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Welcome to the future

Rory Olcayto
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We’re still drawing by hand, but one in five AJ120 practices is using drones, says Rory Olcayto

The future just happened. Proof? How about this: one in five AJ120 architects uses drones. That’s what our survey says. So welcome, architect, to 2015, the 20th anniversary of the AJ100, the 120th birthday of the Architects’ Journal, and welcome too to the future of your profession. It’s smart. It’s technical. It’s digital. Or is it? Because our survey also says that 49 per cent make extensive use of their hand drawing on paper skills, with 31 per cent saying they are moderate sketchers. But then sketching is out-pointed by BIM usage – 58 per cent of the same respondents use BIM a lot, and 32 per cent claim to be moderate BIM users. Anyway, rewind a little to that startling, first stat: 20 per cent of AJ120 architects use drones. Weird huh? Of course the future is here.

It was the one statistic that really jumped out at us as the editorial team reviewed the data compiled for our annual business survey. There were others too that caught the eye: 29 per cent of AJ120 architects are women, for example, 1 per cent more than last year and better than the industry average by around seven points; and the top layer of AJ120 practice bosses are rewarding themselves with a pay rise one whole percentage point less than that granted to their staff. But it is this rapid adoption of drones, which until recently were thought of solely as military devices, that really shows how thoroughly the architectural profession is being transformed by a new wave of digital tools.

Still, there are some who refuse to let the rest of us get carried away, such as architectural photographer Paul Raftery. Speaking at an Archiboo event during the London Festival of Architecture this week, he said: ‘Architects say to me, there’s a new panacea: drones. But they are not the answer to everything. They are one chapter of the book and the book is describing buildings. They are another part of the wider vocabulary we have with digital imagery.’ But the point is: drones have arrived.

As for BIM. It’s here. Totally. And everyone is using it. Take the AJ120’s third favourite building this year – after O’Donnell + Tuomey’s Saw Swee Hock and Haworth Tompkin’s Everyman – Stormen Concert Hall and Library in Bodø, by DRDH Architects. Now you may see a great Modernist landmark with respectful nods to Chipperfield and Aalto designed by a medium-sized, non-AJ120 studio when you take in its charms. But you’re also looking at a project designed using BIM from start to completion.

The way you access your media too is increasingly digital, despite your continued love of print and paper. More than 50 per cent of subscribers use our digital platforms to access the AJ’s content. And while we are rightly proud of our annual print edition of AJ120, I urge a visit to the exclusive AJ120 website, where you can compare this year’s data with our annual surveys stretching back to 2007. You’ll need to set aside some time; there’s so much to get your head round – such as the fact that one in five AJ120 architects uses drones. As I said, the future: it just happened.

rory.olcayto@emap.com Twitter: @roryolcayto

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