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AJ100 Analysis: Technology

We asked practices responding to the AJ100 survey about their use of various technologies.

They were asked not only what was used within the practice, but also how heavily they employed certain technologies.

Not surprisingly, almost all practices use either 2D or 3D CAD extensively. There are no practices that are not making use of 3D CAD at all. Those that use limited 2D or not at all must have completed, or nearly completed, their transfer to a fully 3D environment. One of the advantages of 3D design is that it may allow greater clarity in documentation - particularly important to practices that are working in a number of different markets and therefore are not, for example, always confident about the quality of the fabricators with whom they will work.

Recent research shows that, even in the current harsh economic climate, practices are still planning to invest in technology - in both software and hardware, and in the vital training that such investment requires. It seems that architects have realised that it is vital to be able to react fast and well to the demands of clients and potential clients.

Nevertheless, the numbers using drawing by hand, on paper, are still relatively high, indicating that many architects still value drawing, or are learning to value it again - both as a method for working out rough ideas and as a vital communication tool. Models play a similar role, being a means of communication, a way of exploring a concept and, at the end of a project, both a record of the thought process and a souvenir of the project.

Foster + Partners’ otherwise austere office has models ranged many deep on shelves that reach right up to the ceiling, where they are beyond reach. As a practice that is eager to embrace the latest technology, this is an indication that the day of the model has not passed, as shown again in the figures here.

New technologies are also important in many practices. Computer simulation is used extensively in design by a quarter of respondents, whilst building information modelling (BIM) is used extensively by almost one in five. Nearly a quarter, however, claim to make no use of BIM in design. Further analysis shows that smaller practices and partnerships are less likely to use it, whereas large practices and public limited companies are likely to make extensive use of it. This reflects the perception that, although it is of growing importance, BIM may not be applicable to smaller projects.

As the potential of 3D CAD technology continues to expand, it is used with increasing fluidity and versatility. The illustration above shows TMJ Interiors’ vaulted ceiling of St Edmundsbury Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds. The ceiling was modelled and rendered in Pointools 4 Rhino using point cloud data as a guide.

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