Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Architecture and Design get serious

For the sake of balance, I need to acknowledge that Architecture and Design, the Australian construction industry trade magazine whose article on speedy modular construction so offended me with its poor reporting, also carries some very informative, very well targeted articles.

Where robots and computers look set to take Australian construction jobs

takes a look at two reports which examine the future of occupations. The University of Oxford report ‘The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’ quantified the vulnerability of 702 occupations in terms of their likelihood to be replaced by various forms of computerisation, including robotics and increasingly sophisticated data exchange. The research considered factors such as the degree of manual dexterity, originality, social perceptiveness and negotiation skills required in the role. 
The A+D article filters this report for what it can tell us about jobs in the construction industry specifically.  The results are surprising,, or perhaps not.  The rating scale for vulnerability goes from 0 to 1, with 1 representing extremely high vulnerability.

The most remarkable contrast is between a variety of skilled building trades, and most of the creative and engineering professionals.  The only safe thing you can infer is that there will be a continuing need for those at the front end, initiating projects. Strongly implied is that this is contingent on those professionals acquiring the skills to use the digital tools which drive increasingly automated processes of manufacture and assembly.

The other study referred to by the A&D article is from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), called Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030. While this report also paints a fairly grim picture for traditional building trades, as off-site construction in factories favours the use of robots, it also suggests that an increased demand in the future for building efficiency and other eco-friendly solutions could actually drive employment and at the very least see new jobs in the industry. These jobs would appear to be mainly in retrofitting and installation related to the existing building stock.

Access be A&D article here:

See the full report from the University of Oxford ‘The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’ here:

The Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030 can be found here.


Anonymous said...

On a very general level, many of us would be imagining the many possibilities where computerization takes over many of the public workforce jobs. For example, if we look at this recent article " Ten houses in 24 hours, from Chinese company's 3D printer" by The Sydney morning Herald ( Here, it can be seen that technology has developed so much that 3D printing is capable of creating load bearing structures that creates minimal impact on the environment. Hearing this, we'd generalize the thought that there would be a great reduction in the human workforce cause computers would take over our jobs, but is this necessarily the case?

In order to create a program or create a type of technology which does things like laying bricks and plumbing, one would need the knowledge of such professions to do so. Therefore, there would still be a need for people to be educated in such areas and professions, and that computers can not truly take over people. We can only really use people to speed up the process, but not rely on their serviceability. For example, if we consider parametric modelling in architecture, one small mistake in a modular apartment, it could lead to 'perfectly' recreating the same mistake in all of the apartments. Many of us would criticize that this would lead to a sharp decrease in such professions. However, with this step taken to computerization, it would create new job opportunities for those who specialize in the area of computerization.

Some would argue that machines are much more efficient and reliable than humans, but then, don't we question the repairing and maintenance of machines? And don't we usually think about the idea that the more complex an object is, the harder it is to repair or fix it? Wouldn't this essentially increase the need for people who expertise in this area of maintenance?

In the end, I believe that the future of computerization would be more of a collaboration between technology experts and people who actually expertise in such areas, but not a decrease in employment rate.

Anonymous said...

For there to be long-tern economic growth in an industry such as architecture, there is a dependency on the application of new technologies that reshape design and production, adding new kinds of jobs to the economy. Historically, this process of creative destruction has created enormous wealth for some, whilst also providing undesired disruptions to others. How Australia adapts and incorporates these new technologies will determine its future, because ultimately technology is the fuel for unique, cost effective design in Architecture.

Whilst it can be argued that there will be a great reduction in the necessity for a human workforce in a computerised industry, this is seemingly not the case. Take the construction industry for example, it can be agreed that whilst certain non-skilled jobs may face ‘extremely high vulnerability’ and that those job may be found redundant, there is not at all a ‘reduction’ in the human workforce, rather a ‘shift’ from one aspect to other. With recent developments in 3D printing and in regards to the previous comment, yes it may seem this technology will result in many bricklayers and other tradesmen being out of work, however those jobs will shift into a different area such as machine operators who possess brick construction knowledge.

This ‘shift’ in employment composition, has benefited workers differentially. Computerisation and robotics have substituted for the same type of routine work that was once done by thousands of workers on assembly lines. Whether we like it or not, employers will always turn to the most efficient option. Problem-solving skills have become relatively production, resulting in the substantial employment growth in occupations involving cognitive work where skilled labour holds a comparative advantage.

So, if a computer is able to drive better than you, respond to requests as well as you and track down information better than you, what will this leave for labour? Social intelligence and creativity are the domains where labour will still have a comparative advantage. Whilst technology will always be two steps ahead, low-skilled workers will need to ‘shift’ to tasks that are non-susceptible to computerisation.

Mechelle Lynn said...

Upon first reading this blog post I was merely intrigued, already understanding that technology would undoubtedly, be what paves the way for our future. Yet upon further reading of the original article and especially the University of Oxford report I began to actually grasp a larger glimpse of the magnitude of the situation not only in terms of architecture and design but more so on a broader scale.

