Technology is an enabler but people are the core of architecture, reiterate speakers of ‘Design in/with Technology’ panel discussion

On its second day, ADM Summit witnessed an enriching panel discussion touching upon various aspects of technological advancement. The panel elaborated upon the paradigm shifts, making oneself adept with the latest innovations while keeping a people-centric approach that is the core of architecture and design.

The panel included James Law Cybertecture Architects founder, chairman & CEO James Law (Hong Kong), Sandeep Shikre & Associates (SSA Architects) president and CEO Sandeep Shikre (Mumbai), Studio Symbiosis founding partner Britta Knobel Gupta (Delhi/Stuttgart) and NID Skill Development Labs associate senior faculty; furniture & interior design head Pravinsinh Solanki (Ahmedabad). The session was moderated by SDeG founder/ principal architect Sujit Nair (Bengaluru).

The main aim of the ‘Design in/with Technology’ panel was to throw light on how the intersection of design and technology has enabled enormous advancements in the design sector.

Throwing light on the readiness of adopting technology in the present scenario, Shikre said, “Adaptability of technology in the current times is a constant quest that all of us as architects will have to adopt because there are some paradigm shifts due to pandemic and several other climate changes.”

“Technology is an enabler. Being an architect and designer, you have to be very mindful and judicious,” he mentioned.

According to him, when adapting a technology for design in an office, you have the opportunity to see how you do make the entire design development process more analytical and more research based. Then when you adapt the construction technology used for developing in a big environment, there are several aspects that influence your thoughts for choosing construction technology.

Shirke also spoke about the times, when we are pushed for urbanisation, there is a need to balance the beam by using appropriate technology which is not having any adverse impact on the environment. Everyone knows about the ‘future going towards carbon neutral initiatives’.

Sharing how her team managed to adapt with the change during the pandemic, Gupta said, “We believe adaptability is the key to evolution. During this pandemic evolution was all about using digital tools and techniques. Luckily we being an international office, we were already on the cloud. During this pandemic evolution was all about using digital tools and techniques. Luckily we, being an international office, were already on the cloud. But still overnight we had to switch for the whole office to be able to work from the server.”

Still she stressed that in the design field it is also very important to create a synergy of ideas. And ‘we realise, that best is still face-to-face’.

Hence, the question of use of computers and technology taking away the human aspect of design, arises. 

“If we use computers judiciously, my answer is no,” Shirke also said.

Solanki, a design expert with 16 years of experience, tells us to look for opportunities. He spoke about how he spent his lockdown days in his brother’s resort amidst greenery where he worked for more than 12 hours as he was getting more oxygen.

Talking about the impact of lockdown, he said, “It was an opportunity and we grabbed it.”

He made bamboo hats called social distancing hats (three feet) made out of beds and masks with bamboo. The best thing was that craftsmen were available. They were sitting at home ideally during the pandemic.

“When I came back from Italy and looked into Indian craft, I realised that very few designers were working on contemporary craft with bamboo. That was an opportunity for me,” he said.

Talking about venturing into new avenues last year, Law said, “All the avenues seem to be under really rapid change. I really ventured out into taking Cybertecture from a kind of relatively controlled environment practice to providing online education, to now dealing with the metaverse and crypto.”

Law is the architect of the world-renowned OPod Concrete Tube Housing Project designed to alleviate affordability problems for mass housing.

According to him, his firm’s idea is to alleviate the suffering of people. Architects have responsibility and have the capability.

Nair mentioned that design technology broadly falls under three categories: tools for ideation, tools for managing efficiency & production process and construction technology. He mentioned that he is really keen about ‘performative designing’ that Gupta talks about.

“We use software and techniques to increase the performance,” Gupta said. She gave examples of sun-shading, how computational techniques are used for simulation, and so on.

Highlighting the need to keep pace with change, Law mentioned, “All our projects exist on a digital whiteboard. Everything from research, sketches, models, animation and everything is on that white board, transparent to the whole community.”

“The whiteboard is open to our clients. Even government authorities are sometimes invited, so that they can see what we are doing and if it is against the rule,” he said.

All the experts highlighted the need of customization and understanding the basic needs of every customer. So the use of technology will also be area-specific. They also believe that adversities bring opportunities. 

“Architecture is not generic; it is very case-specific. When you are working in a tier-two city or a rural area, the entire requirement of people occupying the area will be different. You need to have a mindful approach to balance the beam,” Shirke said during the ADM Summit.

Solanki touched upon how he encourages students to make use of opportunities. During the cyclone, 72 trees fell down and he asked students to make something that would have aesthetic value.

“We have been fairly slow in terms of adopting technology. That is not an attitudinal issue but it is about the scale,” Shirke added saying that India is gradually catching up and the future is bright.