Decoding Design

Can computer programs replace architects?

Can computer programs replace architects?

Posting in Architecture

If robotics are moving into design, are computer programs pushing architects out? An article in the New York Times considers the rise of computer programs that let you design your own home.

If robotics are moving into design, are computer programs pushing architects out? Steven Kurtz for the New York Times writes about the increase in number and sophistication of computer programs that let you design your own home.

Some of these programs are created and released by architects and builders to make design accessible.

“We’re taking architectural skill, color choices and design, and putting it in the hands of someone who would not otherwise be able to afford an architect,” said John Stephenson, senior vice president for marketing at Ply Gem. For novices who want to spruce up a home’s exterior, Mr. Stephenson said, the Web tool “helps them get there.”

Jeroen Bekkers, the Dutch architect who created Floorplanner, which allows users to make detailed plans of rooms or entire houses, complete with furniture and landscaping, said he wanted to “involve people in the design process.”

The article goes on to profile homeowners who have successfully or not so successfully used the programs to get a project built. Most projects were small renovations of single rooms, but one doctor spent several months successfully designing a one story home.

As with any software, the skill of the user ultimately determines how useful or successful the outcome will be. People who have DIY knowledge and determination might be fine with just SketchUp and a good contractor. For others, the software becomes just a visualization tool or game, kind of like building a house in the Sims.

What's missing from programs like Floorplanner and Chief Architect is coordination ability, to warn someone the wall they just took out in their drawing was load bearing, or that the walls they'd like put in are over their property setbacks.

People tend to think of architects as simply providing the drawings, he added, without realizing how many other issues they deal with, like creating a design that’s in harmony with the site and the climate, following local building codes and coordinating with vendors and tradesmen. “That’s a lot for the lay person to take on,” Mr. Isch [cochair of the American Institute of Architects residential committee] said.

Even Ms. Petersik, the extreme D.I.Y.er, said she and her husband would think twice before tackling a bigger project like designing a house using Floorplanner or SketchUp. “I could see us feeling empowered by the program, but I could also see the program giving us false confidence,” she said. “It feels like an awfully big gamble.”

Skipping the Architect: Wise or Otherwise? [NYT]

Image: Lineal Inc.

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure