Architects And Coding: Why You Should Treat Your Software Like Your Smartphone
In 2014 renowned Dutch politician Neelie Kroes, then a commissioner for the European Union, stated that coding should be taught in elementary school in the Netherlands, arguing that “Coding is the reading and writing of the future” and that if the Dutch didn’t incorporate it into their education system it would fall behind school systems in other countries. The reactions to both Kroes’ statement and Michael Kilkelly’s article “5 Reasons Architects Should Learn To Code” were quite similar. Those already capable of writing code agreed; many who have never even seen, let alone written any script responded negatively. Many reactions to Micheal Kilkelly’s article covered the same ideas: “There’s no time!” “Coding is not designing!” Or just plain, “No!”
As an urban designer I do a lot of similar tasks when developing masterplans. Because nobody in the office managed the AutoCAD settings I started to do some research by myself on AutoCAD customizations. Soon I started to develop scripts and implemented them in the office settings I had set up. After all, I wasn’t the only one who had to perform those tasks. Basic things like drawing grass in a section or elevation:
Virtually all of us are “CADers”; computer aided designers. The computer is there to help us design. The better you know how to ask the computer for help, the better the help will be. And sometimes projects ask for very specific solutions. During our projects for Governors Island in New York and Miami Beach Soundscape a tailored script was used for the realization of the project, similar to the script for this more architectural project, a pedestrian bridge in Wenduine:
The list of beams would go to the contractor. From that list they would saw the beams to the right lengths, drill holes in the right places and mark them with a computer generated unique code. On site it was a perfect fit. If that list of elements had been created by a person it most likely would contain a few mistakes. And that person would have to spend much more time, especially when you consider that every design revision would require the list to be remade. With every revision the time spent on developing that script earned itself back. This script was specifically used for a particular project, but a lot of tasks however are not all that different:
It’s not necessary to learn how to code though. It’s about analyzing what you are doing. It’s about reducing production time and increasing designing time. Two words used already in this article are essential in this debate, and put together they may sound familiar: research and develop. Find the right apps for your workflow like you found the right apps for your smart phone. Apps that work for you. Especially if you are a self employed architect or part of a small office that doesn’t have the resources to invest in coding. The bigger offices however should consider if their communication with their software is good enough. There are people for PR, administration, model makers, and yes, the IT manager. (S)he sets up the hardware and installs the software and may know how to code. But often this person isn’t a trained architect and doesn’t work with the software. The examples of Governors Island, Miami Beach and Wenduine show that it pays to have that knowledge available – to have someone that understands both the software and the design concepts. A person who can translate their employer’s questions and let the software answer. There are big differences in office approaches: some only use off-the-shelf software, some companies already have such a translator (often referred to as a CAD manager).
Hand sketching and model making are very important design and presentation tools, but usage of CAD software seems to consume the most time though in the design process nowadays. Responses like “programming is not designing” and “I have no time to learn to code” are understandable reactions, however every programmer can confirm that these answers are debatable. Designing is a human skill but (especially in architecture) mathematical rules are applied. More often than you may think. In fact all we do when CADing is graphical mathematics. Sure, it takes time to learn. But while you’re running from one task to another you can also stop and get yourself some running shoes. This will get you to the finish line faster, with time to spare. Plan drawings to me now are compositions of dozens of algorithms. They help to develop the plan quickly and cleanly, so there’s more time left to spend on the details that actually make the plan a design. They help to create a 3D model and do calculations based on the same information. The videos shown in this article are a few examples of those scripts and can be found among many others at UrbanLISP.com. As the website is created for designers, every app comes with a video tutorial and some with images, to learn and to open eyes – after all designers are visually oriented. If your office needs help to become more efficient with AutoCAD, don’t hesitate to send a message.