From the blog post Steve had stated that the “only safe thing you can infer is that there will be a continuing need for those at the front end, initiating projects,” which lies in conjunction to the University of Oxford report stating the current trend is towards polarization, shown by a growth in “high-income cognitive jobs and low-income manual occupations” with a decline in “middle-income routine jobs” that are predicted to be the 47% of the 702 occupations assessed that are susceptible to computerization. It appears that these routine jobs are at a great disadvantage to jobs that require more cognitive skill where in this information age the survival of the fittest can be deemed ironically but befittingly translated as the survival of the most cognitively adept.

However, that is not to say that non-routine occupations do not run the risk of being computerized either. The unpredictable future of technological advancement can be demonstrated in this example given in the University of Oxford report referencing Levy and Murnane’s book “The New Division of Labour: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market” published in 2004, in the chapter “Why People Still Matter” discussing the challenge of the automation in being able to replicate a driver’s behavior to intuitively detect the many factors that would go into making, for example, a simple left turn. Only 6 years later, in October 2010, Google released a statement of Toyota’s success in modifying a fully autonomous model of the Prius.

It can be deduced from ‘The Future of Work: Jobs and Skills in 2030” foreword that “gazing in the future may seem speculative, or even whimsical, because experience tells us that predictions about what the world would look like years from now are destined to be inaccurate,” however there is no denying that technological advancement will be pivotal in the majority if not all career fields. It seems that skill requirements are shifting to the digital, which can be exemplified in the architecture and building industries, shift to advanced technologies such as BIM leading to the establishment of the term “technological unemployment”.

Anonymous said...

I do agree that we will need people to repair, maintain and program advanced technology, creating new job opportunities but those created compared to those lost would be far from close. Will there be the same amount of new occupations as the amount of building labourer jobs lost? I argue that there would be a major decrease in the employment rate.

As explained in the University of Oxford report ‘The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’ computerisation advances increases the need for more cognitive tasks from workers rather than manual tasks. Is society expected to ask a labourer to go and study how an advanced machine works? The report brings up an interesting question; can humans win the race against technology by means of education?

A 2013 paper ‘The great reversal in the demand for skill and cognitive tasks’ argues that there is actually a decline in a demand for cognitive tasks associated with high educational skill therefore high skilled workers move down the occupational ladder performing lower skilled worker jobs and in turn dramatically pushing low skilled labourers out of work.

Yes advancing technologies are greatly improving architecture but the future for labourers is not promising whether the demand for higher skill set is lower or higher. Yes there are opportunities for collaboration as expressed by Anonymous ( blog post 15th May) but that does not make up for all the jobs that are deemed vulnerable of being computerised. Robots and Computers will take Australian construction jobs.

'The great reversal in the demand for skill and cognitive tasks' paper:

darren yang said...

It can be said that in the future, due to computerization, a lot of people’s position will be replaced by robots, is inevitable. In fact, this has happened before in the history of mankind, after the industrial revolution, a large amount of works were replaced by machines, because machines are simply faster, better and cheaper. However, before, it is the manual labourers that were being replaced; now skilled workers such as carpenters and model makers also face the danger of being replaced by machine/robots, sadly, due to the same reasons.
A Switzerland team has recently developed a drone that a capable of constructing buildings. This drone has a size of a model airplane, with 4 propellers, one at each corner. This flying robot can follow the program, take the bricks, carry them to the construction site and stack them in the correct order. The robot is capable of doing all this without any human assistance or intervention, and it can ensure the finished building match the design accurately. In this experiment, it was a 6 meter tall building consisted of 1,500 bricks. It only took the robot 3 days to finish, while for human workers, it will take at least weeks to finish the same amount of work, let alone the safety issues, accuracy and the cost.
It might take years for this type of drones to develop before they can truly replace human workers; however, some jobs have been taken over by drones. In Australia, drone deliveries have become reality. According to Sydney Morning Herald, once this type of services gets approval, students will be able to order books from a website call and have the drones deliver them to their door in Sydney.
It is yet to find out whether this is good for the construction industry. In long term, the benefit is obvious, the cost for a building will be significantly reduced and many safety issues for the workers can be avoid, constructing a building might become much faster and easier. However many jobs opportunities will be lost, although some might said new jobs will come along with computerization, but what about those who are doing those jobs now? What happens to them when their position got replaced by robots?

Anonymous said...

If we look from different perspective, we still need human expertise where there are projects or clients that still require human to build. For example, we need brick experts to build the new UTS building by Frank Gehry. ( ( For instance, even though we have modern technologies, and everything is computerized in designing the building, we still need human expertise to carefully check the design and to refer to the article mentioned above, someone even came out of retirement to work because they need his expertise. Therefore, it is irrational that computerization and technologies can take over human expertise.

Besides that, for the example mentioned by anonymous above, there is no guarantee that computer can print 100% 3D image perfectly, same goes with our printer at home where we can't be sure that we will get the same quality image or the perfect quality of outcomes from what we expected and seen on the computer. Thus, it is undeniable that we need human workforce and not discriminate the human employment opportunity. This article shows that the industry still need human workforce, thus offering more job opportunities and develop new skills. ( We do not reduce the number of jobs but changing the type of job needed, for example, developing new human expertise in BIM, new crane or system of transportation, and even the person that is expert with assembly methods.
Last but not least, computers just make the human workforce speeds up and helping the industry to be more efficient but at the same time creating a whole new areas of expertise in this industry.