Even with tech like virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing, computational design and robotics already reshaping architecture practice, the design community is just scratching the surface of the potential of new technologies. Designers who recognize this and invest in building skills and expertise to maximize the use of these tools in the future will inherently become better architects, and position themselves for entirely new career paths as our profession evolves. It is a uniquely exciting moment for architecture to advance through innovative use of technology. Even just a decade ago, designers with interests in both architecture and technology were essentially required to pursue one or the other. Now, with architecture beginning to harness the power of cutting-edge technologies, these fields are no longer mutually exclusive. Rather than choose a preferred path, today’s architects are encouraged to embrace technology to become sought-out talent.
With much written about how technology is changing the way architects work and the products we can deliver to clients during a project’s lifecycle, there has been less focus on how technology is changing career opportunities in the profession. Architecture companies are now hiring roles that didn’t exist even three years ago. Here’s a look at five emerging career paths design technology will make possible in 2018 and the immediate future.
Chief Technology Officer
While companies in other leading industries have long been hiring Chief Technology Officers (CTO), the design profession has been slower to recognize their value. In recent years that has begun to change as a handful of firms have begun hiring for this important position. With the rapid evolution of design technology, it’s important for firms to have individuals and teams focused on ensuring they are always leveraging the best tools and processes to deliver for their clients.
CTOs focus mostly on ensuring design teams are constantly implementing innovative digital design technology and refining its use. They essentially create roadmaps for how digital design will grow in their practice over the years ahead and are then responsible for its execution. With some firms already leading the charge by hiring CTOs, expect more companies to begin filling these roles in 2018.
Immersive Reality Modelers
One of the most powerful changes new technology is creating is a shift away from 2D design drawings and floor plans to more life-like 3D virtual environments. This shift is making communication between designers, clients and end users more meaningful. Rather than ask them to imagine how sketches and floor plans will translate to future built space, architects are now able to place clients in virtual environments years before actual buildings are completed. This allows clients and end users to understand spatial qualities in new ways, ask better questions and recognize challenges or opportunities that all strengthen the final product. It also helps clients feel more confident about their investment.
As more clients recognize the benefits VR can bring to their projects, design firms will battle to hire the best 3d modelers and animation experts. Having people on design teams who can create the best, most immersive virtual environments will go a long way to ensuring client satisfaction and repeat business. Don’t be surprised if architecture firms even seek to poach leading talent from the video gaming industry to help fill talent gaps and remain competitive in this area.
Given how leading-edge virtual environments can directly improve client opportunities, architects would be wise to consider boosting their VR modeling skills ASAP.
Virtual Simulation Designers
To date, architects are mostly using VR to create environments that reflect space as it will be first built. However, many firms are already seeing the potential in being able to place designers and clients in virtually simulated events within these environments. For example—want to ensure you’ve designed a hospital to be successfully evacuated in the face of a hurricane? Create a VR model and then simulate evacuation scenarios as wind, rain and possible destruction occurs. Alternatively, want to ensure sound from a community pool won’t make apartments less desirable for rent? Build a model and test the parameters to understand if the noise will be a deterrence. Want to decrease the risk of patients with cognitive challenges falling in an inpatient clinic? Simulate how shadows project and move on floor surfaces at any given point in time to understand how these patients might react and/or trip on them.
Designing VR models and designing simulations within them will require unique talents. Here again, architects who begin to build skills that will help them scenario-test situations for clients can differentiate themselves for future career opportunities.
Haptic Interface Designers
While design firms may begin to experiment with VR simulations in 2018, further down the road will be the integration of haptic interfaces. Today’s VR models allow clients to see their future spaces, but before too long, haptics will make it possible for us to feel them too. Incorporating the sense of touch into VR models will lead to more informed decision-making around materials, surfaces, furniture and more.
Designers who understand haptic technology—how it works, what it makes possible, and how to embed it in VR models—will be a prized commodity in the future. As both VR and haptic tech evolves, their marriage is almost inevitable. Moreover, once clients realize the awesome benefits of being able to see and touch spaces years before they exist, architecture firms will invest heavily in uniting the technologies.
For centuries, architects have mostly stored all their knowledge and design wisdom in their heads. In the last five years, the design community has begun to come to terms with the fleeting nature of this practice and started to document and democratize knowledge management.
As a profession, it behooves us to step it up a few notches and recognize the importance of data collection and its classification. Today, it can catalyze performance analytics and data-driven generative design, but data will also soon serve as the foundation for leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning. As this shift occurs, more and more design firms will hire data scientists and analysts to fuel the potential of these new technologies.
Architecture is a very rich and diverse profession because it allows for so many unique career paths within it. There are different markets, services, and areas of expertise through which to channel one’s passion. It’s great to see technology beginning to create even further career differentiation for architects and I’m excited to see what new opportunities emerge in 2018 and beyond.
Hilda Espinal, AIA, LEED AP, CDT, is CannonDesign’s Chief Technology Officer, responsible for helping clients and project teams around the world leverage technology and intelligent data to make informed decisions early in the design process - reducing risk and maximizing the impact of investments.