An overview of the role and influence of digital technology on architecture design

The invasion of digital technology into our daily lives in the age of modern technology, especially computers, is an essential irresistible matter. Therefore, it has become necessary to review its use and examine its effects on the human mind and body. The use of such technologies in the designing process adds a new dimension to the architectural product, which enables us to materialize our ideas that are not fully expressed. However, the challenge enables us to hold on to our human identity and not allow the technology to distance the architect from performing his/her original role, which is the construction of Earth and making human existence on it safe and constructive.

            However, the means of representation in architectural design greatly affects the result of the design process since such means are what express the design and transfer it from the imagination of the designer to the visual world. The ambition and creativity of the designer would not lead anywhere without the animation means capable of expressing it in an efficient way. The animation means cannot be considered separate from the content of the design; it rather greatly and directly affects it.

            When the architect uses the computer in the process of design and representation, he connects to it creating a coupled cognitive system, where the man and the machine exchange ideas and information. The elements of the system affect one another that each changes by the change of the other. Thus, any change that occurs on the computer or the designer leads to a change in the outcome of the design.

            The first interference of computers in architecture was via the digital designing programs, especially CAD, which was set as an alternative for the task of the two dimensional drawing, such as diagrams and sections. This enables the architect to produce and copy diagrams faster and more efficiently. Furthermore, the development of such programs has enabled building digital models that are able to somewhat compensate for the need to make manual models using materials. Despite the fact that it remains part and parcel of the designing process, the time and money spent while creating the model and the period taken to create the model and the high price it costs make it difficult for the designer to create a new model while modifying it, unlike the digital models which could be modified almost immediately and extremely quickly.


             In the last years, Many new software programs lunched for digital models having Building and modelling information, which could be used for building the model and producing the 2D drawings simultaneously. In addition to installing technical information on parts of the project in a way that they are able to identify the building parts and the constituting materials such as the columns and  walls. Thus, the process of calculating the quantities and the specifications is facilitated. Recently, a camera has been produced provided with a computer enabling it, while directed to the building or the construction, to compare the reality with digital design  and to project an image including the parts constructed and those remaining of the design to integrate reality and the virtual reality.


            The digital design technology has facilitated the representation of the design and architectural drawing which were accomplished manually before providing these means. However, the major effect of this technology was on the design process itself. Nowadays, most of the architectures use programs not only to develop ideas but also to draw and represent them. These programs can coordinate between several data and different types of information with which the program is provided to form streamlined and regular shapes without defining specific functions of them. This allows creating organic and dynamic in a precise and organized way, which helps in transferring these ideas from the architect’s imagination to reality. These shapes are generated from information on the environment or any other source of factors which could affect the design through converting them into formulations and charts, then applying them on the design to change the shape. This leads to generating new architectural patterns which have never existed before such as Blog, Folding, Deconstruction, and Digital.


            For several years, many architects have been famous for being biased towards computers and excellent in manipulating them to highlight their distinctive design ideas. For example, Zaha Hadid who has been very famous for her designs which gained international acknowledgement and appreciation, and at an early stage of her professional career, she could not use the computer in her designs as modern design software was not available at that time. Zaha Hadid was expressing her ideas through drawings and works of art. However, by developing design software and the possibility of its use in the design process, she has been able to represent her designs more realistically through digital solids. This has enabled her to transform her paintings into architectural designs including schemes, sections, and all of the engineering drawings required for construction.

            Another example is the Architect Frank Jerry, the famous designer of the Guggenheim Museum in Spain, whose career path has been greatly influenced by the design technology in his career.  Jerry starts by building models using cartoon, wood, and different materials. Then, advanced devices scan the models and turn them into digital images. Images are transferred to CATIA Program which is developed to manufacture aircrafts in Dassault Hall Company in order that the design team are able to turn them into a digital models, and then translate then into engineering drawings.

            At other times, design software have became able to create a virtual building which does not contain any physical tangible elements. NOX, architecture design office based in Rotterdam, recently designed a tower for an architecture competitions, consisting of a website interacting with the user while a virtual tower constitutes a network covering the town and interacting with variables such as the electricity consumption, communication activities, or any other information resulting from the behaviour patterns of the population. The information is collected and represented by 3D maps over the map of the constructed roads which allow the citizens to monitor their consumer behaviours and their effects on the network according to their addresses. This project consists of an architecture and virtual space and does not include any physical motion more than sitting at a computer terminal and entering data. Although NOX tries to stimulate senses and body with the different effects using these designs, it does compensate the lack of motion caused by this virtual digital technology. I do not want to strongly criticize this type of designs as Paul Verilao did when he described it as having turned the user into a lazy, useless, and pathetic person! However, we cannot but think of the impact of architectural digital technology on the human body.


“The more complex the technology is, the more interested people become in it and the less interested they are in the other humanitarian aspects, which are difficult to be measured by intricate tools”. Eylol was able, by stating this, to predict the impact of using computers. The books written on the use of computers are just like user manuals. The more time people spend on learning how to use and work with computers, the less time they spend on setting goals for themselves and improving their other skills. We can generalize that the more we learn how to use specific things, the less knowledge we have of what we want to do.”


            One of the major impacts of technology on the digital design is the distance created between the designer and the architect. Thus, the design becomes more and more visual. Architecture as a profession has the implicit ability to create this distance as it consists of drawing but not constructing buildings. However, the manual drawing and the building of solids help to build a bridge connecting the architect and his/her building. Nevertheless, using computers limits the interaction between the architect and his/her building to just moving the mouse and pressing the keys of the keyboard. Definitely, using the hands in any production process is very important in developing some sort of empirical knowledge which cannot be gained through reading books or using computer software.


            One of the major results of using the computer in architecture is that these programs encourage the selfishness of the designer and increase his/her arrogance to some extent. The architectures use their designs and buildings as means to express themselves. According to Fraud, the human being uses external tools to expand his/her Narcissistic control over the world. The physical determinants which are forced by materials, the rules of physics, and the representational abilities oblige the architect to be always realistic and to stick to the project’s requirements. Obviously, the new tools have expanded the architects’ ambition to the extent that this becomes sometimes at the expense of the design requirements. Many of the architects realize these risks but unfortunately not all of them do.