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2019 trends in digital architecture

By David Gray

Technology is constantly transforming how architects work and the buildings they create. The profession is now going through considerable change — starting with the adoption of 2D, then 3D computer-aided design, now moving to point clouds, Building Information Modelling (BIM) and, in the near future, the Internet of Things (IoT). Digital architecture allows us to create, design and transform buildings, towns and cities to meet the challenges of urbanisation and sustainability.

Here are the 4 big trends we see in digital architecture for 2019.

The impact and challenges of BIM

The transition from drawing board drafting to CAD design happened relatively slowly. It is unlikely that the transition from CAD to BIM will go the same way. The pace of development in the digital age points to faster and more radical changes to the way architects and the wider construction industry work.

Fundamentally, BIM enables improved communication when using digital modelling, drafting and design technology — delivering new workflow processes and allowing architects to work more closely with other members of the design, engineering and construction team.  


3D, data-rich models can be shared, accessed and developed by different members of the project team. This is allowing architects to push the limits of design, gaining input from structural engineers and material specialists early on in the process, resulting in cutting edge and more collaborative architectural productivity. Large clients, contractors, construction product manufacturers and asset managers are adopting BIM — with many learning from the design community.

The point of point clouds

Point clouds are a powerful and dynamic information storage technology. By representing spatial data as a collection of coordinates, they can handle large datasets for a wide array of downstream processing. Primarily, they are used to create 3D models based on the raw data generated by any number of scanners — most commonly using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology and techniques. This process is becoming increasingly referred to as ‘reality capture’.  

While BIM is becoming the norm for new build projects, there is a different set of challenges and opportunities for work to existing buildings. In order to work with a 3D model of an existing structure, you need to scan it first. 3D laser scanning and point clouds deliver that capability, allowing architects to work with what already exists and develop extensions, renovations and more using the latest digital architectural tools.

Point cloud and reality capture technology can also be deployed during a construction project, scanning stages of constriction or prefabricated materials to match them with planning. This improves quality assurance, making it possible to engage with cutting edge manufacturing techniques and architectural designs with no room for error.   

The cost associated with digital 3D surveys has been the barrier to the application of point clouds during construction, or on small scale projects entirely. However, advances in technology are now lowering the cost of point cloud modelling, accelerating the registration process by 40%-80%. This has opened the door to increasingly dynamic use of point clouds that architects need to stand up and notice.   

Immersing in VR and AR

Virtual reality and augmented reality are changing the way architects collaborate with clients.  More realistic rendering of designs through computer-generated imagery and through mixed, augmented and virtual reality allows clients to experience their building before it is built. These changes mean that the client is, and will increasingly become, better positioned to ensure the design delivers to their needs

Adoption of these technologies is set to grow: over a third of architects are using at least one form of mixed, augmented or virtual reality.  In addition, nearly 30% expect to use mixed, augmented or virtual reality within the next five years.

However, while the use of VR is on the increase, there are still obstacles to overcome. The biggest barrier to wide adoption of immersive technologies is the lack of good user experience design. 3D interface design takes skill to achieve and can be expensive. Therefore, people with the necessary design skills to overcome these issues can be hard to find.


Internet of things

Put simply, the Internet of Things (IoT) is the collective term for all devices or objects that are connected to the internet. Increasingly, IoT is thought of as a network of ‘things’ that enables the aggregation of data at a personal level. The outcome is the ability to fine-tune processes to deliver more tailored, and increasingly automated outcomes.

One of the key benefits of IoT for architects that often gets overlooked is that with more sensors/devices/things connected to the internet, the more diverse the dataset that is produced. This is important in feeding some of the technologies highlighted elsewhere. Whether in relation to robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) – IoT has the ability to produce the data that fuels RPA and improves the artificial intelligence to apply to designs and models.

For architects, the opportunities of new technology are expansive. By pairing these trends together, more creative designs can be made, efficiencies gained and outcomes improved. It is an exciting time to be in design.   

Tags: architects