AI – Friend or Foe?


Kay Hill looks at what artificial intelligence can do, who is using it, and where this technology might lead.


ELON MUSK fears that without risk management, artificial intelligence (AI) could end civilization as we know it, so development should be paused. In an open letter to the AI industry, he said: ‘Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop non-human minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete and replace us? Should we risk loss of control of our civilisation?’

Designer and artist Sebastian Errazuriz believes it is already too late: ‘There is a high possibility that 90% of architects and designers will lose their jobs to algorithms.

Architecture is a field that requires years of experience in perfecting the art. AI could develop designs based on a user’s preferences and budgets in seconds.’

Vojtek Morsztyn believes it is essential that architects engage with AI, in order to shape the future. His AI Design Guidebook – €29.99, downloadable from vojtekmorsztyn.com – explains the process and how to combine traditional sketching and AIVojtek Morsztyn believes it is essential that architects engage with AI, in order to shape the future. His AI Design Guidebook – €29.99, downloadable from vojtekmorsztyn.com – explains the process and how to combine traditional sketching and AI

Meanwhile, in architecture offices across the world, professionals are cautiously dipping their toes into the AI waters. Patrik Schumacher, studio principal at Zaha Hadid Architects, announced during a roundtable discussion on AI and the Future of Design that the company is using AI text-to-image generators like Dall.E2 and Midjourney to come up with design ideas for projects. While universities agonise over how to catch out students writing essays with Chat GPT, the practice is actively encouraging its architects to accept an AI helping hand. ‘Not every single project is using it but let’s say most – I’m encouraging everybody who’s working on competitions and early ideation to see what comes up and just to have a larger repertoire,’ Schumacher told the panel.

Giuseppe Bono, associate director at TP Bennett, says his company is using a variety of AI tools, and developing in-house versions: ‘They are incredibly efficient in automating, augmenting and facilitating working tasks throughout the design and construction process, leaving architects to do what they do best and be creative. AI and machine-learning models allow us to explore and refine ideas during design conception or automate tasks and processes during delivery.’ Longer term, he anticipates: ‘Combining AI with robotics will allow us to open a new chapter in construction optimisation and efficiency.’

Vojtek Morsztyn believes it is essential that architects engage with AI, in order to shape the future. His AI Design Guidebook – €29.99, downloadable from vojtekmorsztyn.com – explains the process and how to combine traditional sketching and AIVojtek Morsztyn believes it is essential that architects engage with AI, in order to shape the future. His AI Design Guidebook – €29.99, downloadable from vojtekmorsztyn.com – explains the process and how to combine traditional sketching and AI

‘When ChatGPT was launched it was a breakthrough moment when suddenly we could see what was becoming possible,’ says architect Keir Regan-Alexander, who recently stepped down as director of Morris+Company to become a new technology consultant to the industry. ‘I immediately thought this was going to be huge for architects because the work is about translating fresh, imaginary ideas into vivid imagery, so the tools have a huge potential. A tool like Midjourney is like having a partner to play against in tennis – you can bounce ideas off it as if you were workshopping. But if you are relying on AI for ideas you are in trouble.

‘The things you can do astonish me. I took a photo of a site on my bike ride home, had an idea, drew it in Photoshop then used Stable Diffusion to visualise it with a photorealistic render and integrate it into the photo. It took about 30 minutes, whereas it would have taken two or three days, and it was really fun.

Vojtek Morsztyn believes it is essential that architects engage with AI, in order to shape the future. His AI Design Guidebook – €29.99, downloadable from vojtekmorsztyn.com – explains the process and how to combine traditional sketching and AI

Vojtek Morsztyn believes it is essential that architects engage with AI, in order to shape the future. His AI Design Guidebook – €29.99, downloadable from vojtekmorsztyn.com – explains the process and how to combine traditional sketching and AIVojtek Morsztyn believes it is essential that architects engage with AI, in order to shape the future. His AI Design Guidebook – €29.99, downloadable from vojtekmorsztyn.com – explains the process and how to combine traditional sketching and AI

What I enjoy is coming up with ideas – I don’t enjoy the grunt work of CAD or the hours of rendering. I am concerned for the profession but my perspective is, let’s tool-up and have a strategy, rather than being passive. It’s a very competitive profession, and if your opponent has a technology that’s faster and cheaper then it puts you at a disadvantage.’

