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INDUSTRY INSIGHTS

  • Writer's pictureRandy Deutsch

Augment yourself? Sure. But augment with what?

What breeds hopelessness is the failure to pursue the possible in the imperfect. 

- Joan Chittister


The idea of architects augmenting themselves is a +60 year-old idea.


What's new is what we augment ourselves with - especially now with GPT-5 due to be released in the coming months.



In my keynotes and talks I like to describe a continuum where the left is represented by a future world where no one gets to design and on the right where everyone does.


In the middle is someone - like you - who designs.



The left is a world where AI rules and the right where people do.



You could call the left extreme generative and the right crowdsourced.



Crowdsourced where a group of people can guess within 2.5% accuracy how many jellybeans there are in a jar but almost no one individual can.



Crowdsourced like participatory design in the '60s and '70s where architects would meet with community groups, listen to dozens of design suggestions, then after a short time return from the office with a design that pleased, inspired and satisfied everyone.



The one extreme, involving few if any people, could be thought as autonomous design.



Academics could think of these two extremes as projects and devote their research to them.



The reality is that each of these extremes are generative: one where the design is generated by algorithms and the other, simply, by people.



Which takes us to the augmented professional - ostensibly you - and the question put forth in the title of this post: Augmented with what?


Today, we are faced with intractable problems such as migration, affordable housing, social and racial justice, and the climate crisis.

 

We’re going to need all tools at our disposal, including AI, to help address these issues especially ecological catastrophe.


AI provides us with

•       the means to face new challenges

•       ways to automate time-consuming and repetitive tasks

•       simpler ways to address complex operations


So, simply put, we'll need to augment ourselves with AI.


But it doesn't end there. Like participatory designers, we'll also need to augment ourselves with skillsets and mindsets of those who participate in community engagement.


Participatory design and community engagement are where we do what we do best (and what AI needs us to do):


Speculate (Ask: What is Possible?)

Synthesize

Orchestrate

Empathize

Translate

Identify (i.e. problems worth solving)


To take just the first attribute, where architects ask What is possible?

  • What hasn’t anyone considered?

  • What could we do to make something more of this opportunity to design in the world?

  • What is non-obvious?

  • What would differentiate this project from others?

  • What would make people who use the building happy and proud?





What is now possible?

 

It is now possible to design with data

It is now possible to think* like machines

It is now possible to drive the equipment needed to make a place with the same tools that were used to design it


*please excuse my anthropomorphism


Existing technologies only hint at what is possible, so look for technologies to come that haven’t been conceived yet by the enterprising spirit.


But look to and trust your augmented self - augmented with not only AI but skillsets and mindsets of those who participate in community engagement - to determine what we all need to move forward responsibly and with confidence.


...


Contact Randy Deutsch FAIA to discuss speaking at your firm, organization or venue rdeutsch@illinois.edu

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