• The CAD Enigma: The Backlash Within Architecture in Africa

Computer Aided Design is an influence that has been flung into every design spectrum through the years culminating in unprecedented levels of heralded growth and advancements in design. Architectural styles of architects like Thomas Hetherwick and Thomas Mayne  may have been an impossible fete without such unprecedented technological savoir faire and as such CAD amid a world so keen to outdo its technology everyday, has an interesting place in the lives of architects and creative urbanists all around the world.Pan African Games Masterplan l Brazzaville l Congo l Democratic Republic of Congo – computer generated concepts

Pan African Games Masterplan l Brazzaville l Congo l Democratic Republic of Congo – computer generated concepts

As a definition Computer Aided Design and Computer-aided architectural design is the use of computer systems to assist in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design. CAD and CAAD software are used to increase the productivity of the designer, improve the quality of design, improve communications through documentation, and to create a database for manufacturing.

 Pan African Games Masterplan l Brazzaville l Congo l Democratic Republic of Congo – computer generated concepts

The operational words in this definition are assist and increase. Therefore these systems are meant to be supportive, a matter of complement and not necessity. Architects should be able to visualise their design and only use these systems to understand and communicate them better.

Some of the advantages of these systems include and are not limited t0:

  • Better visualization of the design, especially for people not accustomed to 2-D drawings.
  • Easier creation of drawings once the model is complete. With a complete model in most 3-D systems, making views is straightforward.
  • Technical drawings may not actually be necessary to get a part in production, in some cases, when you have a 3D model.
  • CAD models can be analysed easier. -Lighting, heat gains and other environmental performance with more accuracy and in less time.
  • Some design changes can be quicker and easier.

Visualization by Paragon Architects

However these benefits acknowledged, such systems can be hampering to creative minds, especially when not well mastered. Having gone through 6years in a design oriented institution in Africa where these systems are more likely than not used in their basic modes I have seen more demerits.  Students and designers tend to take longer and a much slower with high conceptual designs. These often leads to designers settling for what the systems can offer with ease or only what they can draft/model with these systems. High conceptual and complex projects take back seats and only those that are ready to spend time mastering these systems are likely to realize their initial concepts. Some firms also hire specialist to help in realizing these ideas into tangible products.

Mapungubwe Centre-Peter Rich Architects – Devoid of database elements

The creation of databases for design items also limits design. A case of fenestrations in a CAD, a designer selects a predesigned window or door varies its parameters and uses it in his model. This seems very convenient and fast but in the process authenticity of project is lost. Projects are no longer site, cultural or environmental specific as elements are just fished from database and stamped in a model.

Assinie-Mafia-Church_Koffi-Diabaté-Architectes- Design devoid of the CAD database elements and both site, social and cultural specific

Some basic items like window sill that can be greater elements of design are often overlooked and used as standard. However this said some systems allow the designers to design every item but few will follow this approach, as its found time consuming and requires lots of patience.

Old school pencil sketching is one major item that even as technology is embraced and incorporated in design cannot be overlooked in Africa, not now, not yet.

Design Process © Morphosis Architects Kenya

The equilibrium is a tall order but designers and architects in Africa need to think free of these systems, design with physical more interactive models, and use these systems complimentary as communication and analysis tools. Many may find this retrogressive but looked keenly these systems maybe doing more harm than good to design and architecture in Africa and developing world in general.

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mihai chisarau

The case presented here can also be applicable to young students following their studies. I teach CAD at the state University in Romania and face the similar challenges. Students can tend to be contempt with basic operations that seemingly free up some of their time. In reality they make a slower progress into becoming creative minded architects. It is a subject that is of great debate.



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