Architecture is a long-standing profession, one that has produced the iconic landmarks we admire around the world, monuments which we revere around the world, and played a part in establishing the organisation of the cities we live in today. This description, however, is architecture in the traditional sense - and there are numerous examples of individuals and firms who have strayed away from traditional architectural practice, either through delving into adjacent fields or 'disrupting' the field with the harnessing of new technologies.
Lengthy routes into architectural practice, coupled with the timeframe taken for a building from early design to construction, has meant that architecture does not have a “startup” culture most associated with the technology industry. Nevertheless, there is a strong cohort of companies - many of them in their early years - quietly seeking to revolutionise the architectural field.
Leveraging the power of software, the architect-founded Monograph has a simple pitch – how can the work of people working in the construction industry be simplified. Their answer is a project management tool, which contains an overview of how much work has been done on a project, and how much money has been spent on it so far. This information can then be used to assign different tasks to people with an estimated time – making things a lot more transparent, and, in turn, productive.
With a very direct, easy-to-read user interface, the team behind Monograph seeks to “disrupt the status quo of ineffective spreadsheets”. The fact that a void existed for Monograph to produce their software can be viewed as an indictment of the AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) industry itself, which too often has been criticised for lagging behind in taking full advantage of the digital solutions available.
In the realm of making the most of new technologies also comes the startup OpenSpace. A set of tools that allows for automated 360 video capture and mapping on a site, it allows for greater transparency on a job site. A combination of widely-used 360-degree cameras, computer vision, and Artificial Intelligence is used to capture a detailed visual record of a site, share it on the cloud – and track progress.
The company illustrates the use of OpenSpace by showing a person on a construction site, a 360-degree camera mounted on their helmet, which records the environment around them as they walk. Every half-second, the construction photo documentation software captures images – immediately matching them to project plans.
Venturing away from artificial intelligence is Cover – a company that makes backyard homes and based in Los Angeles. The designs are custom-built, with the company taking charge of the design process from zoning research and permits to manufacturing, project management, and installation. It’s a system that means subcontractors are not needed – the final result produced for the client being a completely custom-made design.
The presence of a business model such as Cover’s is a clear representation of architects and designers seeking to exert greater control in the design process, utilising their architectural know-how to create a holistic design, yet also taking advantage of the efficiency of technology for a more streamlined design process.
As solutions and ideas abound today on how architecture can be pre-fabricated and marketed directly to the client, it’s worth a reminder to look back at early 20th Century United States. Earning a reputation as the world’s largest store, Sears published home kit catalogues from 1908, with more than 370 styles and customisation options. The kits contained designs for a specific house, with the designs being tailored not for heavy masonry or concrete, but instead for the construction of wood-framed residences, of which the materials were easily found locally. The guides would also contain detailed information on the plumbing, electrical wiring, and painting of the house.
The last example is a good example of how an invention can be revolutionary in the architectural field, without necessarily having ground-breaking technology of any kind. Successfully “going against the grain” in the architecture industry is, most of the times - like Monograph - all about filling a much-needed void.