News about Innovation in the Built Environment

Cliff Moser Shares How Architecture Is Adapting to Smart Devices

The discipline of architecture has changed drastically in the over three decades that Cliff Moser has been practicing. The California-based architect was trained on pencil-and-paper drafting but adapted to technology throughout his career and now is considered an expert in Building Information Modeling (BIM) software.

Moser, who authored the book Architecture 3.0: The Disruptive Design Practice Handbook, is realistic about the reluctance his peers feel when it comes to changing their processes with technology. He thinks some of it is due to the training his generation of architects received, where more emphasis was placed on the building than its environment, as well as the fact that leaders of the profession tend to be Baby Boomers with fewer tech skills.

Here, Moser gives us insight into the next great tech advances for architecture, how the industry is adapting to smart devices, and why young aspiring architects should go out and build things.

What has been the most significant advance in technology in architecture since you started your career?

When I studied drawings in the past, they were just that — static lines on paper. Now those lines contain information, and what we’re seeing is the ability to use that information, that data, for more than dimensioning the building. While some people think CAD or building information modeling is just another version of hand drafting, actually, hidden deep inside the software is data about what you’re designing.

I liken this to people who used to balance their checkbooks the old-fashioned way using pencil and paper. If they start to use Quicken, they soon realize they’re inputting data. From that data, one can print reports, printing out checks, or reconciliations. So now, all of the information that used to be in handwriting a check is buried into the components of the software. With BIM, you can query things, you can ask a building question — how many doors do you have, or what’s the square footage of this room? You can also print out drawings. BIM is a much more robust tool that I think we’re only just understanding the ramifications for.

What do you think is going to be the most industry-advancing technology for the future of architecture?

There are so many different directions you can go. There’s 3-D printing, there are buildings talking to you as you come inside, helping you find your way to your appointment. On the construction side, there’s assisted construction, augmented reality, robotic layout, and material and supply management. It’s just open as to how far it can go, and it’s something I don’t think we even have had a chance to thoroughly evaluate yet.

There is a lot of talk around smart cities now. How do you think the field of architecture is perceiving the concept of smart cities and how do you think architects are adapting?

I think we’re lagging behind. Architects still focus on the building, and not the existing environment. I was trained as an architect to just sort of fit a building into the property, but really not think about adjacent master planning issues. So if I’m putting in a building that requires so many square feet and I have to put in a parking garage, do I really think about how that new additional traffic affects the neighborhood? We’re just starting to think about how people interact with the environment beyond the building.

Architects have always focused on the aesthetics of the internal, the interiors of the building, and how that affects people, but we haven’t really spent as much time thinking about what the building does to the outside environment. Smart buildings and smarter landscaping are going to be more and more important going forward.

To that point, some say architecture as a discipline has been slow to adapt to technology. Has that been your experience and do you think that’s changing?

Oh yes, it has always been very slow to change. We are a very path-dependent industry, and the fact is most people don’t really hit their stride within the profession until they’re older, most famous architects are in their 60s and 70s and 80s. Because our experience has been gained over 20, 30, 40 years in the industry, we cannot help but use that knowledge and apply it to what we’re doing now.

How has technology changed how you interact with clients? Are clients asking for this?

We have a real frustration in the industry in that our buildings are basically done under capital programs, but once the building is handed over, it’s handed over to operations. So you have capital expenditures, and you have operational expenditures, and typically, those are two silos within an organization. The integration between those two is something I think needs to be better so for the operations people, rather than just inheriting something at the end of the project, they actually are involved from the beginning.

Clients are finally starting to get to the point now that they are receiving smart buildings, and they understand the things that are installed in the building during the construction can really help them operate the building afterward.

Given all of these changes in the industry, what would be your advice for a student or young person in the field of architecture or BuiltTech?

Continue learning and getting your expertise with 3D modeling, because that is only going to get stronger as we bring in augmented reality and virtual reality. Using those tools, rather than building a three-dimensional physical model, we now have an opportunity to walk our clients through buildings.

I would also recommend architects really familiarize themselves with programming. I think at the end of the day, just be aware of it, not necessarily tying yourself down to a particular kind of software programming, but just having an awareness of the programming opportunities that are out there, so you’re able to ramp up once you get to a position where it’s needed. As I said earlier, the old-timer architects, architects my age, while we have the expertise and vision, we really don’t have the time to learn the skill sets that focus on the software side.

For an old timer, I would recommend all architects keep themselves up on their skill set in terms of the tools that are out there.

Then, one of the big things I did was I spent a lot of time physically building things. That was important to me because as architects, we often draw something that can’t be constructed. So architects understanding the actual logistics of tolerances and how you place concrete and hammer a building together is essential for our understanding of design. We want to be able to share our vision, but we also want to make sure it’s constructible.

Cliff Moser will be speaking in Atlanta during this year’s BuiltTech Week, October 22-24, 2018. 

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