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Architects Journal's favourite… CAD

Architects Journal editor Kieran Long

It should be no surprise that the most important advance in construction has turned out to be a piece of software. This is a nuts and bolts industry, but the thing that has changed the way that everyone in it works is the advance of IT, and the ability of consultants to draw faster, more accurately and communicate their ideas digitally.

It has changed very practical things. Many of us now spend most of our working day gazing at a screen. RSI is now an occupational hazard for mouse-wielding computer aided design (CAD) jockeys. There are fewer architects on the tube decapitating children with huge portfolio cases and drawing tubes.

The rise of CAD has its most visible outcome in the increasingly implausible shapes dreamt up by starchitects and made possible by computers and the billions of calculations they can achieve each minute. In the last decade, that rapid advance has given rise to a sometimes worrying trend of architects believing ‘if you can imagine it, you can build it.’

In more pragmatic ways, CAD has led to more specialisation. There is still a divide in offices between the tech-literate younger members of staff, and partners and associates struggling with how they never really learned to use CAD to its extent. This is less and less the case, and the computer drawing as a medium to get from idea to building.

The rise of building information modelling will take this to a new level. With so-called 4D drawings integrating structure, services and design intentions, sharable between consultants and updating in real time, the future is a computer system seamlessly integrating the complex forces acting on the design process. Whether the human users can match this level of integration remains to be seen.

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