Is architecture’s craft threatened by technology? That was the question 30 years ago when CAD software was adopted widely by small and large firms alike, even if the technology had been around for a couple of decades already. Not everyone was gnashing their teeth over that question—and the opportunity that CAD represented far outweighed the existential threat to hand drawing. Schools of architecture boosted their technology budgets and invested heavily in machines, licenses, servers, and staff, and a sea of monitors flooded studios, flushing out maylines. 

Today, architects still draw—sometimes. 

Today, the craft of architecture is still a potent pursuit, nobley. 

Detailing is still evidence of craft, inarguably. 

Materials still matter, universally. 

So, why is everyone worried about technology again? 

That’s one of the big questions that this year’s Design Forum XVI asks (Apr. 5-6, in Richmond) under the banner of “[Un]Certainty: Reflections on Craft at the Cyber Frontier.” Over two days, attendees will be treated to probing discussions about the future of practical technologies that make design easier, as well as the future of how architecture is made. Can large language models (LLMs) transform materials specification for the better? For the greener? Does empathy differentiate humans from machines? Does it matter? How will future technologies change the studio culture of firms? 

The event’s blue ribbon panel of speakers includes three champions of craft in design—Ted Flato, FAIA, of Lake|Flato; Billie Tsien, AIA, of Tod Willams Billie Tsien Architects; Rick Joy of Studio Rick Joy; and Dwayne Oyler, co-founder of Oyler Wu Collaborative, who will set the stage during the event’s two days by asking what’s certain and uncertain at this frontier of artificial intelligence, ever-more adaptive digital learning models, the ethics of design, and the leadership role architects represent. 

The last biannual Design Forum in 2022, “South is Up!” featured visionary Latin American designers that explored questions of urbanism, ecology, and identity including Chilean architect Cazú Zegers and Colombian architect Viviana Peña. Since 1994, the biannual Virginia Design Forum matches urgent topics with speakers who have challenged and advanced those topics, including Samuel Mockbee, Tod Williams, Kai-Uwe Bergman, Anne Fougeron, Glenn Murcutt, Doris Kim Sung, and many more. 
Please join us for the upcoming 2024 Design Forum XVI on Friday, April 5-Saturday, April 6, 2024 at the Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU in Richmond. Register now!