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PM Discussion Board ->

The impact of emerging AI technologies on architecture

By Rebecca W. Edmunds AIA posted 09-06-2023 04:20 PM


By Michael Schroeder, CCM, Partner at SGA

Portrait of Michael Schroeder

As we move swiftly up the exponential curve of technology, artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly weaving its threads into our professional lives, rewriting the rules of engagement across disciplines. For architects and designers, this new wave of AI integration holds the potential to reshape our roles, and even the very definition of design itself. An increasing array of specialized software programs tailored for targeted sectors have begun to signal the imminence of a profound shift: AI's impact on the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry promises to be nothing short of transformative.

AI: Present and future

The integration of AI into the architectural field is still in its embryonic stages, but it is advancing with a speed that can hardly be ignored. As our capacity to gather, store, and analyze data expands, architects and designers are positioned to exploit AI as though it were a fresh erudite team member. AI offers the potential to take on key functions in our daily operations, altering the way we generate renderings, manage projects, and visualize space itself.

AI-generated renderings by SGA AI-generated renderings by SGA AI-generated renderings by SGA

Images: AI-generated renderings by SGA

Already, AI services are revolutionizing our field, performing tasks that once required human expertise, like creating renderings and videos or drafting code reviews. But this is just the beginning. With the power of AI, floor plans will soon be instantaneously generated from machine learning and trained on vast collections of designs, models, and sketches. Our nascent ability to create initial design variations through AI processes such as style transfer and massing studies brings about the possibility of coupling language models with existing parametric 3D modeling tools, setting the stage for a quantum leap in design capabilities.

In the not-too-distant future, the architectural world will encounter another remarkable tool, "digital twins," imbued with AI. This technology allows us to make a virtual copy of a physical building. It is helpful in planning logistics, managing projects, ensuring safety, and running facilities. When paired with AI during the design phase, the digital doppelgänger can offer predictive analysis, highlighting potential problems like supply-chain disruptions or labor shortages.

Perhaps one of the most crucial implications of AI's rise is its potential to bolster our sustainability measures greatly. With the urgency of climate change initiatives pressing down upon us, AI provides a ray of hope. It may offer practical solutions for energy conservation, enabling us to optimize airflow and natural light, and tailor strategies to achieve net-zero emissions and carbon neutrality for specific projects. Moreover, AI can respond with real-time feedback on the impact of various design decisions on a project's energy performance, providing an efficient method to tackle a traditionally time-consuming and error-prone energy modeling task.

Moving beyond energy efficiency, AI is starting to flex its creative muscles. We've already seen AI generate entirely unique, even surreal versions of digital art, images, products, and furniture. Its talents will soon extend to creating innovative designs for buildings and interior spaces, and there is a real possibility that the resulting designs could surpass the capabilities of any one human or team. The generated initial design solutions are bound to evolve, gaining a deeper understanding of 3D spaces, and employing thoughtful design considerations to address efficiencies, programming, travel distances, and much more.

AI-generated renderings by SGA AI-generated renderings by SGA

Images: AI-generated renderings by SGA

AI: Risk and caution

However, in all this excitement about AI's potential, we must also remain aware of the risks and regulatory issues accompanying it. From an ethical standpoint, data biases pose challenges in language-based AI models. If the data that AI systems learn from are flawed or skewed, the resulting designs will inevitably carry those through. Consequently, there is a need for robust data vetting procedures to ensure the trustworthiness of results.

Further, AI systems, like any technology or person for that matter, are not immune to errors. An incorrect interpretation of building codes by an AI could lead to potentially hazardous situations, underscoring the need for continued human oversight, even as we harness the capabilities of AI.

From a governance perspective, regulating third-party data presents a whole new set of challenges. Europe is already spearheading the development of new laws and policies to address these concerns, with the United States beginning to follow suit. As AI evolves, so too will the landscape of data privacy and security, requiring continuous adaptation and vigilance from all involved.

SGA Dashboard AI-generated renderings by SGA

Images: left: The SGA Dashboard, the firm's proprietary VDC project platform; right: AI-generated renderings by SGA

AI's potential to reshape the architectural industry is incontestable. At SGA, we are making headway in identifying specific uses for AI that will positively impact our Virtual Design & Construction practice and our proprietary SGA Dashboard. We're pioneering the exploration of machine learning models and assembling a dedicated AI R&D group to grapple with these areas of opportunity. By fusing human insight and oversight with the prowess of AI, we are on the precipice of a new age in architecture. This epoch promises the creation of innovative and highly-sustainable designs that effortlessly merge functionality and beauty, pointing us toward a future where our built environment reflects the brilliance of both human and artificial intelligence.



When Fast Company selected SGA as one of the Most Innovative Companies in 2018, the publication identified the firm’s capabilities in Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) as a key differentiator in scheduling and cost certainty.  Michael played an instrumental role in attaining this honor:  He has led the growth and development of the practice since 2014. VDC is an ideal fit for Michael, who loves to discover and invent new technologies that enhance project outcomes.  BIM underpins the programs he oversees, but he supplements the virtual world with face-to-face interactions to promote collaboration.  At the beginning of every commission, he onboards the project team and hosts an Execution Success Planning session, during which participants determine the most effective methods of delivery. Other pillars of his methodology include co-location of the development, design, and construction partners; bespoke project dashboards; and a variety of teambuilding initiatives.   

Before joining SGA, Michael served as president, CEO, and principal implementer at BIM Jet INC. in Boston for seven years.  In this capacity, he led strategic consulting engagements for C-level BIM technology.  Previously Michael held the role of director of design technology at Moshe Safdie and Associates in Somerville, MA, where he established the firm’s vision and future direction of BIM and other technology platforms. Michael received a Master of Design Studies with distinction from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and a Bachelor of Architecture from Montana State University.  He often lectures about BIM and integrated design at prominent industry organizations and institutions.  In his spare time, Michael enjoys traveling with his wife and their four children.  


(Return to the cover of the August 2023 PM Digest)