The AR LAB: A Vision

In this Viewpoint article, Paul Seletsky, who is the Digital Design Director at KieranTimberlake Associates, questions the current architectural education approach of providing sophisticated design tools to students, only to have them go on to practice professionally for decades on another level using outmoded means. He envisions another approach, where applied research centers would bring architects, universities, and the public together to advance Building Design using the latest Digital Design tools. Under the imprimatur of the national architectural association and in affiliation with local universities, well-equipped and staffed architecture research labs (AR Labs) would enable students and practitioners to develop design ideas both physically and digitally, build 3D mock-ups, learn new fabrication methods, and perform energy analyses and simulations via BIM.


5 thoughts on “The AR LAB: A Vision

  1. So, Applied Research Centers. Great idea. I think two big things are missing, though.
    – Improve architects’ technical construction knowledge (see Mr. Seletsky’s October, 2005 AECbytes Viewpoints article)
    – Utilize the resources, expertise, and knowledge that construction professionals, engineers, and building owner/operators can bring to this effort. If IPD is good for construction projects, wouldn’t it be good for AECO education? Wouldn’t it nurture the whole concept of collaboration – so beneficial in a BIM environment?

    My thoughts on this are developed more fully. Text document at
    Thanks for the stimulating article.

  2. Architects who wish to focus on user needs and building life cycle issues tend to denigrate the primacy of architectural design, aka “form-giving.”

    Their inability to esteem themselves except at the expense of others is telling.

    Building science and economics will continue to play a vital background role in the further development of architecture.

  3. I am not an architect, but think I can understand the goals that are expressed in this opinion piece: continual education in modern tools and methods are needed over an architect’s working lifetime, and particularly during the early years to “ease the pain” of working in a subservient role. This would seem to be the role of the AIA since they already support other continuing education courses and lectures. But Paul must realize that there is significant cost for the learning centers that he is proposing and it would be unlikely that this could be met by the AIA. A possible alternative could be a hands-on course during an AIA Conference that was supported by tool makers and associated software vendors. This would not provide the continuing support identified in by Paul, but it might be a step in the right direction. As IPD becomes more widely used, architects will become more familiar with the skills and tools of other professionals in the building industry (including fabricators). This will also provide important educational insights.

  4. In response to Paul Seletsky’s article: I set up the first CAD lab at the Yale School of Architecture in 1985, and like his friend was also astonished at the facilities there upon a recent visit. Maybe one solution to the resource centers he envisions would be to use university facilities while the students are on vacation — I ran week-long programs for local architects at Yale during the summer, with the idea that if they could get a good grasp of what was possible, they would be far more likely to bring it into their own offices, where the “kids” would then put it to use. At the University of Louisville where I now teach in the Interior Architecture program, I have a room full of computers laden with great software that sit idle from the middle of May to the middle of August. Just across the street, the engineering school has every CNC and rapid prototyping tool imaginable.

    A week of five- or six-hour days should be manageable for working professionals, and would fit easily into winter break, spring break, and summer vacation at most schools. The revenue these sessions would produce could be used to update equipment and help defray the cost of software subscriptions.

  5. As a builder and cnc fabricator I very much wish the AR labs existed for all the reasons that Paul listed. Unfortunately I consider it extremely unlikely that anyone will fund them.

    Now for the good news. Alternatives already exist and more are being developed. The private sector and the growing maker movement are creating affordable fabrication centers and a supportive communities. Techshop provides affordable access to cnc tools for a monthly fee A university-techshop partnership was announced yesterday

    “International Technological University (ITU) is announcing a partnership between its Digital Arts Department and TechShop, a member-based workshop facility offering access to over $1,000,000 worth of powerful equipment, digital design software and instruction.”

    Techshop and 100k garages offer welcoming communities and affordable access to anyone interested in learning small-scale fabrication.

    The problem is very different for those interested in large-scale fabrication since the cnc machines most widely used are too large, too expensive, very difficult to operate, and require far more space than almost any university will be able to afford or justify.

    I can refer to specific examples from our experience fabricating wood-framed buildings using cnc lines from the global leader, Hundegger
    These typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and require a large building and and a lot of other hardware to operate efficiently.

    For years engineers on our team have worked with the Center for Advanced Wood Processing at the University of British Columbia, Canada’s center of excellence for advanced wood processing The center has owned and operated a Hundegger line for many years (just one of the cnc tools in a multi-million dollar facility). The center’s focus on fabrication is made clear in its mission statement, which addresses these problems,

    “The lack of a highly-skilled workforce possessing the requisite knowledge and skill profiles.

    An inadequate knowledge base to educate and develop and apply the technologies needed to sustain competitive positions.”

    So jobs do exist using these cutting-edge technologies but students almost never have access to these tools and most universities can’t afford them. And, as Paul stated, since the vast majority of architecture firms have fewer than six people, one can safely assume that they also can only afford, at best, the most basic cnc lines or additive fabrication 3D printers.

    How do we change this so that students and practicing architects can use the latest software and cnc lines and the take advantage of the growing interest in digital fabrication at all scales? I suggest increased industry and academic collaboration. For this reason I co-founded the new advocacy group, the Digital Fabrication Alliance.
    We are still in the very early formative stages, but I ask you to keep the organization in mind as a both a forum and community that can help realize part of the vision Paul outlined in his article.

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