Architectural Outlook for 2018

By Louis L. Weinzelbaum, Group President, Commercial Banking, Professional Services

Four trends that are helping to shape the future of architecture.

The integration of technology and the use of new and resurging building materials are trends currently shaping architecture. As we look ahead to 2018, let’s take a closer look at how these trends are impacting the sector:

  1. Virtual reality is here to stay. Rapidly becoming a mainstay at innovative architecture firms, virtual reality (VR) can play an important role in all phases of the design-to-construction process, from assessing design options and showcasing proposals, to reducing rework on models and resolving potential construction issues before breaking ground. In a 2016 survey of 276 respondents around the world, CGArchitect showed that 69 percent of surveyed professionals are already using VR/augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality (MR) in their workflow, or are planning to use it by the end of 2017. Seattle-based architecture firm NBBJ, in partnership with Visual Vocal, has already made the leap to embrace VR fully by developing a VR productivity platform. Instead of using more traditional methods of communication such as email, the new platform, combined with mobile and cloud-based communications, could help speed up collaboration, allowing designers to make decisions based on fast client feedback.  Building Design and Construction reported that Dallas-based Merriman Anderson/Architects uses VR not just for concept design, but as a marketing tool to customize VR experiences in order to meet specific client needs, while HMC Architects sees VR as a tool to enhance design communications, one where designers and clients can use VR as a virtual meeting room in the near future.

  2. Structures built with 3-D printing. According to Faro Industries, which specializes in 3-D technology, architecture firms have already discovered the benefits of 3-D printing—less time spent creating scale models, production of excellent quality models, easier editing, digital storage of designs and better visualization for clients. Now, 3-D printing is tackling printing actual buildings. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology robotic system built the basic structure of a dome-like building that’s 50 feet in diameter and 12 feet high in less than 14 hours. The technology can create an object of any size and could allow for faster and more economical and adaptable building construction compared to traditional methods. The 3D Insider reports that 3-D printing can also be used to print real homes, which might look different than conventional homes, but could be a lot cheaper to produce. M. Hank Haeusler, director of computational design at the Australian School of Architecture, predicts that 3-D printing technologies will only take about one-third of the current cost of standard construction projects.  While 3-D printing of housing is still in its infancy, it will likely be a game changer for the architectural and construction industries in the future.

  3. Programmable cement. Scientists at Rice University have deciphered the kinetic properties of cement and developed a way to “program” the microscopic, semicrystalline particles within, the first step in controlling the kinetics of cement to get desired shapes. The technique may lead to stronger structures that require less concrete. According to lead scientist Rouzbeh Shahsavari, programmable cement has other environmental benefits, including its durability. Also, less porosity makes it harder for unwanted chemicals to find a path through the concrete, so it does a better job of protecting steel reinforcement inside.

  4. A resurgence in wood building materials. Technologies like cross-laminated timber (CLT) and nail-laminated timber (NLT) offer an environmentally superior track record to reinforced concrete or steel for rise buildings. According to Architect magazine, a seven-story high rise became the first modern tall wood building in the U.S. late last year. Dubbed T3 (Timber, Technology, Transit) its structure weighs about one-fifth that of a comparable concrete building, subsequently reducing the foundation size, seismic loads, and embodied energy. Another material trend to watch is a new hardwood cross-laminated timber known as Leno CLT, which is made from a rapidly renewable feedstock. Unlike a typical CLT, this tulipwood version can be manufactured in extra-large sizes, is stronger than concrete by weight and considered to have a superior appearance.

Outlook for Commercial/Industrial Market
While technology and materials are transforming the efficiency and productivity of the sector, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Consensus Construction Forecast projects annual growth in the 3.5 percent to 4.0 percent range for the remainder of this year, as well as for 2018, with a slower growing commercial/industrial market and an institutional sector facing multiple challenges. According to Kermit Baker, AIA’s chief economist, “Despite billings at architecture firms performing quite well this year, the larger construction industry is facing a range of issues,” he said.  “The somewhat weaker outlook is driven by several factors, some dealing with the broader U.S. economy, some dealing with general construction industry fundamentals and some dealing with weakness in specific construction sectors.”