AI technology is considered straightforward to learn – and for those who have stuck to sketching and outsourcing CAD, it can leapfrog that technology completely. ‘This phase of technological progress is much more accessible compared to its previous iterations,’ says Dr Mai Soliman, a Qatar-based architect and parametric designer who co-founded Getnform, an online educational platform to help architects upskill, with engineer and AI expert Hassan Abdelsalam. ‘If you possess drawing skills you can swiftly translate sketches into refined visuals using high quality AI tools. Learning them isn’t a complex process; anyone can dive in and start experimenting.’ Shomron Jacob, head of applied machine learning at AI solutions company Iterate.ai, adds: ‘A lot of people in the architecture and design industry like to whip out a pad and draw something in front of a client. But to turn that sketch into a CAD plan or a 3D walkthrough means that it needs to be manually put through software, and that takes time. AI can do that in moments – it’s not replacing the human, it didn’t create the design, but it can convert it into another format in seconds, cutting out the repetitive tasks. And you don’t need to go out and buy a £4,000 laptop to run it – it’s as simple as an app on your smart phone.’

Space10 worked with Panter & Tourron on an AI-assisted exploration of whether it was possible to create a fold-up couch weighing less than 10kg. AI’s limitations became evident as any mention of ‘couch’ in the prompts created heavy, old-fashioned ideas. However, when words and phrases such as ‘platform’, ‘lightweight’ and ‘easy to move’ were used instead, Couch in an Envelope began to take shape. Eventually, the designers ended up using a new AI feature launched during the project that allowed them to train their own custom model using their renders as the dataset. The AI would then generate variations on these images, the designers would iterate on top of that, and a collaborative cycle was created. Image Credit: Seth NicolasSpace10 worked with Panter & Tourron on an AI-assisted exploration of whether it was possible to create a fold-up couch weighing less than 10kg. AI’s limitations became evident as any mention of ‘couch’ in the prompts created heavy, old-fashioned ideas. However, when words and phrases such as ‘platform’, ‘lightweight’ and ‘easy to move’ were used instead, Couch in an Envelope began to take shape. Eventually, the designers ended up using a new AI feature launched during the project that allowed them to train their own custom model using their renders as the dataset. The AI would then generate variations on these images, the designers would iterate on top of that, and a collaborative cycle was created. Image Credit: Seth Nicolas

The rapid launch of so many AI tools can be confusing, but perhaps the most useful are systems that can turn textual prompts into images – including Dall.E2, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and the latest release, LookX, which targets architects, promising to turn rough concept sketches into realistic renderings, plans and sections. John Williams, director and founder at interior design consultancy SpaceInvader, is already finding this useful: ‘We use AI to generate imagery during concept stages. If there’s an image we can’t find to capture a specific concept then we create one. For example, on a hotel project in Düsseldorf, we developed a concept around the feeling of intrigue and discovery when opening a jewellery box and used AI to generate an image.’ (If you doubt the potential, scribble an idea and drop it into free program www.promeai.com to get a taste.)

Space10 worked with Panter & Tourron on an AI-assisted exploration of whether it was possible to create a fold-up couch weighing less than 10kg. AI’s limitations became evident as any mention of ‘couch’ in the prompts created heavy, old-fashioned ideas. However, when words and phrases such as ‘platform’, ‘lightweight’ and ‘easy to move’ were used instead, Couch in an Envelope began to take shape. Eventually, the designers ended up using a new AI feature launched during the project that allowed them to train their own custom model using their renders as the dataset. The AI would then generate variations on these images, the designers would iterate on top of that, and a collaborative cycle was created. Image Credit: Seth NicolasSpace10 worked with Panter & Tourron on an AI-assisted exploration of whether it was possible to create a fold-up couch weighing less than 10kg. AI’s limitations became evident as any mention of ‘couch’ in the prompts created heavy, old-fashioned ideas. However, when words and phrases such as ‘platform’, ‘lightweight’ and ‘easy to move’ were used instead, Couch in an Envelope began to take shape. Eventually, the designers ended up using a new AI feature launched during the project that allowed them to train their own custom model using their renders as the dataset. The AI would then generate variations on these images, the designers would iterate on top of that, and a collaborative cycle was created.

Nigel Tresise, director of Align Design and Architecture, agrees: ‘We’re mainly using AI in the “discovery phase” of projects to aid the creation of reference imagery. In the past, this would be real grunt work.

We normally research huge numbers of reference images to aid client decisions and preferences during the earliest stages. Now we can create generative design images that are already unique, because the text narrative is unique.”

