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AI tools are helping architects—and their clients—design new buildings

AI tools are helping architects—and their clients—design new buildings

By Nate Berg7 minute ReadWith just a few words, stunning visual worlds can be conjured from the ether. Through an emerging and fast evolving genre of artificial intelligence known as text-to-image generation, tools including DALL-E 2 and Midjourney have opened up the doors to a cornucopia of visual creations. With neural networks trained on billions of images and their text descriptions, these tools can take simple phrases or word jumbles and offer up their interpretation in the form of highly detailed and surprisingly beautiful visuals, within seconds.[Image: courtesy Paul Howard Harrison]Among those field testing these tools are architects and designers. Some are beginning to use them as powerful new avenues for visualizing early stage concepts, testing out approaches to projects in the works, and even giving their non-designer clients a way to play a more active role in the design process.“It’s almost like you’re speaking a building into existence,” says Paul Howard Harrison, computational design lead at the global architecture firm HDR, which has more than 200 offices around the world.That might seem like a troubling development for an industry based on bringing buildings into existence with teams of highly trained humans, but Harrison says artificial intelligence will likely augment the work that architects do.DALL-E – “An architectural elevation drawing of a semi detached house in Toronto in the style of Maurice Sendak”. [Image: courtesy Paul Howard Harrison]That’s already starting to happen. He’s been exploring the use of AI and specifically trained neural networks as design tools for the past few years, applying them to some of HDR’s projects, like a new hospital project. For another project, a heritage building in Ontario, the firm trained a neural network on every listed heritage building in the city, and turned the algorithm loose on generating new concepts that fit into the local historical style.Midjourney: “A semidetached house in Toronto in the style of Maurice Sendak”. [Image: courtesy Paul Howard Harrison]Midjourney and DALL-E 2 broaden the applicability of this approach, Harrison says, and he’s used the tools to quickly generate ideas for actual projects the firm is working on, including a mixed-use community center in Toronto. He’s also been exploring more playful concepts, including housing designed in the style of children’s book illustrator Maurice Sendak. Another visualization created buildings inspired by noted architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, with the word “duck” on the façade—a reference to their influential book “Learning From Las Vegas.”DALL-E: “A building designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown with a large sign that reads _DUCK_”. [Image: courtesy Paul Howard Harrison]Foster + Partners, the largest architecture firm in the U.K., has also been exploring AI and machine learning tools in the early conceptual design phase of projects. “In addition to using reference images or studying precedents online, we can now use these tools to quickly illustrate an idea or a feeling that we want a particular space to evoke,” says Martha Tsigkari, head of Applied R+D at Foster + Partners. “This side of machine learning is shaping up to be a useful tool for drawing inspiration.”[Image: courtesy Paul Howard Harrison]Some of the outputs are clearly more realistic than others, which could be a concern. Harrison says the wide accessibility of these AI tools and the detail of the imagery they produce could create far-fetched expectations about what can actually be turned from a concept into a building.  » Read More

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