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News > Advancing Architecture and Design > Embracing Uncertainty

Embracing Uncertainty

Technology, AI and Architecture 
*Image generated using language prompts with Midjourney, July 2023.
*Image generated using language prompts with Midjourney, July 2023.

Matthew Krissel AIA LEED AP (link to bio)

In the book The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek, he unpacks two mindsets worth reflecting on – the finite and infinite. He describes a finite mindset as focusing on winning within set boundaries, rules, and players. An infinite mindset, on the other hand, aims for continuous improvement and long-term success without fixed endpoints.  

People often lead their business (and life?) with a finite mindset, not realizing they are in an infinite game. Sinek notes, "Traditional competition forces us to take on an attitude of winning. A Worthy Rival inspires us to take on an attitude of improvement. The former focuses our attention on the outcome; the latter focuses our attention on process. That simple shift in perspective immediately changes how we see our own businesses. It is the focus on process and constant improvement that helps reveal new skills and boosts resilience. An excessive focus on beating our competition not only gets exhausting over time, it can actually stifle innovation.” Sinek, Simon. The Infinite Game. Portfolio Penguin, 2020 

Of course, we all know there is no "winning architecture." Architecture has no finish line; it comprises known and unknown players and the “rules” change. Some conventions and laws govern aspects of the profession, but these are broad, and “players” can operate any way they choose within them. There are no winners and losers; players will drop out, and new players will arrive to keep the game in play. An infinite mindset is critical when considering architecture's dynamic and complex relationship to process, outcomes, and technology because these factors constantly change. Our tools and methods continue to adapt, and the toolbox keeps getting bigger to complete a project. In addition to how we work, how we define a project and the value we bring to the world is also in question and must evolve.   

In other words, we need to learn to succeed in the game we are in, with the technology of our time, in today's culture, to advance the value proposition of architecture to create the world of tomorrow.  

Today's debate about AI spans a complex gradient from unbridled enthusiasm to fear and loathing. One sure thing is that having a mindset of competing with AI is the wrong approach, as this assumes it is a game one can win. With the constant pace of change catalyzed by emerging and nascent technologies' unfettered diffusion across the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction community, we need to understand what people and technology do best, clarify what we could do, and be aspirational about what we should do. Instead of being defensive, reactive, or frustrated, we need to be nimble and opportunistic and embrace a growth mindset to augment and evolve our skill set, value proposition, and purpose within the built environment.  

With this expanded mind, what value will we create? How might we work differently?  

Think of the current generation of AI, large language models (LLMs), generative and diffusion models as an intern. It can give you some quick information, a first draft, and something to work with and react to. It will bring forward the banal and expected but also, on occasion, surprise you with unusual and unexpected results that can be exciting. But you would not present this work to a client, send it to the factory for fabrication, or publish it without scrutiny. Currently, AI results will make mistakes, miss some obvious things, and often lack the nuance that comes with more experience. Like an intern, it’s a good start, but you need to review the work, edit it, shape it, and bring critical thinking and situational intelligence.  

I like to call it a creative intern (CI). I am excited by what a linguistic user interface brings to our workflows as architects and designers, filling in gaps from our primarily graphical user interface to creativity. Over time, it will improve and do more, augmenting and challenging us all to think and work differently. It will compel us to consider what makes human-driven creativity, interaction, and production different, valuable, and useful while leaving the rest for the computers and robots.  Will this draw in new players to our infinite game? Yes. Will it change how we work? Definitely. Are we still only seeing the tip of the iceberg? You bet.  

It is already augmenting what we do, making many of us uncomfortable, and getting our attention in what I believe will be ultimately highly productive and positive for the profession, despite the likely bumps along the way that any transformational moment will experience on the path to significant impact.  

This brings up an important question. With expanded automation and AI integrating into every design and construction phase, will it create more time for an architect, and if so, how should we use it? If we let go of some tasks, what should those be?  How might we add more value to our projects, clients, and communities with more space and time? How might this change the territories in which architects operate? How might we reduce design and construction costs while improving collaboration, communication, and design quality? Might this reduce our time on design, or should we expand into often neglected project areas as we run out of time? Or should we fill this void with more ideas, iterations, views, details, sheets, and specifications? One might even ask, could we do less, go home on time, take up new hobbies, travel, or follow adjacent creative endeavors?  

Let's not repeat what played out in the late 1990s and early 2000s with the emergence of parametric modeling, visual scripting, and advanced visualization and simulation. Many in the profession and academia used this expanded mind and production capacity for gratuitous form-making, fueling an obsession with image and getting punch drunk on the novelty of complexity. This all obscured the opportunity to broadly educate the next generation and orient our new speed and capabilities to think bigger, go deeper, tackle wicked problems, and drive toward meaningful outcomes.  

The architecture profession is full of existential questions across multiple generations. We are within a climate crisis, a socioeconomic crisis, a housing crisis, and standing at the frontier of an enormous amount of building stock from the 60s, 70s, and 80s being torn down instead of renovated, all because it's too hard, too expensive, too complex. 

Where do we begin? I encourage everyone to experiment with their creative intern, be open-minded, and see what these new tools, a change in mindset and process, can and cannot do. Choose your opportunities, embrace your curiosity, be present to the needs of today, go big, and reimagine what a design practice can and should be. Focus on impact, ask new questions, and be an agent of change.  

 

*IMAGE: Matthew Krissel explores the potential atmosphere, visibility, material, form, and environmental conditions at the intersection of the built and natural environment. Image generated using language prompts with Midjourney, July 2023. 

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