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Director Future Cities Project

Over the last 20 years, the computer has altered how the architectural profession designs, tests and even builds buildings. From 2-D drawing packages to virtual fly-throughs; from Just-in-Time fabrication data to document management, the computer has undoubtedly opened up new possibilities. But it’s so ubiquitous that celebrating ‘the computer’, per se, is not enough. It can also seem to downplay architects’ creative autonomy and that’s not my intention.

However, it was when I first saw a primitive rapid prototyping device on BBC’s Tomorrow’s World in the early 80s, that I realised that this was the future. Even more exciting than holography, this was a means of inputting data from a computer drawing, which could be turned into a real, live three-dimensional model before your very eyes. By directing a laser into a tank of photopolymer, a 3-D screen image can be transformed into a solid replica.

Its first commercial application is now just 20 years old this year and it is still in its infancy: slow, uneconomic but utterly remarkable. Nowadays, stereolithography or laser sintering, can transform an image into a physical object using cheaper and more accessible machines. The potential for architects and engineers to test out ideas, and explore what elements will look like is exciting enough. The scope for creating the very object - or the whole building - rather than a scale model, is something I may have to wait another 20 years for.