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BCO 2018: Are technologies such as AI just fads?

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To coincide with the 2018 BCO conference, this week the AJ is asking top designers, engineers and agents a series of questions surrounding the future of office development in the UK

This year the BCO annual conference is heading to Berlin – a city where, according to BCO senior vice-president Katrina Kostic Samen, the ‘future arrived early’. The three-day conference takes ‘diversity and inclusion’ as its theme.

At the conference, seminars and discussions will take place on the speed of technological advances and how they are changing not only the way we work, but the buildings we work in.

Technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Virtual Reality (VR) offer a range of exciting new tools for designers, clients and developers; but are these latest innovations here to stay, or just a fad? 

As the conference got under way, the AJ asked our panel for their answers. 

Are technologies such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality just a flash-in-the-pan craze or will they revolutionise how we design workplaces?

Hanif Kara, co-founder, AKT II
To serve the next generations, it is important to banish the narrative that any of this is a flash-in-the-pan. This technology is the defining issue of the current epoch, both in how we define the worker who will use our buildings but also in the way we as designers use technology to grasp a better understanding and simulate behaviour.

Henry Squire, partner, Squire and Partners
Digital innovation has always had an impact on how we design workplaces and, as it advances, there is no doubt it will have an impact on office space. However, I fundamentally believe that it is the human being that needs to be at the centre of every design experience, not a computer or virtual reality.

Roma Agrawal, associate director, AECOM
They will revolutionise how we design workplaces. We are only going to see the use of digital technologies and tools – like VR, AI and sensors – grow and evolve in the future. The industry needs to embrace these innovations. 

Sherin Aminossehe, head of offices, Lendlease Europe
We need to work with occupiers to allow us to forecast more accurately the kind of technologies that would be useful to them, rather than blindly follow the latest craze in the prop. tech. world. I have yet to see the point of a Wi-Fi-enabled toaster, or a kettle that I can instruct from my phone, after all I won’t be there to drink the cup of tea that it’s remotely boiling water for!

Helen Berresford, partner, Sheppard Robson
We might not realise it, but artificial intelligence is already changing our lives in many ways, and workplace design is highly unlikely to be unaffected by this change. On the other hand, I can see places becoming more important than ever in helping people establish a connection to reality, especially when a considerable part of a person’s life will take place in a virtual dimension.

J-J Lorraine, director, Morrow + Lorraine
Technology is a positive force but it can’t come close to replicating the buzz that’s created from a face-to-face chat around a table with client, colleagues and trusted collaborators.

Simon Allford, founding partner, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
The Luddites did not fear machinery replacing jobs, they feared machinery controlling our lives. Much enabling technology has actually tended to dominate our lives. The optimist in me hopes that AI may relieve of us from much drudgery, just as did the first machine age. As before, I expect we will still work hard and invent new jobs – the need to work has proven to be a cultural condition.

Hazel Rounding, director, shedkm
These are no doubt useful tools that help the market to visualise workspace possibilities but every design solution can only be truly tested in a physical state and with human interaction. Virtual reality can help those uninformed to visualise space but it will arguably have more impact to CAT B interiors than CAT A canvasses. In this respect, technology might help the disconnect between landlord base build and interior design and, by allowing prospective tenants to visualise design earlier, it could usefully cut some of the waste that is experienced by instructing changes sought by a CAT B design after CAT A build.

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