Op-ed: How can architecture firms adjust to the future of hybrid work?

Jack In

Op-ed: How can architecture firms adjust to the future of hybrid work?

A rendering of Beijing Century City by Kohn Pedersen Fox (Courtesy of KPF)

From reimagining city spaces to designing sustainable buildings, architecture firms and designers are tackling complex projects while navigating the remote workplace.

But as we slowly return to what work life used to be before the pandemic, many of us have already adapted to a hybrid work environment. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), 87 percent of U.S. enterprises expect their employees to continue working from home three or more days per week by 2024 once offices reopen to in-person work.

For architects and engineering professionals, there are various advanced tools and technologies that have helped them adapt to a hybrid workplace—one that allows them to work from the office, at home, or on-site. And today, it’s more than just technology that’s shaping how the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry will work post-pandemic.

There are three trends that will transform how AEC professionals approach hybrid work: flexibility, real-time collaboration, and immersive environments.

Flexibility For The Evolving Workplace

Today, design teams need the flexibility to work from different locations. Whether working in the office or on the go, architects, designers, and engineers need powerful compute solutions that allow them to seamlessly work on projects from wherever they are.

To maintain high levels of productivity and efficiency, professionals need smooth interaction with their 3D design and visualization software tools, fast photorealistic renders of their models, and the ability to iterate quickly on visualizations. For AEC professionals working with advanced design software products, it’s critical that they have a powerful system to achieve a smooth workflow.

Professionals can also use virtual machines (VM), which deliver full desktops or applications from the data center to any device, so users don’t need a high-powered physical workstation to get their work done. GPU-accelerated VMs provide a user experience that is virtually indistinguishable from a physical workstation.

International design firm HKS, which is known for its award-winning architectural and interior design projects, has 27 locations across the globe. To keep up with design projects, HKS was looking to enhance worldwide team collaboration by using virtual workstations. VMs delivered a high-end experience for users working with 3D applications, and it enabled the global team to collaborate on large-scale design projects in real-time.

Architects and teams can leverage the simplicity and flexibility of virtual workstations in the cloud for design projects. New users are supported quickly, and instances can be deprovisioned just as quickly, so AEC firms only need to pay for what they need. Users can run graphics-intensive applications, such as CAD, simulation, and rendering all in the cloud.

An architect on a laptop exploring a building in VR
Could better VR integration help architects adjust to a hybrid work environment? Lenovo seems to think so, as evidenced by this rendering (Courtesy Lenovo)

Real-Time, Virtual Collaboration

Since AEC project teams are often geographically dispersed, it’s challenging for architects, designers, and engineers to work together efficiently on complex designs. Collaboration and communication become even more challenging when clients are brought in for design reviews.

Teams need a solution that helps them work simultaneously in a shared virtual environment, from anywhere in the world.

For architecture firm Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF), the planning process for initial concept designs requires extensive inclusivity and feedback from various stakeholders. Collaboration is important in KPF’s design process, and the teams often have collaborative sessions with clients so they can participate and interact during design reviews. KPF also has over 700 employees around the world, with different teams working on projects across multiple locations.

By working inside a realistic, 3D virtual environment, KPF was able to accelerate collaborative workflows while maintaining the necessary computational resources to render high-resolution designs. Using a shared virtual space and cloud-based streaming, KPF could easily render and visualize photorealistic designs, and still edit them in real-time, rapidly accelerating the design cycle. Having the content and designs in one virtual space allows KPF to enhance collaboration, boost production workflows and save time on design projects.

The Growth of Immersive Environments

Virtual and augmented reality have proven their value in the AEC industry. Viewing 3D digital models in a realistic, virtual environment brings significant advantages to design and visualization workflows.

Architects and designers working on state-of-the-art buildings are constantly creating beautiful designs without seeing a physical model. Now extended reality (XR) environments enable professionals to immersively experience their designs and meet virtually inside the building model.

With XR experiences, professionals and their clients can view what a specific floor will look like or play with lighting to simulate what a room would look like at a particular time of day. Users can even enter an XR environment to see how the building would react in an earthquake or natural disaster. From the latest headsets to accelerated streaming tools, advanced XR technologies will allow AEC professionals to more intuitively experience building designs and visualize a multitude of materials and surfaces in various lighting conditions.

Immersive solutions help teams around the world stream high-quality XR experiences to low-cost, low-powered mobile devices anywhere in the world, while maintaining the high-quality experience traditionally reserved for high-performance computers.

Organizations and professionals in the AEC industry are constantly looking for ways to enhance design workflows, maintain productivity and produce stunning, innovative designs. With the right technology, architects and designers can easily keep up with the demands of design workflows, while having the flexibility and performance they need to work from anywhere in the world.

Andrew Rink is marketing strategy lead for AEC at NVIDIA