Why Generative AI Is The Next Frontier in Building Design

Why Generative AI Is The Next Frontier in Building Design

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The design and engineering process is one of the most exciting and crucial stages of the overall construction process, but it is fundamentally constrained by the current generation of design tools. When computer-aided design (CAD) systems were introduced more than four decades ago, they were transformative for their time. Since then, the construction industry has adopted numerous innovations in fabrication, mechanization, and safety equipment, to name a few—while design methods and tools have largely remained the same. The result is a tedious, error-prone, and unpredictable design process that adds unnecessary time, cost and waste.  

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) promises to change all this. By training sophisticated machine learning (ML) models with new and valid data in the form of generated designs, it is now possible to automate building design and engineering. This technology eliminates the need for architects, engineers, and construction (AEC) professionals to iterate on the design of various building systems that may not actually be feasible for construction. Instead, they can create fully detailed, compliant, and optimal designs in hours or days instead of weeks, resulting in fewer construction errors and less time spent on rework. 

These tangible outcomes translate to larger benefits for the industry and society at large. 

Saving Time, Money—And The Planet 

The designs created during the construction documentation process often lack the requisite level of information needed to create truly constructible systems. Take mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural (MEP/S) systems. These are highly complex and specialized systems that account for the majority of errors, delays, risks, and uncertainties. Designing these systems for constructability requires an extremely high level of detail which is difficult–and at times impossible–to achieve during design development. Instead, contractors are often tasked with re-designing the systems to ensure they are feasible, leading to lost time and coordination issues. Factor in several trades and the result is often interference between systems. 

As a result, AEC professionals spend approximately 20% of their time fixing design and coordination mistakes. These errors can increase average building costs by six percent— contributing to the dismal KPMG findings a few years ago that only 31% of projects come within 10% of their budgets. The cumulative economic impact is staggering, translating into $280 billion in global rework. 

The consequences of rework extend far beyond budgets and project timelines—there are also significant environmental costs. On average, 30% of new building materials go to waste because of rework. Getting things right in the design phase has a long-lasting impact on the sustainability of our communities and planet as a whole. 

Automating the building design process by adopting generative AI can eliminate these errors, alleviating the time, monetary and environmental pressures that are commonplace in the construction industry today. By leveraging automation to quickly create highly detailed, accurate and constructable designs the first time around, we can accelerate the building process by months, developers can better project their costs, and contractors can deliver their projects faster and with less risk. And all while diverting construction waste from landfills. 

Solving For Talent Shortages To Meet Demands 

Like many others, the construction industry is grappling with talent shortages in the face of increased pressure for new commercial and residential builds. For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, new housing units are expected to more than double, from 583,000 in 2009 to 1.55 million this year. Commercial construction is also on a significant upwards trajectory, with an anticipated growth rate of $107 billion over the next few years. 

But the numbers simply don’t add up. Only 24,000 people annually will complete training in their specific trades compared to a project pipeline that demands 700,000 skilled tradespeople, all against the backdrop of a retiring workforce. This shortage is felt upstream as well. There are a limited number of architects entering the field and not enough engineers to go around. 

Automating design can enable the industry to scale to meet the demand for new construction while easing the pressure of talent scarcity. Even the most junior designers and engineers can quickly create constructible, code-compliant designs, without the tediousness of traditional approaches. With all the time they save, they can explore more options with their clients to help them reach the best possible design decisions to meet their needs.  

These benefits transcend the entire construction ecosystem. With generative AI, the availability of talent need no longer hamper contractors’ abilities to scale their design capabilities. Likewise, designs can be easily optimized for prefabrication.

The Time For Disruption Is Now

The emergence of generative AI represents the next technological frontier in the construction industry. By embracing the automation of the end-to-end building design process, we can drive efficiencies that will help our people, our processes, and our planet thrive. 

*Featured Image Courtesy: Augmenta.ai

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