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  • Jason

Practicing architecture and embracing new technologies

Practicing as an architect is a mix of trying to be consistent, whilst also being creative. On one hand, we have to stick to the things that we know in order to execute projects well, but we also must try new processes and technologies to continually evolve with the world.

A simple example is technology and how architects have had to evolve with the way we design. Technically speaking, old-school hand drafting is a technology - representing something large in a smaller, more readable scale on paper. Blueprints is a technology - it's a means to reproduce a set of hand drafted drawings, at scale, on large paper formats.

Today, we are drafting far less and now 3D modelling far more. The majority of my training is now out of date - having been put through the ringer using 2D drafting software like AutoCAD - the majority of new graduates that I am seeing are much more comfortable with modelling something in the computer rather than trying to draft something in 2D.

This presents a few new challenges, but also provides opportunities for growth. On one hand, the skills of 2D drafting are disappearing - but the need for good drawings are still vital for an architecture firm. It is the method for which we convey a design to a builder (so that our vision can be constructed). On the other hand, 3D modelling EVERYTHING has major benefits. There is less of an excuse if an architect misses some conflict between ducts and structural beams - it should technically all exist in a 3D model (it still happens... and we're human).

The transition from hand drafting, to 2D digital drafting, and now to 3D modelling (we can go into Building Information Modelling in another post) is an obvious transition in the architecture profession.


The less obvious tech evolutions that my firm is going through:

1. Documentation of Spaces - Photography

The smart phone camera has become so good that we no longer need to carry a separate point-and-shoot camera to take photos. Anyone born before 1995 would probably remember that the digital camera was a novelty (and you may even remember the film camera).

That all having been said, the smart phone camera isn't enough. Nearly my entire career I have documented existing spaces and have ALWAYS missed a photo or two of documenting something critical (smoke detectors anyone? #iykyk).

Enter the 360 camera. These cameras became super popular with sports enthusiasts and the real estate market. With a click of a button, I can now document a 360 view of a space, rather than any singular view.

Gone are the days where we're getting a single view like this guy:

Photo of a guy taking a photo - single shot, not 360

We're now able to see everything 360 degrees:

A 360 photo model, through Matterport, documenting nearly everything in a space

*This is not a paid advertisement of Matterport.

Matterport has been a really good resource. It costs us money to use their services, but so far, I have found their user interface to be unparalleled. The big thing for me is being able to see all the electrical outlets, light switches and sprinkler heads in a space.

Additionally, during construction, we have been 360 scanning the spaces as well. This has become exceptionally important when trying to describe a particular detail by sketching on top of an exact view.

using 360 photos to choose views to mark-up

using 360 photos to choose views to mark-up

*We did not take specific photos of these conditions on site - only 360 scanned the spaces. After getting back to the office, we made our notes and issued our direction.

2. 3D printing

I have found that the calibre of model making coming from new graduates has deteriorated significantly - it has been supplemented with their abilities in computer modelling. However, architecture is a profession rooted in tactile and physical form. It sometimes takes a scale physical model to convey a design intent.

3D printing has become a cheap and relatively quick method to produce scale prototypes of designs. In the studio, we have been testing brick patterns, along with conveying spatial designs to our clients when things become complex

3D print of brick facade - study

*Brick facade study

3D print of a scale model of retail space, to study

*Retail store layout study

3D print model of townhouse design facade

*Townhouse facade study

3. Zoom and virtual meetings

March 2020.... we went into lockdown. Zoom became a thing:

March 2020 - start of the Zoom empire and virtual meetings

*Not a paid advertisement for Zoom

I must admit, Zoom has become an essential tool for our work. If Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams can figure out how to annontate on the screen as intuitively as Zoom can, then we would gladly make the switch. But so far, Zoom's capability to draw directly on our screens has been a game changer.

Here is a typical meeting reviewing a design - completely remote:

Annotating screenshots over Zoom

Here's a different meeting:

Annotating screenshots over Zoom

Annotating renderings over Zoom

And here is another meeting:

Annotating photos over Zoom

I have thousands of screenshots like this - sketching with the client or contractor directly onto the drawings, photos or renderings of a design.

Truth be told, we also bring a gun to a knife fight. Each of our computers is set up with a pen stylus so that we can draw quickly (have you ever tried drawing with a mouse? It's quite difficult).

4. Working from Home

Born out of the pandemic, our remote desktop systems have become more robust (and the necessary security systems with it). For our office, we have invested in the fastest internet that can come to our building, and subscribe to a remote desktop software.

It's a priviledge to be able to work from home. And as such, I have not over invested on the set-up. So, the studio is a bit volatile as systems are reliant on other systems. If the internet cuts out, anyone working from home is dead in the water. If the electricity goes out, then again, anyone working from home (or at the office for that matter) is also dead in the water. Both those things happened on separate Fridays in 2022 (who remembers that? No power on one Friday, and no Rogers internet on another Friday.... always on a Friday, what a coincidence). This led to some unexpected long weekends for my staff, and rather painfully expensive days for the business (oh well). but I digress. Haha

This technology to access the office desktop (and computer power) from home has been welcomed by the staff. The flexibility to work from home has alleviated a stacked 5-day work week commute. As much as I would like my staff to be in the studio on a daily basis, the reality is that even if I asked that of my staff, there are nearly 0 days when everyone is present regardless (people have lives. They get sick, take vacation, have appointments, and have other responsibilities that require a bit of flexibility. Further, for the actual job, we have site visits, client meetings, trade shows, etc).

At present, we are looking to downsize our space - spurn from the notice that the building we're in will eventually become a condo. We have a bit of time, but the search is on for our new studio! Embracing the work from home culture has cemented our decision that we may not necessarily need all this space (although, it's kind of nice having a big studio. haha).


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