Coding in Architecture: 4 Reasons Why Architects Should Learn to Code
It's no longer enough just to know AutoCAD and BIM. The more the architectural and engineering worlds are becoming immersed in technology, the more architects need to learn the language of computers—which means every architect needs to become a coding architect.
Coding for architects may, at present, simply be a good feather to have in your cap as an architect, the thing that tips the scales in getting a good job at a prestigious firm. But we're in the digital age. Drafting tables went out of vogue when computer-aided drafting came along. Similarly, architects will need to learn to code to stay competitive.
Why Should Architects Learn to Code?
The primary reason why architects should learn to code is to grow their value in the field. It's not a fundamental skill, but it's an important one. Architectural programming can help you grow your skills and expand your career in many ways.
Master Design Software
Coding is like getting under the hood of design software. You can tinker around and get it to do things the program normally wouldn't, like automating repetitive processes or integrating other software programs for better performance.
Typically, design tools use complex automation algorithms and routines that few professionals ever get to understand. Learning to code as an architect helps you understand exactly how these algorithms work and how they affect design geometry and patterns.
When you learn to code as an architect, you get the power to add new features that perform particular tasks. Even the most advanced architectural design software may not meet some unique needs. But knowing the inner workings of the software can help you customise it for your niche; this is vital for any architect's career development.
The sum of these capabilities allows you to work outside the limitations of common design tools. Moreover, it gives you control because you know:
- Exactly what to expect
- How to manipulate various routines
- How to tailor the program so that you can become truly original and express your unique style in your designs
Achieve Maximum Efficiency
There's something about learning to code as an architect that instantly improves your productivity, creativity, and quality of work. It's one benefit of coding that provides instant payoffs in an architect's skills development and day-to-day performance.
Let's say you need to make a few subtle changes to tens of designs—like door numbers in a large project. A few lines of code could help you get the job done in less than an hour. That’s far better than taking hours of mind-numbing work to change them manually.
Programming skills can even help you comply with building codes; in fact, you can program some of them into your software to make the design process faster and easier.
Coding for Architects Is a Vital Tool
Creating architectural designs on CAD tools creates its own set of problems, usually due to software limitations or lack of experience.
Once you get some coding skills, you'll have the tools to overcome many of the usual problems the average architect or engineer would struggle with. That's why programming software comes with a command line for simple problem-solving.
Many design tools are open source and come with their own application programming interfaces (APIs). That means you can get into their source code for complex tasks such as automation, creating parametric objects (like furniture and windows), and importing BIM elements like escalators from manufacturers.
This skill has a real-world impact on the cost and implementation of projects, which can help accelerate an architect's career development.
Learn Algorithmic Thinking
Architects are conceptual thinkers—the job calls for it. Right-brain thinking is necessary for creativity, intuition, and problem-solving, but sometimes you require a different approach.
Coding requires algorithmic (logical) thinking— that is, an objective step-by-step thinking process. This kind of thinking can be extremely useful to a coding architect, especially on engineering problems that require a more rigorous and objective type of thinking.
For example, modern building design requires enhanced technical thinking to incorporate green energy technology and reduce each carbon footprint. This type of architectural skills development is becoming increasingly necessary in the modern world.
Integrate Data Into Architectural Design
Data-driven design is one of the most powerful revolutions in architecture. For example, following the 2019 pandemic, hospitals and various public facilities needed and will continue to need design changes that help them handle similar large-scale epidemics.
Data also applies when designing buildings to overcome environmental challenges such as climate change, earthquakes, and flooding. This kind of design requires the use of data analysis to derive technical insights and design solutions.
However, the complex sets of data required to do this work require coding skills, especially the use of high-level languages like Python. A coding architect can integrate these complex elements into existing CAD tools.
Design for the Future
Programming plays a vital role in futuristic building design. Environmental factors like green energy and natural light are becoming increasingly important in building design. Changes in technology, such as smart homes, also demand new ways of design.
These kinds of innovations require technically sound architects who can help usher in the future. In the next few decades, programming will likely become a requirement for an architect's career development.
Is an Architect Learning to Code Worth the Time and Money?
