Is your business ready for architecture’s digital transformation?

Posted on: 26 June, 2024

Digital transformation isn’t just another marketing buzzword for the architectural industry – it’s set to revolutionise the profession in the coming years.

Digital transformation is a strategic priority for businesses across industries, verticals and company sizes. This initiative, encompassing emerging new technologies and the processes by which they’re integrated into business, is reshaping the future of sectors on an international scale, from healthcare and the public sector to cybersecurity and manufacturing.

The architectural industry is no exception to this trend. In fact, digital transformation is helping to usher in a new era of creativity, efficiency and sustainability in the practice.

What does digital transformation mean for architecture?

Digital transformation has wide implications for any industry. The emergence and adoption of new technologies brings with it an overhaul of existing processes, practices, disciplines and cultures, and can fundamentally change the day-to-day responsibilities of an employee, as well as creating requirements for new recruits.

The same is true of architecture. Sustainable development is now a key focus in the built environment, meaning architects and technicians need to prioritise energy efficiency and sustainability in their designs.

There’s also the emergence of new priorities in safety and regulation, with the Building Safety Act (BSA) making the adoption of new digital practices like the golden thread mandatory.

New technologies and innovations within architecture are crucial to making these priorities a reality, and rather than placing the profession in jeopardy, they in fact can help architects and technicians turn their designs into a practical, sustainable reality.

7 tools shaping the future of architecture

1. Building information modelling (BIM)

BIM is a process of collaboration and information management that allows different teams, professions and disciplines to collaborate on a construction project throughout the entire building lifecycle. This information is stored in a 3D representation of a project, structure or component.

Learn more: What is BIM (and how does it work)?

Research by Microsoft and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) found that 70% of the 300 architectural professionals surveyed were making use of building information modelling. With this in mind, BIM may not be considered by everyone to be a ‘new’ innovation, but with the promise of more advanced and mature BIM levels that allow for greater collaboration and integration of external factors, this technology still has a lot to offer the architectural industry.

2. Digital collaboration tools

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift to remote working and cloud computing for many industries, including architecture. It necessitated the need for virtual and digital working spaces, and helped popularise the use of virtual design studios alongside BIM, virtual reality and augmented reality.

Architecture businesses and professionals have continued to reap the benefits of these technologies in the aftermath of the pandemic. Digital collaboration tools have helped foster greater collaboration among the many different stakeholders involved in design and construction projects. They’ve also helped the industry access a wider and more diverse talent pool by facilitating remote and flexible working.

Learn more: Could flexible working be the key to greater diversity in construction?

3. Virtual and augmented reality

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are comparatively less common than BIM and digital collaboration tools, with 35% of respondents from Microsoft and RIBA’s survey making use of this technology, but their popularity is on the rise. These technologies allow technicians to showcase designs in an immersive medium to stakeholders during the design phase, and are also an effective way to get client engagement and input in the early stages of the building lifecycle.

4. The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things is a network of devices or sensors that connect to send and relay information. This technology is being utilised in smart buildings and homes to monitor the conditions of a building and make improvements to both energy efficiency and occupant comfort.

Learn more: Smart buildings, explained – here’s what they mean for the built environment

5. 3D printing

3D printing is being used in construction to build everything, from small components and materials to bricks, modular panels and even entire structures.

Architects and technicians can utilise 3D printing to bring their BIM and CAD designs to life in accurate, precise 3D models. This can provide yet another layer of effective visualisation and prototyping on top of digital representations of buildings and structures.

Learn more: 3D printing in construction: is it worth the hype?

6. Drones

Drones are being utilised more and more during the construction phase, but their application also extends to design and architecture. They can collect data on the proposed terrain for a construction project and identify potential risks, which can all be integrated into BIM, digital twins and other data visualisations.

7. Digital twins

Digital twin technology creates a digital replica of an existing or proposed structure, through which designers and architects can run tests to assess its performance in different scenarios. This is crucial for the design phase of the project to test hypotheses and ensure longevity and resilience, especially in instances of extreme weather.

The challenges holding back architecture’s digital transformation

Achieving successful digital transformation is far from a simple endeavour. Projects often have large scopes in organisations of various sizes, requiring significant engagement, input and, often, a shift in culture. This explains why the typical digital transformation journey tends to last up to five years.

Here are some of the biggest challenges that can hold digital transformation back:

  • Lack of executive-buy-in

Without the support and backing of the CEOs, CFOs and boardrooms, change initiatives will only get so far. These executives hold the power, sway and, ultimately, the budget needed to invest in the technology and implement the processes that make digital transformation reality.

  • Change management and company culture

Change isn’t for everyone. Digital transformation brings with it an overhauling of processes and practices, which, if not managed appropriately, can alienate employees and end users. Ensuring the engagement and backing of all relevant stakeholders is therefore crucial.

  • Lack of sustainability expertise

With sustainable development and efficiency a key priority for the design phase of the building lifecycle, sustainability knowledge is just as important as a technical understanding of the building lifecycle.

  • Skills gaps

From green expertise and digital skills to leadership, communication and critical thinking, there are a wide variety of competencies the architecture industry needs to make its digital future reality. And with 41% of the construction workforce predicted to have retired by 2031, these skills gaps will only grow if businesses aren’t able to attract, hire and upskill the next generation of architecture expertise and talent.

Learn more: What is the green skills gap (and why does it matter)?

The solution? Build your digital proficiency

There’s no denying that the future of architecture is digital. If today’s businesses and professionals want to be successful in the coming years, they need to align with digital transformation and develop the technological proficiencies required of tools like BIM and digital twin technology.

UCEM have launched a BSc (Hons) in Architectural Design Technology to satisfy the demand for creative and digital skills in the architectural industry. This programme, which emphasises both communication and collaboration, allows students to integrate their creativity with technical expertise and sustainability knowledge.

UCEM are the only university that offers this degree as a fully online provision, and have also launched a two-year, Level 4 Construction Design and Build Technician apprenticeship to support rising demand from businesses and employers.