‘As architects, we should not feel threatened by the capability of AI, but rather recognise it as a potential tool for realising new possibilities at a hugely challenging (and exciting) time,’ says a largely optimistic Tim Bowder-Ridger, partner and principal at Conran and Partners. ‘The twin imperatives to address the challenges of rapid  urbanisation and the climate crisis require us to expand on what has already been done, and AI may just provide us with the freedom to do so by reducing the burdens of processing, testing and coordinating information. It is the poetry of architecture that separates it from mere buildings. It is achieved by the architect’s ability to envisage places and spaces that connect with the sensual and emotional experience of humanity. AI will not supplant the architect in this task. It will, nevertheless, yet again change how our ideas are procured and delivered – perhaps for the better?’

SpaceInvader used AI to create a visual for a hotel project in Düsseldorf – the firm wanted to convey to the client the feeling of intrigue and discovery when opening a jewellery boxSpaceInvader used AI to create a visual for a hotel project in Düsseldorf – the firm wanted to convey to the client the feeling of intrigue and discovery when opening a jewellery box

Rafael Contreras, director of Contreras Earl Architecture in Queensland, is experimenting with AI and is keen to see the industry embrace its possibilities. ‘The majority of contemporary architecture has remained stagnant over time. AI is ushering in a new era of evolution. We are excited for a future in which it seamlessly automates the resource-heavy iterative tasks, allowing for more expansive creative explorations and increased efficiency in our future operations.’ Industrial designer and author of the AI Design Guidebook, Vojtek Morsztyn, agrees that the industry needs to move forward: ‘The evolving landscape of architecture demands adaptability. Embracing new technology not only increases the creative process but also equips architects to address complex design problems with novel solutions. As the lines between physical and digital continue to blur, architects who engage with new technology position themselves to shape the built environment of the future.’   Tom Jordan, technical director at London architecture practice Barr Gazetas, believes it could level the playing field: ‘There are AI tools for architecture that can generate masterplans, concept designs and visualisations. For architects, these tools all point in the direction of greater efficiencies, which could mean turning over repetitive production tasks to AI. Studios could undertake more projects simultaneously, smaller studios would be able to undertake larger projects, and as fewer architects are required there will be greater profitability for studios that adapt.’ And there, of course, is the worry: ‘fewer architects’.

Machine learning company Reply wanted a unique floor for its new Turin headquarters – so it combined its own skills with those of ACPV Architects (Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel) and ceramic tile company Marazzi. Using real marble samples, generative models such as Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and Dall.E2, and a little bit of human magic, they created a tile that looks exactly like stone but without the environmental damage of mining and transportation. It could also be perfectly tailored to a designer’s colour schemeMachine learning company Reply wanted a unique floor for its new Turin headquarters – so it combined its own skills with those of ACPV Architects (Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel) and ceramic tile company Marazzi. Using real marble samples, generative models such as Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and Dall.E2, and a little bit of human magic, they created a tile that looks exactly like stone but without the environmental damage of mining and transportation. It could also be perfectly tailored to a designer’s colour scheme

Or perhaps, no architects at all? US architect and theorist Neil Leach, author of Architecture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, recently stated: ‘The problem with architects is that we almost entirely focus on images. But the most revolutionary change is in the less sexy area: the automation of the entire design package, from developing initial options right through to construction. In terms of strategic thinking and real-time analysis, AI is already way beyond what human architects are capable of. This could be the final nail in the coffin of a struggling profession.’

Yet few in the industry are as negative. ‘If you can describe it in a formula or boil it down to an algorithm, the computer is going to take that work as it will be cheaper,’ admits Keir Regan-Alexander. ‘For example, most home extensions are relatively formulaic, so generative design could be developed for that – and it could be very good! But we need to think about what it is that we really do as architects. Yes, we produce drawings and plans, but the value we bring is synthesising what a client needs and turning it into a specific design; that’s a complex and nuanced thing to do that can’t be reduced down to equations.’

Machine learning company Reply wanted a unique floor for its new Turin headquarters – so it combined its own skills with those of ACPV Architects (Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel) and ceramic tile company Marazzi. Using real marble samples, generative models such as Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and Dall.E2, and a little bit of human magic, they created a tile that looks exactly like stone but without the environmental damage of mining and transportation. It could also be perfectly tailored to a designer’s colour schemeMachine learning company Reply wanted a unique floor for its new Turin headquarters – so it combined its own skills with those of ACPV Architects (Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel) and ceramic tile company Marazzi. Using real marble samples, generative models such as Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, and Dall.E2, and a little bit of human magic, they created a tile that looks exactly like stone but without the environmental damage of mining and transportation. It could also be perfectly tailored to a designer’s colour scheme

TP Bennett’s Giuseppe Bono adds: ‘I don’t believe that AI will replace architects or designers, but I believe that its introduction and development in architectural practice is a sign of an inevitable and much-needed upskilling process inside the profession. It’s possible that in the future we will reach the definition of fully automated and intelligent systems, but even then, I believe that the values of communication, ethics and aesthetics promoted by human work will be able to tailor a more sustainable technological development inside the AEC industry.”

