Now, let’s do a 180-degree pivot and focus on an article which says that AI and algorithms and Instagram are totally disrupting the field of architecture. This FT article uses breathtaking animation to reinforce its point of view, namely, that architecture as we knew it is dying a new type of tech-savvy AI powered architect is on the ascendant. We would strongly recommend that you read this piece in the FT to appreciate the power of AI to transform an entire discipline.

The basic point that the article makes – the design drafting which CAD software was anyway doing is better done by AI – is easy to understand: “Dall-E, Stable Diffusion and Midjourney have made what might have taken an extremely skilled illustrator or animator a week to do into something any of us can commission in a few moments. There is no doubt those jobs are at terminal risk. Architects are already using AI to handle mundane tasks from distributing parking spaces and bathrooms to arranging blocks on an urban plan.”

However, the deeper point that the article makes is that AI allows visionary architects to give shape to their visions better and faster (in fact, much faster): “Scroll through Instagram and, if the algorithm has deduced you’re interested in architecture, you will find threads of bizarre, often surreal buildings that seem possible but not probable. There are futuristic swirls of space-age stuff coagulated in buildings that evoke Zaha Hadid. There are Afrofuturist cityscapes with mud towers and spaceship docking stations which might be scenes from Wakanda, home of Marvel’s Black Panther. And there are exquisite modern interiors, complete with lens flare and dust motes so real you could touch them. All of these have been generated in seconds by AI on the back of a few words of prompting…

In the more accessible and more ubiquitous visual world of social media, one designer who has made waves through the application of AI to architectural imagery is Hassan Ragab. His striking works veer from dreamlike futuristic architectures in wild natural settings to surreal mash-ups of his native Egyptian cities with steampunk organicism, embracing everything from informal settlements and shabby 1970s towers to elaborate mosques and Antoni Gaudí. “It’s nonstop,” he tells me. “Every day there’s something new and nobody really understands what’s going on. Everybody is rushing in without really thinking about what they’re doing.

“In that way, it’s so different to architecture, which is so slow. I left my practice in 2019 and they’re still working on the same building.” The platform for Ragab’s designs is not the construction site but social media. He became viral through the seductive powers of his pictures. “It is very empowering,” he says. “It allows us a freedom.””

And here is the deepest – and perhaps the most disturbing – point that the article makes by quoting the Egyptian architect Hasan Ragab: “Does he think AI will put architects out of business? “There is this idea,” he replies after a pause, “that humans are the only species, the only beings that can create ideas. That is not true any more. AI can do all these incredible things. Everything is possible and we should not be afraid, we should welcome it.”

Another architect, Wanyu He – the founder of XKool in Shenzen – expands further on this point: ““In the future, architects will be empowered to show the client thousands of options and refine the best one so that even on a low budget you will be able to get the best building.”

Unusually for an architect, she is also a writer of science fiction. “We worry about AI escaping human control and causing a disaster for mankind, and in my novels most of the future AI scenarios are not” — she thinks for a moment — “optimistic,” she says, with a slightly nervous giggle. “But it is this writing which gave me an awareness to prevent these things happening. AI should be a co-pilot and a friend, not a replacement for architects.””

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