation such that scarcely used storage rooms and empty flats will have their rights to light diminished: use it or lose it. The client will then choose from a shortlist of typologies based on their requirements and the website will construct a few massing options that maximise the use of the site. A table on the side of the page will consult rental and sales values in the area and calculate likely profit for each option. Minimal back and forth will result in an optimal scheme design.

Next comes the structure. The client will choose from timber, steel, concrete and various clever composites. Another table on the side of the page will calculate embodied carbon and construction time and cost for each option. The client will choose. Next comes building services systems. The design will have already optimised orientation and plan depth. The website will offer up a few predetermined packages based on the design thus far. A table on the side of the page will calculate the whole life energy and financial cost of each option. The client will choose. Finally comes the dressing. The client will arrange various images into a normal distribution and a learning algorithm will propose material and colour pallets. A table on the side of the page will calculate the embodied carbon and construction time and cost for each option. The client will choose.

We will earn based on our contribution. If we devise a popular layout, we will receive royalties. If a material palette increases in popularity following our refinement, we will receive bonuses

A full cost plan will then be generated and presented as a pie chart allowing the client to click into the various items and make changes until it is satisfied. It will then fix the design and create a public profile for the proposal. Other stakeholders will be invited to view the design via VR goggles, making comments as appropriate. After the requisite period, the client will return to the private page, will rate the various commenters based on how much store they place in their opinion and the computer will aggregate the comments into easy to digest themes. The client will make adjustments as it feels is politic. The design then finalised, a fully co-ordinated set of construction drawings will be generated. 

In the future, we will be the software, and BIM will be the architect. We will sit at desks dreaming up typologies, innovating structural systems, conceiving colour and material palettes, and detailing junctions. All information will be open source. We will work whenever we like, wherever we like, on whatever we like. We will earn based on our contribution. If we devise a popular layout, we will receive royalties. If a material palette increases in popularity following our refinement, we will receive bonuses. If a sought-after detail needs resolving, the price for resolving it will increase the longer it sits unresolved, rewarding those that figure out thorny junctions. 

Some of us will become design therapists, sitting with clients and stakeholders and helping them navigate the website interface and understand what they truly want. Some of us will critique the finished buildings, thereby influencing the rankings of the various components and earnings of their communities of creators. Some of us will refine the planning process, which will be forced to transform. Some of us will work on the interface itself, developing new ways of categorising the information, of comparing various features from embodied carbon to association with TV sitcoms of the 1980s. None of us will work as we do now because in the future, we will be the software, and BIM will be the architect. 

Maria Smith is a director of architecture and engineering at Interrobang