Through the dawn of the 21st century, we have made quantum leaps into the possibilities of design through technology. We are reaping the rewards of decades of research and development in this era of sustainable and ecological design. An example would be the versatility of the photovoltaic panel that has reached the farthest corners of the most remote communities. As a new era of digitalization unfolds, we begin to grasp what lies ahead and once again look further into the horizon. Below are 5 of the many fields in architectural design that the world has been developing.

1. AR and VR in Prototyping and Fabrication 

The scale of output for robots in construction has ever been increasing. However, the importance of the human factor still cannot be entirely replaced. If you combine the digital output of design, the interactivity of VR, the tracking mechanisms into the outside world, then compile that into a viewing device, you get the essence of augmented tectonics. With this, you can project programmed drawings and visuals onto the job site through a lens. You can create seemingly impossible designs to fabricate and lay it out through AR devices onto projects for accuracy despite the complexity. Where robots and 3d printing machines cannot scale, the ability lies in the human who is more mobile.

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_Steampunk Pavilion_©Peter Bennetts
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Steampunk Pavilion Fabrication_©Hanjun Kim
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Steampunk Pavilion Fologram Hololens Projection_©Hanjun Kim

The fabrication of the Steampunk Pavilion by Soomeen Hahm Design takes on a task that may be too complicated and expensive to produce with robots. Forming and setting wooden strips onto multi-degree curvilinear forms would be challenging to document with conventional means. This is where Augmented reality intersects with construction as precise measurements, and 3d projection of the outcome are laid onto the workspace. Fologram’s AR platform and Microsoft Hololens’ mixed reality device, the design fabrication and prototyping pipeline for complex forms have been made more accessible.

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Generative Design Workflow_©Stanislas Chaillou

2. Machine Learning, AI, Generative design, and Intelligent Forms

Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Generative design have been gaining increasing popularity within architecture. They all share some of these principles—a system of structured logic, rules, and parameters set by humans that automates confident decision-making. Data and building codes become more accessible, and leveraging these into intelligent systems has become easier. Companies like Proving Ground, Shapediver, Digital Blue Foam, Spacemaker, and Archistar are just some of many providing solutions and intelligent systems to building design. As these pipelines are continuing to automate the procedure, where would the architects stand in the future? These developments should not be rejected but taken as an opportunity for architects to develop their own tools as well so as not to get overtaken.

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Robotics and Fabrication in ETH Zurich_©ETH Zurich

3. Robotics

The use of robots is nothing new when it comes to industries. However, only recently have we seen its applications take place in the architectural landscape. The 3d printer began its use in small-scale trinkets, and object prototyping has expanded its scale into building bridges, houses, and even offices within a matter of years. Today, there is a wide array of robotic applications available for use. These range from arm robots that automate placing, extrusion, and application tasks to drones that extend reach and mobility to further heights. Although the effectiveness of these robots may pose questions for the future, they are taking a straight avenue into development.

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Discrete Architecture_©Gilles Retsin

4. Discrete Architecture

Where specific paths in architecture lead to highly complex morphologies, discrete architecture approaches this in a similar yet contrasting manner. This path explores the use of a highly scalable system of purposely designed modules. Although repetitiveness may be seen as mainstream, this thought is eradicated. With a given set of rules and logic, these modules are allowed to be morphed and skewed along with an envelope of irregular form. This provides the designer with a high level of customization and scalability but with the benefit of economics. With this principle in mind, opportunities range from highly versatile, expandable, and complex communities to a wide array of adaptable multi-disciplinary design output.

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Neri Oxman and MIT Develop Programmable Biocomposites for Digital Fabrication_©MIT Media Lab

5. Bio-integrated Design

The rise of ecological awareness and sustainability has been a highlight for the past decades. On a higher level, if you take the systems and phenomena of nature and combine that with breakthroughs in biotechnology and computation, you have Bio-Integrated design. The main Idea is taking inspiration from biological systems and integrating them into critical design solutions that would have beneficial impacts on our society. Examples in the field include Neri Oxman’s leading research on biocomposites and UCL Bartlett’s research department in Bio-Integrated Design. While other paths focus on automation, this approach takes a more environmental and ecological perspective.

The path ahead of architectural design will always have branches. Whether it comes to digital advancement through automation or more remarkable ecological synthesis, the solutions for tomorrow will ever be changing. As sustainable design would be an example of a topic once new to us, these solutions will constantly evolve into further issues as they develop. Though the speed of today’s development increases rapidly, we will always be met with new problems to solve. As designers, we will always play a significant role in defining these futures.



  1. Retsin, G. (2019) Discrete: Reappraising the Digital in Architecture. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons


  • Eric Baldwin (2019). BuildTech Futures: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

[online]. (Last updated 12 September 2019). Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2021].

  1. Wasim Muklashy (2018). How Machine Learning in Architecture Is Liberating the Role of the Designer. [online]. (Last updated 3 May 2018). Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2021].
  2. Markus Waibel (2011). Architects Using Robots to Build Beautiful Structures. [online]. (Last updated 20 September 2011). Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2021]
  3. Len Calderone (2013). Robots in Architecture. [online]. (Last updated 15 July 2013). Available at: [Accessed 30 May 2021].
  4. Azure (2015). Top 5 Tech Breakthroughs of the Past 30 Years. [online]. (Last updated 10 March 2015). [Accessed 30 May 2021].
  5. Soomeen Hahm Design (2019). Steampunk Pavilion. [online]. (Last updated September 2019). [Accessed 30 May 2021].

A licensed and practicing architect from the Philippines, Alab is currently pursuing advanced design through computational methods. He strives to constantly reinvent and push boundaries in form-finding and concept formulation through digital media. He is also into endurance sports and loves to do landscape photography.

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