Computer Graphics and Architecture: State of the Art and Outlook for the Future


Abstract During the three decades since Ivan Sutherland introduced the Sketchpad system, there has been an outpouring of computer graphics systems for use in architecture. In response to this development, most of the major architectural firms around the world have embraced the idea that computer literacy is mandatory for success. We would argue, however, that most of these recent developments have failed to tap the potential of the computer as a design tool. Instead, computers have been relegated largely to the status of drafting instruments, so that the “D” in CAD stands for drafting rather than design. It is important that future architectural design systems consider design as a continuous process rather than an eventual outcome.The advent of computer graphics technology has had an impact on the architectural profession. Computer graphics has revolutionized the drafting process, enabling the rapid entry and modification of designs. In addition, modeling and rendering systems have proven to be invaluable aids in the visualization process, allowing designers to walk through their designs with photorealistic imagery. Computer graphics systems have also demonstrated utility for capturing engineering information, greatly simplifying the analysis and construction of proposed designs. However, it is important to consider that all of these tasks occur near the conclusion of a larger design process. In fact, most of the artistic and intellectual challenges of an architectural design have already been resolved by the time the designer sits down in front of a computer. In seeking insight into the design process, it is generally of little use to revisit the various computer archives and backups. Instead, it is best to explore the reams of sketches and crude balsa models that fill the trash cans of any architectural studio.In architecture, as in most other fields, the initial success of computerization has been in areas where it frees humans from tedious and mundane tasks. This includes the redrawing of floor plans after minor modifications, the generation of largely redundant, yet subtly different engineering drawings and the generation of perspective renderings.We believe that there is a largely untapped potential for computer graphics as a tool in the earlier phases of the design process. In this essay, we argue that computer graphics might play a larger role via applications that aid and amplify the creative process.