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Azure January February 2023 issue cover

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Midjourney AI Architecture rendering

From initial sketch to final rendering, realistic models of architectural concepts traditionally take days (if not weeks) to produce. The fantastical facades pictured here — structures sheathed in swaths of multicoloured fabric, glazing encased in Antoni Gaudí–inspired curves — are different. They were created by artificial intelligence.

A.I Artificial Intelligence Colourful architectural rendering of curved building

Using text-to-image A.I. tools (Midjourney is one of the most popular), designers and architects are conceptualizing boundary-pushing envelopes using little more than a string of text. Enter a few words and these tools get to work, scouring image “memories” developed during the A.I.’s neural network training. Seconds later, they generate new forms and invite the human on the other side of the screen to refine, remix or upscale their appearance. A welcome disruption to a manual process or a threat to the human element of creation? Two designers weigh in.

Andrew Kudless, principal of Houston-based design firm Matsys, is specifically interested in A.I. tools’ ability to render building envelopes. Inspired by a fascination with the fabric curtains used to wrap construction scaffolding, he’s been employing Midjourney to explore the possibilities of textile facades, documenting his process and sharing the results on Instagram. Could they be constructed in real life? Probably not, but that’s not the point.

Artificial Intelligence rendering of Building made of sheets

“Visionary architecture always has a role to play in the design process, even if it is simply aspirational,” Kudless says. He sees A.I. tools like Midjourney supporting — not supplanting — a human designer. “Some might see this as a threat, but I love the idea of clients using these tools to help them envision their desires for a project. It helps start a conversation with the designer around shared objectives,” Kudless says. “These images are able to quickly establish an atmosphere for a project that has always been incredibly difficult using digital modelling and rendering tools.”

Like Kudless, Southern California–based multidisciplinarian Hassan Ragab is using Midjourney to develop concepts for complex, sometimes dreamlike facades. Drawing on his architectural vocab- ulary, he prompts the tool with descriptions of building styles and materials, repeatedly refining hundreds of generated images until his vision is realized. Ragab is bullish on the tool’s potential to make the human-led design process redundant. “I think as these tools evolve, they will make a lot about our jobs obsolete,” Ragab says. “That’s the natural process of technology.” That’s not to say these tools are without limitations.

AI Rendering of dynamic organic shaped building

As is the case with other artificial intelligence technologies, certain elements of human design haven’t yet been perfected by A.I. Ragab points to copyright as one issue (who does the final image ultimately belong to?). Bias is another; in Ragab’s experience, the data sets the A.I. is trained on unintentionally lean toward Western architecture. “If we are not addressing these flags, these tools will really be biased. Some cultures could perish digitally.”

Artificial Intelligence Tools Conjure Architectural Renderings in Seconds

A.I. technology has the potential to transform facades from functional to fantastical.

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