The tools of architectural design are in constant evolution.
Whereas two and three-dimensional graphic representation – plans, sections, elevations and models – have always existed, it was only the Quattrocento’s invention of geometric perspective that established a scientific relation between them. Nevertheless, project designs in which the model preceded the plans were rare. The model was merely a tool used to check the architectural design before becoming the virtual depiction of the project.
The digital revolution in project design and technical monitoring deconstructs this hierarchy through the BIM (Building Information Model) method. Today, two-dimensional documents are extracted from a virtual document in three dimensions, a new departure at this scale in the history of architecture. More than just formal freedom – which in fact quickly yields to the reality of the traditional construction sectors – the virtual model offers better control over the design and technical execution of structures. It provides a synthesis of all the information in a project. The future architecture can be visualised through photorealistic representations, while thermal simulations optimise solutions while guaranteeing user comfort.
This new kind of project process facilitates communication between the different actors involved – designers, contractors, users – as each stakeholder brings their own knowledge and expertise to the table. Like any open process, therefore, it requires an intermediary: the BIM manager. The client fits naturally into this communication process. When construction work is complete, he receives his virtual model of the building, to use for purposes of monitoring and maintenance.
Designing a project with BIM makes one a player in the revolution in building and architecture heralded by the forthcoming arrival of large-scale 3-D printing. It will build the shapes that digital modelling produces. It will support new applications emerging from fab labs. It will profoundly transform the economics, organisation and techniques of the traditional building industries. It will give BIM it true purpose.
In the anthropocene age, energy self-sufficiency, short food supply chains, bio-sourced materials and ecological corridors are no longer ideals but imperatives. Today’s buildings must produce energy, recover and recycle water, protect biodiversity. They must be simultaneously easy to live in, practical and comfortable. Urban design needs to consider the established city and its periurban mantle as fragile ecosystems to be preserved.
Beyond technical change, European societies aspire to new practices that offer fertile ground for sustainable architecture. Such practices are emerging or reemerging. Associations of consumers tied to a local producer, and urban farming movements, reflect the desire for short food supply chains. Social networks support the sharing of resources, which save money and generate a sense of community. With the virtual economy, the character of work has changed: co-working or teleworking are transforming our conceptions of office and home.
Environmental necessities and the desire for new lifestyles together offer 21st-century architecture and urban design a unique opportunity to resolve a contradiction inherent to artefacts: the reconciliation of nature and artifice.