Can We Future-Proof Architecture and Design?

As part of a recent ThinkLab hackathon, Dr. Daniel Susskind explored technology and automation—and their impact on the interiors industry.

Today, everything is moving faster. There’s more to do and seemingly less time to do it. But what if technology can help? That’s what ThinkLab explored in a recent hackathon with the help of sponsors including Keilhauer, Mannington Commercial, Designtex, DIRTT, JANUS et Cie, Koroseal, Clarus, and Lutron. As part of the event focused on product specification in the “phygital” era, we invited experts from outside the industry to explore technology, automation, and how members of the interior design industry can respond.

One of our hackathon guests was professor, economist, best-selling author, and TEDx speaker Dr. Daniel Susskind, who addressed the impact of technology and artificial intelligence on the future of work within the interiors industry. While architects, designers, and creators will still be the cornerstone of the industry, Susskind said, “I think the story is one of mass redeployment, a change in the sorts of roles that people have to perform and a change in the sorts of skills and capabilities that will be required to do those roles effectively.” 

Here are some key takeaways he offered on how we can future-proof the architecture and design professions:

TRANSFORMATION IS ALREADY UNDERWAY 

Change is occurring across all professions, prompted not only by technology but also by a new era of access to information. In his book The Future of the Professions, Susskind describes how, in print-based society, specialized knowledge lived within the minds of professionals. Today, in our internet-based, data-driven society, information is at everyone’s fingertips. This is bringing about a paradigm shift as specialized bodies of knowledge no longer need to reside exclusively within the human mind. “As we move from a print-based society to an internet society, might there be new ways of organizing professional work?” he asked. “Might there be new ways of solving all these problems that traditionally only very particular types of professionals have solved?” 

Transformation 1: The move away from bespoke services 

While truly bespoke, original, and expressive architecture and design is still of immense value, it is of value to an increasingly small subsector of society. Much of society is just fine with learning best practices from well-executed designs and compiling them into repeatable and formulaic patterns that address form and function.

Transformation 2: The decomposition of professional work 

“Professional work is no longer a monolithic lump of stuff handled by particular types of people,” Susskind said. When looking at the functions of a job, “[tech] displaces us from particular tasks and particular activities, but it also makes other tasks and other activities more valuable and more important for human beings to do.” If you look at the tasks alone and spread them out on the table, how many of them truly need to be done by a well-trained professional?

CHOOSE YOUR MINDSET (AND CHOOSE WISELY)

Susskind suggested that we are headed toward a wave of redeployment—not unemployment—but much hinges on mindset. We can train people to compete with the systems and machines, which seems futile since machines learn exponentially faster than human minds. On the other hand, we can learn to build, design, and operate these systems and machines. Could professionals focus on the critical thinking and creative parts of work and leave the routine, predictable, algorithmic tasks to technology?

“The problems our professions solve aren’t going away, but the technology is transforming the way in which we solve those problems,” Susskind said, offering three pieces of advice to architects and designers looking to adapt to a changing professional landscape:

01 Explore new skills and capabilities within our roles and industries.

02 Gather as much data as we can about how technology has and has not improved the human experience by helping inform the building, operating, and designing of these digital systems.

03 Have a “blank paper” mindset and challenge yourself (and your company) to not just focus on how technology can make our lives easier or more efficient but explore, without boundaries, all that is possible.

The skills required today may or may not be the skills needed in the next wave of professional roles. Instead of trying to compete with technology or bounding its potential, let’s look toward the future of what is possible.


 Erica Waayenberg is the head of research and content development for ThinkLab, the research division of SANDOW. Join in at thinklab.design/join-in to explore what’s next.

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