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CAD work tomorrow?

the island desktop still journal

The image above is a still that was taken from a pretty simple sci-fi movie called The Island with Scarlett Johanssen & Ewan McGregor. In this scene the computers of tomorrow are embedded into a glass topped table, the entire table is the screen, controls are part touch screen plus a big gaudy diamond shaped mousy controller thingy. Files are strewn across the table whilst working then easily filed away to keep the table clean when not in use. A pen can be used to sketch on a page in the screen then the page is passed around. The workings of the computer are hidden from view in the thickness of the tabletop. This is the computer that I hope we see in my lifetime. Some other examples include a few of the more recent James Bonds and also Minority Report, both include more hands in the air.

Architects of my generation or earlier started our careers working on large drafting tables (usually green), these tables would fit the big A1 or AO sized paper that we still work on today. If you don’t know paper sizes AO is 1189mm x 841mm, A1 is half that, A2, A3 down to standard A4 that we all use regularly. Many older offices still have some of these drafting tables but most younger offices have none. We now work on computers and the bigger the screen the better as we mostly still work on large bits of paper but only view a small portion at any time by zooming in and out, never getting the full picture. My computer is a little 13” Macbook Pro but I plug this into a larger display screen so the size begins to mimic the size of my drawings. I still do a lot of hand sketching but mostly smaller drawings. The big stuff is all in CAD (computer aided drafting) or BIM (building information modelling) and this stuff needs large screens and I believe these tables will suit this stuff perfectly.

There are three distinct parts that are central to the process of architecture:
1. design – the bulk of our work generally at a desk on the computer, we then relay our ideas to both 2 & 3 below.
2. presentation – print outs or on a screen usually in a meeting room, sometimes in a home or onsite.
3. construction – generally printed drawings that are issued with follow up meetings onsite.

My view of the future includes glass topped computer desks with an Apple operating system that sits somewhere between the desktop OSX and the iPhone / iPad iOS. These will run all our CAD & BIM programs along with Adobe PhotoShop, Pages & Numbers, Mail, Safari etc. I suspect we will work at our desks like we have for centuries but we will be able to see a full A1 sheet or a model at the intended scale again like we did in the past. We will work with the pen again along with touch gestures, similar to the image from The Island. The same desk in the meeting room will allow us to present our ideas to clients and also collaborate with numerous colleagues or consultants. Going one step further we may get into holographs or possibly virtual reality headsets however sitting around with clients wearing headsets may seem a little weird. When we get to site an iPad Pro will be invaluable but I can’t see builders throwing away printed drawings too quickly.

Microsoft / Samsung were working on something called PixelSense, it doesn’t seem to have much traction but the intent is good. They also melded their desktop OS to their Surface Pro laptop / tablets. I suspect Apple will do the same. No doubt I have a bias for Apple but the iPad was a game changer. The iOS is only in it’s early days and the first generation iPad was best suited for content consumption however Apple know this is not the end game. The next few updates were aimed more and more to content creation. Their latest device is the iPad Pro, same as iPad just bigger and with more software developers working in iOS and selling through the App Store the future looks good.