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Fully Automated Architecture

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Mollie Claypool on whether the fully automated production of the built environment could drive more efficient, sustainable and inclusive architecture and construction processes.

Fully Automated Architecture

Warehouse, Manchester, UK.

Credit: Colt International Limited via Flickr

So-called ‘digital architecture’ ascribes to hugely inefficient and wasteful models of production.

To coincide with our Bartlett 100 exhibition, The Next 100 Years, we’re running a series of seven pieces by researchers at The Bartlett that offer speculative responses to the statement: ‘The built environment in 2119’. Writers have been invited to interpret it in whichever way they like, with the aim being to explore questions at the heart of how we shape the world we live in over the next century.

​05: Fully automated architecture

By Mollie Claypool, Lecturer at The Bartlett School of Architecture

Recent data from McKinsey Global Institute and the UN show that the construction industry is one of the least digitised industries, where productivity has not risen since the Second World War. Despite rapid digitisation and innovation in other industries, and significant changes in the way we live and work, the basic building blocks of architecture and building practices have not changed since the Industrial Revolution. At the same time, we have a global housing crisis, a predicted post-Brexit skills shortage in construction in the UK and the point at which runaway climate change becomes unavoidable is fast-approaching (construction is currently one of the biggest polluters worldwide).

Moves towards the automation of labor in architectural design and construction tends to be approached as a kind of new revivalist Taylorism that brings notions of scientific quantification to automation, merely replacing human labor through the automation of bricklaying or construction vehicle mobility. Simultaneously, domestic space is more reduced, more public and more precarious than ever before, while public space is rapidly privatised. Increasing professionalisation, legal responsibilities and litigation, has created a climate of risk aversion.

Fully Automated Architecture

Distribution centre, Nottingham, UK.

Credit: Colt International Limited via Flickr

So-called ‘digital architecture’ ascribes to hugely inefficient and wasteful models of production and has as its most public representation politics that are antithetical to many emerging architects working with digital tools and automated technologies. Incredible conservatism continues to prevail across the built environment, with early modernist conceptions of architecture remaining the most common standard – steel frame, pre-fab concrete, post-and-beam timber – and the knowledge and expertise of an architect is unaffordable to the vast majority of the world’s population.

It is urgent that, from today, the disciplines of the built environment quickly rethink entirely what the rapid digitisation of our world has meant in order for architecture and design to be a catalyst for real, positive change for the everyday person. Instead of falling for the more homogenous, striated, segregated and inequitable world that neoliberal perspectives on technology promote, and that is inherent in what we recognise as ‘digital architecture’, the architecture discipline should be working towards forms and processes of fully automated production that promote equity, sustainability, democracy, heterogeneity and inclusivity. From tackling climate change to the global housing crisis, new radical forms of digital architecture are urgently needed.

The School of Architecture is internationally renowned for innovative research and teaching that is academically rigorous, critically informed, design-led and interdisciplinary. It is part of The Bartlett, UCL's Faculty of the Built Environment. Find out more:

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