Design to Data: The Future of Architecture at AIA24

By Tim Dufault, FAIA, Chief Revenue Officer, Concert

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) annual convention is always a highlight of my year. This year, over 15,000 architects, students, vendors, contractors, and industry leaders gathered in Washington DC for AIA24. Over 375 educational sessions provided opportunities to learn more about the advances in the professions and best practices for firms of every size. And in this long list of educational sessions, one thing stood out – data was part of the discussion across the board.

Of course, one of the top themes was artificial intelligence (AI). At times, it seemed as if every session had to include something on AI. From design assist to data modeling, the number of applications that now include some form of machine learning (ML) or AI algorithm to shape how we design buildings is almost ubiquitous across the industry. Now, more than ever, the architect is as much a shaper of data as they are of space.

Another area of intense focus is the urgency of moving to net zero carbon buildings faster than we currently are tracking. Climate change is impacting every continent and society around the world and the need to reduce the amount of GHG we are adding to the atmosphere each year is real. The building industry accounts for as much as 40% of all GHG emissions globally, second only to transportation (which is also a part of the building industry). Learning and incorporating best practices into the design of new buildings is a critical step if we are to achieve meaningful reductions in GHGs. New forms of data available during the design process create new opportunities to understand, measure, and reduce the impact new buildings have on the environment.

Buildings today are more connected and more integrated than at any other time in history. Smart buildings are capable of not just adjusting to preset limits, but they can measure, assess, and predict how performance will change based on a wide variety of indicators. AI and ML can assess and develop alternative operational strategies that maximize performance while reducing inputs. The age of living buildings is directly in front of us and the AIA24 convention explored what that future might look like.

Of course, the impact of human occupancy and use of buildings is the biggest factor shaping performance. Almost a third of the sessions at AIA24 focused on how architects can create more equitable design responses, the importance of engaging the community in the design process, and the legacy of bias throughout the design industry and the built world. These topics highlight the important social role architects play in our communities.

AIA is working hard to change the profession to drive new value and to be recognized for that value. While progress has been made, we have a long road ahead of us. One of the core challenges the profession faces is understanding this dramatic shift to data as a value generator. And it’s not just the architects who need to make this shift, building owners, contractors, and developers need to also understand the value of data in design and construction. The trade show floor was filled with companies that understand that the industry is changing. It is up to architects to make that change understandable, valuable, and important through active engagement and a commitment to robust digital collaboration.

At Concert, we are encouraged to see so much emphasis on data at AIA24. We are in the early stages of understanding the value data brings to the design process and the value architects can drive when they share that data more directly in the construction process. We look forward to future discussions and an expanded mindset of data as a driver of design.