John Williams fears that over-reliance on AI will end up as the bland leading the bland. ‘Spaces and concepts are created out of the relationship between the client and designer, with client aspirations leading to interpretations within a space. Relying solely on AI to do this would lead to style without substance, like a story without a plot or a novel with shallow characters.’ Indeed, while creations by programs such as Midjourney look unique and exciting, since AI scrapes the internet for the imagery to inform its own work, this may already be changing.

LookX AI Cloud is a new platform designed for architectural enthusiasts, including urban planners, architects, interior designers, and landscape artists. The platform comprises three core modules: Inspiration Generator, Train Model, and Sharing Community. Built on a meticulously curated architectural database called ArchiNet, the platform provides high-quality visuals tailored to specific disciplinesLookX AI Cloud is a new platform designed for architectural enthusiasts, including urban planners, architects, interior designers, and landscape artists. The platform comprises three core modules: Inspiration Generator, Train Model, and Sharing Community. Built on a meticulously curated architectural database called ArchiNet, the platform provides high-quality visuals tailored to specific disciplines

‘Outcomes are starting to exhibit repetitive patterns, lacking the sustained element of innovation and unexpected creativity,’ says Dr Soliman. ‘We appear to be caught in a repetitive loop, where the element of novelty is gradually diminishing and there’s a risk of creative stagnation.’

Perhaps at the root of architecture are human skills beyond the reach of AI entirely? ‘Creating life-changing spaces will always necessitate empathy, emotion and a solid understanding of the specific demographic, culture or community the space serves,’ believes Williams. Hassan Abdelsalam adds: ‘Empathy, user understanding, and cultural sensitivity are vital in architecture. These stem from human experiences that even advanced machines cannot fully emulate.’

Or, as Georgina McDonald from Space10 announced, during a collaboration with Ikea and Panter & Tourron trying to get AI to design a fold-up sofa: ‘A machine hasn’t sat on a couch before. It hasn’t cried on a couch before. It doesn’t know what it feels like, so it could only take us so far.’

LookX AI Cloud is a new platform designed for architectural enthusiasts, including urban planners, architects, interior designers, and landscape artists. The platform comprises three core modules: Inspiration Generator, Train Model, and Sharing Community. Built on a meticulously curated architectural database called ArchiNet, the platform provides high-quality visuals tailored to specific disciplinesLookX AI Cloud is a new platform designed for architectural enthusiasts, including urban planners, architects, interior designers, and landscape artists. The platform comprises three core modules: Inspiration Generator, Train Model, and Sharing Community. Built on a meticulously curated architectural database called ArchiNet, the platform provides high-quality visuals tailored to specific disciplines

You might think that one advantage of AI would be its very lack of human biases, but sadly not. AI automatically picks highquality images to train on, which tend to be US sources rather than, say, African or Islamic ones, so whole schools of architecture are absent from its ‘brain’, while poor programming can produce startling racism.

Scientist Fábio Duarte was horrified by the difference in images produced by Midjourney when it was asked to create two visions of a New York residential development, with the only difference in prompts being ‘black community’ and ‘white community’. The ‘white’ building was finely detailed and well-maintained, while the ‘black’ development was plain and covered in advertising. ‘What the AI “predicts” is based not only on patterns of image data but also patterns of social stigmatisation’ he concluded.

AI has entered the scene so quickly that the legal and ethical tools to manage it are lagging behind. Tom Jordan at Barr Gazetas notes: ‘There are complex challenges to resolve: if an AI tool is used to generate construction information, for instance, who holds liability if something were to go wrong? If a proprietary AI tool designs an interior space based on inputs from an architect, who holds the design copyright? For AI to be used extensively it requires a legal framework to operate within and no such thing currently exists.’

Even with Elon Musk’s best efforts, it’s unlikely that AI development will pause – so just as CAD and BIM went from novelty to normality, so too will AI. ‘You could potentially see AI as an additional member of the team, allowing architects more time to generate deeper, richer concepts,’ concludes Williams. Assuming that is, that AI doesn’t destroy the world first…








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