What good is technology in architecture?

Architecture is not without its moments of drudgery. I suppose a lot of professions follow some sort of Pareto Principal that divides our day into 80% drudgery and 20% glory. We know what those drudgery moments are. What are those glorious moments?

We are in the business of removing barriers between our design ideas and their realization.

There is an economic reason to ask this question, one that affects both architect and client. If the glorious moments are the ones where we are shining as architects, when we are providing a truly valuable and irreplaceable service, then clients will be happy to compensate us for glory. As we lessen the time spent in drudgery and increase the time spent in glory, the more valuable we should be on an hourly basis to our client. Higher billing rates would accrue.
For the large firm, specialization is an effective way to align billing rates with ability. The great designers, the consistently glorious, get paid the most. The drudgery adepts get paid the least. The large firm can accomplish the drudgery by using inexpensive labor, freeing up more capital to pay the designer. What about the small firm?
For an office like ours, we simply lack the bodies to separate services amongst staff. There is myself, my wife, and the occasional draftsperson. As firm owners, we are accomplished architects, very capable of producing glorious designs. We also need to take care of the drudgery; there is no one else in the office to do the drafting, write the meeting minutes or tend to the office standards. If we want to increase our hourly value, we need to find a different way to do it.
That different way is technology.
Human labor is fungible, replaceable. With enough forethought, processor power, and customization, technology can take the drudgery out of architecture. We have been pursuing such an ideal for the past ten years or so. Fast computers, software from Autodesk (Building Information Modeling based on the Revit platform) and Adobe, and the relentless pursuit of ever better templates frees us from drudgery so we can concentrate on the glory.
Significant portions of the industry are moving to the same place. We see larger firms doing really great work because they leverage technology, freeing their designers to spend more time, and being more productive, at design tasks.
Technology does contribute to better design in other ways than simply as a substitute for semi-skilled labor. Iterative processes make possible design solutions that even geniuses could not produce by hand. Visualization has been a huge benefit in our own firm, both internally and in communicating design ideas to others. The gift of time to spend on design is the benefit I enjoy the most.
A dream of competent designers is to be free of the obstacles that exist between the design idea and its realization. In architecture, one of those obstacles has been the labor-intensive process of turning a conceptual design into construction documents, and then a part of the built environment. Architects who embrace the nerdy technology now available are one step closer to this dream. As frustrating as it can be to be a designer at the mercy of a draftsman, it is incredibly freeing to be a designer not at the mercy of a draftsman.
This is our goal at Sealander Architects. We are a small firm whose intellectual capital resides with the design skill of its principals. We are in the business of removing barriers between our design ideas and their realization.

Follow Mike Sealander, Maine Licensed Architect:

Architect

Principal at Sealander Architects, Ellsworth Maine. Revit guru. Married with 3 children. Avid gardener. Lived in San Francisco for nine years. Master in Architecture from Columbia University Bachelor of arts in religious studies, Wesleyan University. Graduated Staples High School, Westport CT. Hope to spend some time in Hokkaido before all is said and done.