The Role of Technology in the Architecture of the 21st Century

James Senibi
6 min readDec 7, 2019


The evolving exponential growth in technology through new applications, products and services, continuous technology innovation, and rapidly changing economics are motivating the creation of a fundamentally new architecture for the 21st century. Traditional architectural business models, delivery methods and systems of communication have been oriented toward meeting exacting requirements and achieving well-defined but finite deliverables and hence services, with well-known and well-defined parameters. As a result, these architecture delivery systems and methodologies have been rather limiting as it has become difficult to scale services and capabilities across projects while significantly improving quality, convenience and reduce time over the years.

The challenges that affects architecture as a result of continual evolution of technology have made it expedient to replace traditional rigid designs and design systems with ones that aligns with the trendiness of the modern world. New technology enables Architecture to cater for increasing demand for services — and products, through increased capacity; and certainly more capacity is required. However, high capacity alone does not guarantee high performance, and high performance capability certainly does not guarantee required flexibility. Either way digital technology, evolving positively on all fronts in the 21st century architecture has been acknowledged, is growing rapidly and provides for a foundation infrastructure that can be dynamically integrated and used. This infrastructure can be considered a programmable platform that can support many more services than traditional deployments, including highly differentiated and deterministic services[1].

Technology & 21st Century Architecture

Technology has classified and transformed the Global Village. Just 20 years ago, information search through the internet was non-existent, social networks with phones likewise, and 5 years ago “tweets” came from cartoon characters. Now there have been advances in technology not limited to healthcare, education, science, commerce, government, defense, and entertainment. In architecture, there have been concrete evidence to suggest that technology innovation within the field is constantly accelerating: a few examples have been seen through Computer Aided Design (CAD) et al (this will be discussed further). Striking benefits of technology can be seen in achieving complexities in building forms; increasing coordination amongst professionals; cost-saving design and contract methodologies; and tele-presence to reduce the greenhouse gases spent on commuting geared towards sustainability. Future applications will increasingly require processing large, heterogeneous data sets (“Big Data”), using distributed designs, working within form-factor constraints, and reconciling rapid deployment with efficient operation.

21st Century architecture is usually termed contemporary architecture although it is not classified under any style. The premise for 21st century architecture is that it aims to use better materials and technologies for better buildings that are fundamentally sustainable. Therefore advances in technology should, and has, brought out advances in Architecture: Complex geometry, astounding heights, structures that defy physics; while still remaining efficient, highly sustainable and durable.

In the last 30 years, and significantly 19 years, there have been rapid developments and advances in hardware, software/applications and networks systems. The costs of basic digital hardware/software have been stabilizing while their power has been increasing, putting basic digital hardware and software within the financial reach of many professionals (and in this case, Architects). These developments were heavily influenced by the economic and social conditions in which they took place, which means that some will continue while others are likely to be challenged or reversed.

Among trends which appear to be ongoing are[1]:

● The number of people with access to the Internet and mobile networks have been increasing and the reach of networks is expanding towards the Global South. The estimated global population of Internet users in June 2010 was 1.97 billion, this figure increases to about 2 billion in 2015 and currently gross at 7.7 billion in 2019[2]. This is a remarkable increase.

● Information is being stored remotely and accessed via networks. The amount of materials available in digital form has been increasing, with more of it available through networks. This will be made even easier by 5G networks.

● Artificial Intelligence, machine learning as a service and its application in all fields including Architecture

● Augmented reality and its application to architecture

The growing technology impact to 21st century architecture has its roots in the innovation period of the Industrial Revolution. This was started through the advent of steel, reinforced concrete, elevators, and so on. This increased the capabilities of modern architectural styles taking advantages of the benefits of the industrial revolution. Now the Digital technology age enables even greater capability for expressions especially through digital information and modes of communication using processes and techniques relevant and integrable to professionals and personnels working in this industry. CATIA remains the most iconic digital technology for designing systems, made by IBM in 1982, and has been extensively used even till today to support the design process. CATIA allowed Frank Gehry to achieve tectonic construction that no Gothic or Baroque mason could ever imagine: the Guggenheim museum; and has been described by Phillip Johnson as the most important building of our time[3].

Technology revolutionary nature, even in architectural design and practice, has expanded its boundaries over the years. Now, we have mainstream Computer Aided Design (CAD), Building Information Modeling (BIM) and its tools, Virtual reality, Augmented reality, 3D printing, technology-assisted contracts like Integrated Project Delivery, Clash detection software, Geographic information system mapping software, Machine learning and artificial intelligence, amongst many others. It has become fascinating and even more, vital to see that all of these technologies are being used in the Architecture industry. These technologies greatly expands capabilities to design and construct infrastructure.

Digital technology provides lots of benefits in the world of Architecture. Technology has transformed the role of the Architect to becoming more broad-based and integrate the building industry to other industries without losing relevance. Roles like sustainability consultants, green architects, visualization experts, building systems designers have become possible due to technology. With digital technology, data and performance can be properly utilized alongside intuition and creativity in architectural design. This is vital to produce the next generation of buildings that can adequate solve key challenges like sustainability, resiliency and even culture in the Global Village. It is also been argued that advancements in technology can help Architects sell their abilities better. Newer visualization and graphics tools like Virtual and Augmented reality improves communication and helps to bridge the world of an architect with the regular world. The storytelling abilities of the architect is greatly improved to persuade and include stakeholders towards achieving a project. Data-driven design, through technology, have enabled buildings to be built to achieve performance metrics, this way efficient common arrangement of works (CAWs) can be implemented using these metrics as guidelines[4].


Social media use web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue, allowing for the creation and exchange of user-generated content and providing a structure for people to get organized and collaborate. Social media also allows for interaction on a global scale, making it possible for users to add content or commentary and to form groups quickly. Similar social tools and platforms include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Houzz et al, and provides benefits in business, coordination, visualization, presentation and networking.

Social media have an impact on the arts from at least three different perspectives: They help bring audiences to architectural competencies by matching content to people who are looking for it; they provide a platform to engage in dialogue and criticism around communities of interest; they give organizations tools to listen to the public and gain feedback on content, methods and systems going forward. Social tools built into CAD programs enable professionals working on projects to quickly and seamlessly share information without having to be together.