Technology in design
By Peter Benson

I haven’t used a drawing board in a very long time, so long in fact that I couldn’t honestly confess to the last time I did. When I started out on this career path more years ago than I would care to admit, the drawing board was still a prevalent tool of the trade, found everywhere, and used and loved by most. Nowadays though they are an increasing rarity, a relic of the past pushed into obscurity by nothing more than the advancement of technology. We still have one or two drawing boards in the TSL design offices, though now serving as places to store drawings rather than create them, with the days of set-squares and razor blades consigned largely to the past.

Technology is changing design, it is changing architecture and it is changing construction. Computer-based 2D design software has been around for some time, but the turn of the millennium saw it really start to gain momentum, putting paid to the more traditional techniques and changing how people approached and thought about design. Here was a tool that offered so many new possibilities and routes into the industry for people, it made architecture and design more approachable and more accessible. It provided the capability to design with previously impossible precision and to instantly make changes to drawings. The more widespread the prevalence of computer-aided design software became, the more ambitious and creative people could be, with their ideas now able to be translated and presented more easily.

And the advance of technology hasn’t stopped there. Now, whilst 2D design software is still the industry standard and still widely used, 3D design software is becoming more and more advanced and more and more prevalent. This software, which allows interactive walk-throughs and photo-realistic renders of buildings to be produced, will eventually take over from 2D as the accepted standard by which all buildings are designed. This software also brings the benefit of real-time clash detection, meaning coordination between the many design disciplines involved in a project can be smoother and more assured. With the advent of 3D printing technology, this also means that a scale model of a building, in a tangible, tactile form can be produced at the literal touch of a button. At TSL, we use both forms of software in order to produce our building designs, applying the most appropriate tool to the task at hand in order to achieve the best results.

If we look to the future however and the many huge technological leaps forward that appear to be on the horizon, this is where TSL will look to embrace and incorporate new technologies and new ways of working into the way we design buildings. Never before in the industry have there been so many new technologies that can offer so much to both the designer and the end-user. Augmented Reality software, where seemingly innocuous 2D printed images, when viewed through the correct device with the correct app installed, suddenly burst forth into a fully interactive 3D visualisation that can be viewed, inspected and manipulated. This offers endless possibilities to collaborative design with clients, the ability to bring each room in a building to life in turn, to view the finishes, fixtures and fittings in a fully 3D interactive world.

The next step up from this and something TSL is also looking forward to embracing is fully virtual reality. Most people may already be familiar with the not uncommon ‘VR’ headsets aimed towards the gaming and film industries, but the benefits Virtual Reality can bring to the construction industry are numerous, and if 2D and 3D software made design more accessible, virtual reality will turn it into a full-blown sensory experience. Using the headsets and the more advanced full VR pods, clients and designers can walk around their new building without even putting a spade into the ground. What would previously have been an idea on paper can now be a full-size visual interpretation of their project. Anything that can be imagined or wildly dreamt up can be achieved and visualized in virtual reality, and this is the forebear to a world where motion capture can be used to create bio-responsive buildings and spaces.

All of these new technologies that TSL will look to embrace over the coming weeks, months and years, will serve to improve upon the design capabilities that we already have and importantly improve the product and experience we can provide to our end-users and clients. It is an exciting time to be a designer, an exciting time to be a client, and perhaps the demise of the drawing board might just be worth it after all.