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Profession pays monopoly-money price for technological advances

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There was a time when architects' offices, like journalists', contained nothing of value. Unless there was a particularly elegant framed print on the wall, any thief finding their way in would have slim pickings. All that changed with the advent of computers, and now there is a whole raft of issues that every practitioner has to address.

A decade ago it would have been hard to imagine the outrage that is now resulting from rumours about a hike in prices for AutoCAD (see page 6). These price rises follow stories about the enforced redundancy of older versions, obliging users to upgrade expensively whether they wish to or not. The problems are exacerbated by the fact that AutoCAD has become the industry standard, one from which even the users of the other, relatively niche, CAD programs cannot escape entirely. Whatever system they decide to use, architects can virtually guarantee that one of the other organisations with which they deal will be working with a package from Autodesk. In our daily lives we are all in thrall to Microsoft; in working terms Autodesk is nearly as important.

This week in Architech (pages 34 and 35), Sutherland Lyall looks at the latest developments in wireless working.

For those who love gadgets and technology, this is a fascinating area of development. For others, it is another distraction from the real business of architecture. With luck, there will be people of both types in all but the smallest practices. Older architects have been complaining for years that students have been losing fundamental drawing skills.

But, ironically, at a time when the future of architectural education is once again in question, the most recent work emerging from the schools of architecture shows that drawing skills are flourishing by incorporating, rather than opposing, the tools that computers offer.

This may prove to be the lesson for the future. As with many technologies, increasing sophistication is accompanied by ease of use. But paying for it is another issue. Hardware prices may continue to fall. That just leaves architects with agonising decisions about when is the wisest time to make a purchase. But software costs will continue to be a concern, particularly while the profession remains in thrall to a near-monopoly provider.

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