Wait, but why the evolution of architectural communication lets form follow you?
From Vitruvius drawings and text in his ten books on architecture over the introduction of the perspective in the Renaissance up to BIGs promotion videos, the communication around architecture went through a long evolution, driven by new technologies. It allowed the architect to manage projects of increasing size, construct more complex environments and tell the underlying stories through more accessible media. The next technological evolution is changing the field again, promising more efficient design and construction methods through information technologies. This development however could change the whole profession! Instead of growing project scopes, complexity and stories-telling, the number of planners could grow to an unimaginable size!
As architects, we must be able to create virtual environments and translate them to physical appearances. In education we still mainly learn to do this through creating sketches, models and plans. The latter needs a north-arrow, measurements, scale, fitting line weights and hatches to communicate it to our clients and other professions. Otherwise we won’t be able to build architecture, nothing will be moved to its place on construction site.
We and others need to be able to read these plans, so we need to get used to the common language and become experts. We can translate the two-dimensional space to a three-dimensional one in our mind and make judgements about its function, atmosphere and use. Further on we need to communicate these ideas to others. Since it is difficult for an architect to only work with a plan, the other methods like sketching, perspectives or model-making come into play. These methods are more accessible. Not only to a planner, but also to other people!
With the increasing complexity of our built environment, the complexity of tools, analysing and creating it, increases, too. Planners cannot deal alone with the tougher technical, economic and ecological demands of the dense urban space, they need to give away some of their expertise to other professions. Communicating between the different experts therefore becomes more challenging and needs to happen efficiently. Sending plans via post is not an option, information needs to be send digitally.
Therefore, computers invade the working space next to pen and paper. They do not only allow us to iterate faster through different designs and send plans directly to others. They allow us to create digital models of our plans. The 2D-plan turns into a 2D-interface, which can visualise virtually 3D worlds. It creates need for new skills and therefore, job offers ask for experience with CAD- and 3D-Software, sometimes they even want BIM-experts.
Architects nowadays need to be well educated and skilled users of the advanced tools to produce architecture. While their projects increase in complexity, they still manage to communicate them to non-experts. Diagrams, renderings and videos focus on the form-finding, atmosphere and usage of the space, their language is much easier to understand than plans. However, while people have access to the stories and ideas, the architectural discourse is alienated from them. Only if one can read and use the architectural tools, such as the plan or digital model, one can get involved in the design process.
Let’s recap: Using 2D-plans and -interfaces to create and visualise 3D spaces is work of an expert, who can navigate in this virtual world. The expert communicates with other experts to take care of technical, economic and ecological demands. Through accessible media even non-experts can understand the design.
The technological turning point in this existing structure comes with another evolution: the combination of accessibility and expertise. The affordability of virtual and augmented reality tools allows the creation of 3D interfaces to 3D virtual spaces. Everyone who can navigate in the physical world, can do it in the virtual one, too! Most people have a smartphone. Just place it in a cheap cardboard device, open the video app and enjoy 360° architecture visualisations.
As Minecraft and other examples already show, the manipulation of virtual 3D environments can be easily done. Getting involved in a design process is straightforward. The production of user-generated content can also have its qualities as we see in social media. Instead of one architect as being the author, we will have a crowd of authors. Further on, experts can give feedback on the design or even program algorithms to take care of technical, economical or ecological demands.
The only issue will be, how to negotiate the huge diversity of social demands? Again, the challenge laying ahead of us is communication! But at least, form follows you.