Artificial Intelligence for All: Perspectives and Outlooks on the Role of Machine Learning in Architectural Design

Jose L. García del Castillo y López

Computational tools have been crucial in the advance of architectural design and production. Since the early 1960s, developments in Computer-Aided Design, Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) and Building Information Modeling (BIM) have had a fundamental impact in how the profession evolved. Computation helped improve fluency in the creative stages of architectural conceptualization, increase productivity and reliability in design and construction, democratize access to architectural production, and foster a wealth of formal and technical innovation in architecture. Recent groundbreaking developments in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are bearing the promise of a new revolution in computing, led by novel algorithms capable of learning from experience, rather than rules. Neural networks are now capable of predicting shopping preferences, musical recommendations, and health diagnostics at a speed and success rate that has greatly surpassed that of any specialized human. Just like every other industry has been fundamentally transformed by the power of computation, the field of architectural design and production is experiencing disruptive changes through the power of data.

It is naïve to believe that the field of architecture will not be affected by these developments; the question is rather in which ways they will reshape the profession and its outcomes. How can data be exploited in design processes? What will the role of the architect be within highly automated design environments? Can AI make architectural design more accessible to the end user? In this essay, an overview on the current role of AI and ML in architectural design is presented. The conversation is situated through a historical overview of the role of computation in architecture, followed by a mapping of the current state of the art in machine learning applications in architectural design. Informed by previous and current trends, an outlook is postulated about what changes to expect in the design discipline and how to adapt to them.

This paper was presented as part of “Panel 1: How Is Digitalization Changing How Housing Is Designed & Built?” at the symposium Bringing Digitalization Home: How Can Technology Address Housing Challenges?, hosted by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies in March 2022.