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Disruption by Design

Disruption By Design Image

For 5000 years buildings were created by scratching lines on paper. In the last century computer aided design (CAD) changed the industry by allowing architects designers and engineers to quickly produce and modify their drawings. But brace yourself, the industry is poised to be disrupted again but this time the result will be much more dramatic than simply improving efficiency. At Salt Flats we see 5 major forces that will converge within the next three to ten years and make the current practice of architecture and design look as archaic as a T-square and protractor.

Virtual reality and augmented reality will enable designers to communicate their vision in ways that clients can understand.

Clients can’t read drawings” is a common refrain heard around the lunchroom table in a design firm. Many of my own best ideas died on the drawing board because I simply couldn’t convey the overall concept to the people who were going to pay for it. Models and renderings helped but they were static and expensive to make. It was also difficult to depict the actual finishes, furniture, lighting and other design elements. And the view was limited to the angle we had selected. VR and AR have the power to change the entire experience for customers by putting them in the room.” Rather than being a passive participant on a guided tour through a series of images, they can look around by themselves and actually see space the same way design professionals do.

Buildings will go beyond simply being smart”

The first wave of smart buildings” utilized Building Automation Systems to monitor and control energy usage for lighting, HVAC, security and other systems. They were primarily focused on improving efficiency and managing operational costs. But technologies being developed now will enable buildings to not just know what is happening but respond by automatically adjusting systems based on use. This will not only help building owners reduce costs but also make the environment more comfortable and enjoyable for users.

Artificial Intelligence will create plans that always meet code.

Building codes are complex and sometimes contradictory. Even seasoned professionals can make mistakes or spend hours in front of code reviewers arguing over subtle points of interpretation. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are poised to change all that. Imagine a program that would tell you for example if a corridor was too long or doors were swinging the wrong way. These programs will also learn your preferences and suggest alternative designs that would remedy a code conflict. The review process could even become more streamlined since a building official would have a higher level of confidence in plans prepared in this manner.

New specification tools will allow architects to instantaneously see availability and cost of materials.

There is nothing more frustrating than falling in love with a special material and base the entire design around it, only to learn that it is unattainable or not affordable. Wouldn’t it be great if you could immediately know which products met your schedule and budget? New tools are coming which will connect manufacturers and suppliers to designers and contractors in real time. This will create an Amazon-like market for building materials which will shorten lead times from weeks and months to days or even hours.

Big Data will provide new insights into experience design.

Retailers have been mining data from customers for years to determine everything from style preferences to point of sale design to pricing models. Designs for the built environment can also benefit from crowd feedback”. Many of Salt Flats’ Members are working on ways to collect information on how people use the spaces where they live work and play. The goal of these efforts is to understand what people want and to use those insights to create better and better experiences.


Salt Flats Innovation House is a living lab for the development of these and other technologies focused exclusively on the built environment. At Salt Flats, we’re not waiting for the future…We’re creating it.

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