Yale School of Architecture grad students watch as a roof panel held by a crane is positioned at a Jim Vlock Building Project for Columbus House on Adeline Street in New Haven, Conn. on August 8, 2017.Photo: Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticut Media

By Duo Dickinson, CT Insider, June 7, 2022

The field of architecture is beginning to fundamentally change — this is not about implementing the next technologic expediency, or even the demographic rationalization of a once rarified profession. Architecture always follows our culture, and I think the basis of all our lives will radically change in the next generation, just as the Industrial Revolution changed everything. And Connecticut may lead the way.

The Nobel Prize in architecture is the Pritzker Prize. Founded in 1979, the first thirty years’ winners were “the greatest hits” of architecture — “starchitects” like Richard Meier, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. The last decade has seen more diversity in demographics, but statistically the award was safely labeled “modern” and followed the tradition of recognizing architecture that was focused on the approval of other architects. This year the winner was unknown to the public, but more, the winner was not a “name” to most architects, and the “style” of his work cannot be pigeon-holed as “modern.” Diebedo Francis Kere is from Burkina Faso. His fully crafted and expressive work is both fresh and rich in the human touch of materials, color and detail. Architects were surprised: I was delighted. 

This choice evidences a pivot in perception of what architects do. That pivot can only happen because the internet has connected everyone to a point where elites mean less, and Artificial Intelligence will let humanity into all “expert driven” professions. That shift will transform architecture.

Our culture, including architecture, is beginning to see this wholesale change on a scale of the Industrial Revolution. The changes the Industrial Revolution created actually facilitated the creation of the field of architecture as a profession. In 1832 New Haven was exploding in the growth of the Industrial Revolution. In that year the Trumbull Art Gallery was launched, and then morphed into the Yale School of Fine Arts that, in turn, facilitated Yale teaching architecture in the 20th century.

The next revolution, AI, is now eliminating whole areas of technical focus that dominated so much of architectural practice and education. The consequence of this change is that those who want to be architects are coming to value how things are actually made, versus simply how to describe them. Pritzker winner Kere’s work revels in the manifestation of the human hand in creating buildings.

At Yale, architect Alan Organschi (and others) have emerged from the pandemic to create its next manifestation of the Jim Vlock Building Project – the Yale School of Architecture Regenerative Building Lab. This new initiative has been launched into the schooling of the next generation of architects — directly addressing architecture’s growing focus on building in the way it is taught.

Yale is not alone. Connecticut’s other school of architecture, the University of Hartford, is exploring the idea of integrating hands-on student building labs as a way to enhance the teaching of architecture. The Colorado University College of Architecture and the new Building Beauty Program in Sorrento, Italy are charged with an intense focus on connecting people with buildings in architecture. All these efforts are connecting intellectual design to physical reality, the same impact that AI will have on all our lives.

The Industrial Revolution used water power, then steam, then the internal combustion engine to transform every aspect of how we live and define our values. The 21st century’s steam engine, the internet, has created the social connection that is setting the stage for radical change in architecture. The internet has allowed instant, direct and free connection and our culture is empowered to directly reconsider their buildings versus asking architects what to do

In Connecticut there are shoots of invention that will bear fruit planted by this new time of change. Formed in June 2020, Desegregate Connecticut is a new group that connects social need to how our communities connect or separate us. During the pandemic, the Connecticut American Institute of Architects exploded its connections between women architects and young architects and has stepped into publication of architect’s work, signaling the ending of the era of national paper magazines that were received in the mail from a distant shore.

I think AI will allow our humanity to emerge, just as the Industrial Revolution freed lives from subsistence farming, isolated cultures and created the financial and intellectual wealth that has made New England a home of great universities and, not surprisingly, architecture. Since architecture always follows our culture and manifests its values, this new Connection Revolution will transform how architects help make buildings.

Duo Dickinson is a Madison-based architect.