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I believe great design really makes people’s lives better. Although Great design can be seen all around us, what does this really mean in terms of architecture?

Many people would probably judge whether architecture is  ‘great’ just because of its appearance.  Is that not ‘great’ design? I disagree. Great design to me is when something is ultimately great at what its meant to do. How many buildings can say they are great at what they do?

We live in a time where  the world a very accessible place. In such a short period advancements in technology have resulted in a change in the way we live. Architecture, on the other hand, could be mistaken for being a little slow on the uptake.

Building Hardware

There is no doubt that buildings are becoming slowly smarter. Maybe it just seems slower than smaller products.  The hardware of a building is becoming similar to a rain jacket. Not relying on structural requirements it is adapting and utilising new technologies to be a better energy citizen. It’s becoming more versatile too. Being light on its feet, protecting the parts within. The world of 3d modelling and BIM has given us the option of almost any shape made feasible to production.  The hardware is becoming a smarter element to build too. We are understanding the cost vs quality vs time equation,  and trying to learn from the  Japanese car production lines.

A streamlined assembly line could be a great thing, the argument that a building tends to be a one off is not as important as it is generally made from a series of products which need to be coordinated into a collective whole. All these point in the right direction, but one thing really let’s the side down… When was the last time any building was put in the limelight as a great, (or even just a good) example of a building assembly process? Or should it be even an aspiration. Should a building take time, become something thats crafted and built carefully? I guess the client wants the quality and at the agreed cost. Time could be somewhat flexible to get the right product?

Apple manage to make their hardware using many different parts from other manufacturers, but still manage a great build process and with the upmost quality. The building industry needs to get a grip and deliver better products which the end user appreciates.  All of this needs to be done with an integrated design and build process. As an architect our role vital to the success of a project. With the segregation of teams, the obvious resulting sides and finger pointing,  insurance claims and different agendas there is no doubt in my mind that the product won’t get better without the process changing. Architects should not be seen as the maker of drawings we are the people who understand the needs of the project the most.

Building Software

The software of a building is also making changes, but this is where I think we will see the biggest change in the coming years.

A building could be really smart these days. Take all the functions a simple iPhone can do and think of all the things that could be achieved in a building. What’s so difficult? We sadly for the majority build today in a slow complicated and messy way. Its interesting to see how Steve Jobs had a fascination for neatness in the parts of a design that are hidden from sight. This approach is important for many reasons but im pretty sure if you go down any building site whats hidden behind a facade or wall is not exactly what was asked for.

The potential of what could be achieved past the basic things we appreciated 50 years ago is staggering. Its further strange to still see people surprised when you tell them you have underfloor heating or sound in every room of a house. Sadly the reason for this is that the vast majority of us got used to a house just being a box. Sadly, the majority of homes in the UK were built over 50 years ago and retro fitting such homes is not a small task.

How we interface with the building is becoming such a major part of architecture it’s very difficult to see a reason why we, as the consumer, should not be demanding more out of what is possible.

So what is possible? There is no reason why a building should not be a simple piece of hardware that can be updated with software to please the individuals preference. There is no reason why we shouldn’t just download an app to do whatever we want to do. Whether this is making a transparent material opaque, illuminating a space, letting us sleep comfortably, waking us up, cooking us food, ordering groceries, entertaining us. Our homes or places or work should let us do this in a simple smart way. To do this, we should start to appreciate the hardware more, and understand its value.

It’s sad to think that the thing which annoys us most about our home-time is when something breaks and doesn’t work. Worse still, when we have water coming inside the house and we don’t know where from. These problems can be large and really make people hate their homes, like a continuous bourdon bestowed upon us. We seem to spend the longest time in the buying process of a house of any purchase, but not very long actually finding the right one.

How many people hate their iPhone? The reason for people loving their iPhone is that it has been made really well and has great integrated software, which updates constantly. So instead of upgrading our home to become a smart place we decide to keep updating the elements held within. We replace the boiler generally when it breaks, the windows if the house if we want to sell it, and the roof only if we have a bad storm and some times come off.

In many respects an iPhone is replaced every two years and so is nothing like a house.  How many people upgrade their iphone because the phone part is out of date? There are mainstream hardware elements which last and will not need to change. This is the real hardware. Then comes an internal hardware which, for all intents and purposes, is the home computer / iPad which wirelessly connects into the home and will change over time to up the options. Lastly, is the software that the computer uses, which updates regularly.

Obviously some where more new housing must be built. It also should be built with higher specification requirements. Vast amounts of our housing have been built after the war and to respond to the boom in population. We are sadly stuck with old stock. To change this something much better needs to come to the market…



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