Innovation in Architecture: The Future of Design

by KARL SORENSEN, Blue Collar Labs, and ANJULI MANIAM, Chicago Architecture Foundation

Originally published on August 28, 2015 by the Chicago Architecture Foundation

In CAF’s topic area Innovation in Architecture, we forgo the logic and revel in imagination as we consider how technology will change the face of the industry. Let’s explore three key areas where architects, designers, engineers and programmers are innovating in architecture.

1. VISUALIZATION: CHANGING THE WAY WE COMMUNICATE OUR DESIGN IDEAS

Until now, the way industry professionals communicate design ideas to clients has been limited to, at best, 2D renderings—and at worst, tongue-tangling explanations. As new technology emerges and computing power strengthens, converting project design models into clear, artistic visualizations is becoming commonplace. Virtual Reality (VR) tools are now used to give pre-construction building tours by placing the client in true-to-life virtual reality building models. Augmented Reality (AR) technologies allow architects to superimpose their design ideas onto real-life backdrops, enabling the client to visualize the building in its physical setting.

See for yourself in this cool video from Trimble about the power of augmented reality technologies and how it gives architects greater confidence in communicating and solving design decisions.

2. AUTOMATION: CHANGING THE WAY WE CONSTRUCT THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT

Replacing manual fieldwork with automated processes is opening new doors in design. 3D printing is now more widely accessible, economical and practical within the built environment, alleviating the constraints of custom, intricate designs. No longer a novelty item, 3D printers are currently used to fabricate apartments, houses and bridges, not to mention interior design and furniture. If we can 3D-print a five-story apartment building, surely the awe-inspiring capability of 3D printing a city is not too far off in the future. 

Advances in robotic technology are also changing the way architects design and build. Robots are replacing field crews to do labor-intensive, dangerous or impossible work. Drones are more-widely employed for deliveries and surveying. Swiss architecture firm Gramazlo Kohler Architects are well known names in the robotics game. In 2012, they programmed a fleet of drones to build a structure of polystyrene bricks. See the architecture-assembling drones here

3. NEW MATERIALS: CHANGING THE WAY OUR BUILDINGS PERFORM AND FUNCTION

Process automation and extensive scientific research now allows previously unutilized, underutilized or undiscovered materials to be used in building construction. The new cost-effectiveness of these unique, non-traditional materials expands architects’ options beyond standard brick-and-mortar designs.

And with our ever-growing emphasis on sustainability, architects can now recommend unprecedented, eco-friendly materials such as:

These process and infrastructure innovations open the doors to unprecedented possibilities in design. And with that in mind, Daniel Burnham’s words challenge us anew; “make no small plans”.


Since 1966, The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) has been devoted to celebrating and promoting Chicago as a center of architectural innovation. Through tours, programs, exhibitions, field trips, curricula and online tools, the CAF is one of Chicago's top 10 cultural organizations and the world's largest public architecture organization. 

With degrees from the University of Sydney and the University of Pennsylvania for her work in architectural design and city planning, Anjuli Maniam is the curator of exhibitions and "beat reporter" for the Adaptive Chicago and Innovation in Architecture news sections for the Chicago Architecture Foundation