Yes! A coding architect can find and exploit highly lucrative opportunities within and even outside the industry. Architects with good programming skills are rare, and they command high salaries.
Plus, programming is a powerful skill for architects that you can use immediately to advance your craft, create better and more original designs, and grow your career to great heights. Here are some of the benefits of learning to code as an architect.
1. Get More Creative and Original With Designs
Design tools are restrictive by nature. Unlike hand sketching, for example, using CAD tools can stifle creativity and imagination. But a coding architect can break free of these constraints and explore architectural forms that often require an understanding of complex CAD algorithms.
Programming skills allow architects to be truly original and stand out in the field by creating exceptional work, which opens up opportunities for bigger and more lucrative projects.
2. Gain an Edge Over Colleagues
Coding is a bit like writing. Everyone can conjure up words and sentences, but few people become best-selling authors. When you learn to code as an architect, you gain a crucial advantage over those who are content with surface-level expertise.
For example, learning how to use data science to optimise building designs is a sought-after skill when designing buildings with enhanced performance, carbon neutrality, and enhanced wellness for occupants. Coding architects with these kinds of skills are extremely valuable to clients and to the world.
3. Diversify Your Skills
Learning programming languages like C# and Python can instantly open up a new vista of opportunities. Coding and design require the same kind of abstract thinking, and many architects can become highly proficient at programming with the right effort.
A skilled coding architect can diversify into fields like software development and software design, which typically pay better. Traditionally, architecture doesn't pay very well, and creating a reputation in the industry can be difficult.
Coding pays very well, and programming skills are in high demand. Even if you're currently employed, learning to code can be a useful fall-back plan for the future.
4. Coding Training Is Affordable
Even a three-month commitment to learning coding can revolutionise your work as an architect. If you're looking to gain in-depth programming and software engineering skills, however, you might need to invest time and money to go to school.
On the other hand, a coding architect is likely to get high-paying work either as a freelancer or at architectural firms.
What Programming Language Should Architects Learn?
You can learn numerous programming languages, but some are more suitable for architectural and engineering design than others. For example, Revit's programming extension, called Dynamo, is purpose-built for BIM design.
On the other hand, if you want to become a software developer, you might want to learn Java or C#. The language you choose to learn will depend on what you want to do and the level of proficiency you need to do it.
Grasshopper is one of the most common programming languages for architects. It's a visual programming language that creates 3D geometry simply by dragging components onto a canvas. The inputs of these components can then be used in subsequent designs, which is a very useful feature for parametric modelling in architecture and structural engineering.
For example, you can use this software to analyse lighting performance, a building’s eco-friendliness, and energy consumption.
Python is one of the most popular programming languages in the world, thanks to its simplified syntax that makes learning and using it very easy. It is also supported by a vast ecosystem of libraries and packages and is a powerful tool for customising architectural designs.
For a coding architect, Python is perfect for creating scripts used for parametric designs and other demanding applications. It can also be used alongside other design tools like Grasshopper, Autodesk Dynamo, and Rhino.
Languages like Python focus on simplified syntax, which can impede performance and versatility. On the other hand, C# is a more powerful language that supports object-oriented programming. It's the difference between building with bricks and making your own bricks (C#).
Although Revit is not a programming language in itself, it's a household name in BIM. You can get so much more out of Revit when it’s enhanced with code, especially since it works with 10+ programming languages.
Learning Revit allows you to understand how the software conceptualises buildings. From there, there's virtually nothing you can't do with it, including automation for complex projects. It also helps you visualise building data in BIM models, a useful architect skills development when incorporating technical elements like elevators and escalators.
Rhino is another standard 3D modelling tool for architects, designers, and engineers. It's a vital tool when designing free-form roofs, parametric facades, repetitive components, and highly complex structures.
Just like Revit, Rhino is not actually a programming language but instead is a CAD software. The Grasshopper scripting language was developed for Rhino by Robert McNeil & Friends, the creator of Rhino.
Rhino's use of free-form surface modelling (as opposed to polygon meshing) makes it a particularly powerful tool that can drive the career development of a coding architect.
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