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It’s architecture, but not as you know it

Wed, 02/12/2020 - 13:33
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Bryden Wood directors Jaimie Johnston and Jami Cresser-Brown discuss transforming the design and construction sector, and the new and wide-ranging opportunities available to the next generation of recruits.

We’re in the midst of a technological revolution that is redefining every aspect of our lives.

AI, big data, robotics, and low/zero carbon technologies (to name a few) are changing the built environment more profoundly than any other sector.

With nearly half of all UK carbon emissions originating from buildings and infrastructure, the climate agenda is supercharging the need - and energizing the search for solutions. 

No longer is the design of buildings reserved for those with a formal qualification. With gamers collaboratively building virtual cities from their bedrooms, and clients increasingly engaged with the development of their future assets, we need to come up with new, inclusive ways of designing and constructing. 

“The vast majority of buildings could be built more efficiently and could perform better,” says Jaimie Johnston. “As with the broader climate change challenge, the next generation of designers will be solving the problems created by the last. The new generation joining will help us to reimagine the buildings and infrastructure we live in, work in and use every single day, asking themselves how these could operate better, use less material, and be more efficient.” 

“We face huge challenges,” says Jami Cresser-Brown. “But with them comes great opportunities for the next generation of designers to join this industry in exciting new roles, with the potential to have massive societal impact.” 

“Our role goes far beyond single buildings. We now need to address global issues such as the housing shortage, delivering quality education and healthcare at scale, and figuring out how to live sustainably. We have the opportunity to think big and work collaboratively. More than ever, we must collectively evaluate the value of all new buildings and infrastructure (such as roads, rail, water), interrogate how they are built, and how they are managed, in order to ensure we create truly sustainable cities.”

Layers of design data on the M1
Layers of design data on the M1

The world of design and construction is transforming in order to face these challenges. Digital technology unlocks the potential for automation, simulation, generative design, AI and robotics, and is already revolutionizing the process of design. Meanwhile, the government backed ‘Platforms’* approach to building (which is more akin to manufacturing), allows many different building types to be delivered at scale from a standard kit of parts. Together these innovations signal a much needed, tech-led approach to design and construction, that uses technology to help us design faster and smarter. 

“This link to manufacturing requires us to think about efficiency in a totally new way,” continues Jaimie. “Efficiency must also consider reusability. This offers a greater role for say, industrial designers interested in the whole life value of buildings and their component parts, thinking about disassembly as well as assembly, and how designs can be adapted to best fit people’s long-term needs.”

“Sustainability and ‘building physics’ expertise will grow and become more embedded into projects. We will also have to explore other topics such as data ethics, as we handle more and more data in design automation and digital asset management.” 

This paradigm shift makes way for more diversity in people, knowledge, skillsets and approaches. This new democratic design space seeks computational designers, mathematical modelers, data analysts, robotics experts and much more, whilst maintaining vital expertise in architecture, placemaking and engineering. What this new workforce will have in common is the ability to think deeply and strategically about design, look through different lenses to find possible solutions and recognize that the process of design is as important as the final outcome.

The UK housing shortage is one such problem. Our integrated team at Bryden Wood pools experts from a diverse range of specialisms, drawing in-depth knowledge from across sectors; avoiding dedicated sector teams to encourage knowledge transfer. We blend architecture and engineering with leading-edge data science, product, industrial and computational design to tackle design problems at scale. 

PRISM image

For housing, our creative tech team have developed a web app embedded with manufacturing knowledge to accelerate design optioneering, our industrial and product designers are designing and prototyping fabrication ready kits of parts, and our robotics specialists are working on automated manufacturing processes. We also have a building physics team investigating the most resourceful way to deliver homes, by analyzing optimal material usage to minimize embodied carbon, and by devising the best energy and building services strategy.

This way of working consolidates the knowledge of a diverse team, resulting in digital and physical design solutions which work harmoniously together. The ultimate goal is to design buildings which can be safely and easily assembled from a smart, manufactured kit of parts.


“The mix of knowledge and skills in our team and the invention of reusable design solutions that everyone can unite behind, can be applied across all sectors,” continues Jaimie. “We’re not just looking for learned skills. We’re looking for people who are more broadly fascinated by design and automation and see creativity in technology.” 

“We’re after people who enjoy working in diverse, blended teams, who will help move the industry towards being more open, inclusive and collaborative,” adds Jami. “Sharing ideas and solutions, as we already do at Bryden Wood, should become the new norm, because connecting our thinking enables us to work more productively and creatively.”

“We’re looking to the next generation who aren’t held back by old ways of doing things and naturally bring wider, tech-led thinking to everything they do,” adds Jaimie. 

The opportunity to join this revolution isn’t theoretical, it’s available right now to anyone with a keen interest in the built environment and a deep-seated desire in change for the better. 

Not many other sectors can say that. 

*To learn more about Platforms, please read the books published for free on our website

Bryden Wood

Bryden Wood is a technology-led design company of architects, designers, engineers, analysts and coders, collaborating with a shared passion for improving outcomes. A UK leader in algorithmic design and DfMA, Bryden Wood conceived the Platform approach to DfMA (P-DfMA) adopted by UK Government in 2018. It is the only design organisation to bring together a range of specialisms, working across sectors with a single purpose – to help transform the global design and construction industry. Its vision is to close the gap between design, construction and manufacturing, to create a highly productive, digitally-led industry which improves the sustainability, efficiency and aesthetic quality of the built environment.


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