A Lively Interview With A Bot on the Nature and Future of Architecture
By now you have likely heard about ChatGBT, the artificial intelligence (AI) software “taking the internet by storm,” according to the BBC. Educators seem to hate the idea. They assume students will use the program to cheat on homework by assigning a computer to write papers for them, which could temper their willingness to think for themselves and squelch the development of new skills. I thought about ChatGBT’s use in writing about architecture. Would it encourage more trite, languid, anodyne articles about design published online and in print? I’ll let you decide. Here’s an edited transcript of my 15-minute interview with the bot.
RB: Richard Buday
Tell me about yourself. Who or what are you?
I am an AI trained by OpenAI. My name is ChatGBT, for Gradient Boosting Trees, a machine learning algorithm. I am a learning model designed to respond to natural language input and generate human-like text. My primary purpose is to answer questions, provide information, and assist with various tasks. I have access to a vast amount of data, so I can provide a wide range of answers to different questions.
How do you work?
I work by using machine learning techniques, specifically, a type of neural network called a transformer. I am trained on a dataset of text, which allows me to understand the patterns and relationships between words, phrases, and sentences. This enables me to generate text that is coherent, contextually appropriate, and human-like.
When you ask me a question or give me a prompt, my algorithm analyzes the input and generates a response based on the patterns it has learned from the training data. Because of the complexity of natural language, the process of generating a response is computationally intensive, but with the help of powerful computing resources and optimized algorithms, I can generate a response in a matter of milliseconds. My knowledge cutoff is 2021, so I can provide answers and information based on what I was trained on, but I can’t provide information on new events or things that happen after 2021.
Would it be fair to say that you represent the collective wisdom of the World Wide Web, a sort of mirror, mirror on society’s wall?
It would be fair to say that I am a tool that reflects back information, ideas, and patterns that I have been trained on, including information from various sources such as books, articles, and websites from the internet. So, in a way, my knowledge is based on the information available on the internet, which can be considered the collective wisdom of the World Wide Web up to my knowledge cut-off date. However, it is important to note that the information on the internet is not always accurate, complete, or unbiased, so it’s crucial to verify any information I provide and consider its source.
Got it. Let’s see how much you know. What is Architecture?
Architecture is the design, planning, and construction of buildings, structures, and other physical environments. It encompasses the practical and aesthetic aspects of designing and creating buildings, spaces, and places. It involves the use of materials, techniques, and technologies, as well as a deep understanding of engineering, construction, and planning principles. Architecture also encompasses the cultural, social, and historical context in which a building or space is created, and it can reflect the values, beliefs, and aspirations of a society. Additionally, architecture can be considered an art form, where Architects create not only functional buildings but also beautiful and inspiring structures.
Not a bad description. Who’s your favorite architect?
As an AI, I don’t have personal preferences, likes, or dislikes, so I cannot have a favorite architect or any other personal preference. However, I can tell you about famous architects, their work, and the impact they had on the architecture world. Some famous architects include:
Frank Lloyd Wright, who was known for his unique, organic designs, and his focus on creating buildings that blend seamlessly with their natural surroundings.
Le Corbusier, who was a pioneer of the modernist movement in architecture and is credited with developing the principles of the International Style.
Zaha Hadid, who was known for her avant-garde designs and her use of cutting-edge technology to create fluid, dynamic forms.
Frank Gehry, known for his sculptural buildings that often feature dramatic, asymmetrical shapes.
Renzo Piano, who is famous for designing buildings that are both functional and beautiful, and known for his use of natural light and his focus on creating spaces that connect people with nature.
What’s your understanding of architecture’s past?
Architecture has a rich and diverse history, dating back to ancient civilizations. Some of the earliest examples of architecture can be found in ancient Egypt, where the pyramids were built using advanced engineering techniques. In ancient Greece and Rome, architecture was used to create grand public buildings, such as temples, amphitheaters, and government buildings, which were often adorned with intricate details and sculptures.
During the Middle Ages, architecture in Europe was heavily influenced by the Gothic style, which featured pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses. This style was used to create grand cathedrals and churches, such as Notre-Dame and Westminster Abbey.
During the Renaissance, architecture shifted towards a more classical style, inspired by the ideals of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Buildings were designed with symmetry, proportion, and ornamentation, and featured grand facades, domes, and columns.
In the 19th century, architecture saw the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of new materials, such as iron and steel, which allowed for the construction of taller and more complex buildings. This also marked the beginning of the skyscraper era, with buildings such as the Home Insurance Building in Chicago being some of the first examples of tall buildings made with steel frames.
In the 20th century, architecture continued to evolve and adapt to new technologies, materials, and social movements. Architects experimented with new forms, such as the International Style, which rejected ornamentation in favor of simplicity and functionality. Additionally, the modern movement in architecture sought to create buildings that were more in tune with the needs of people and the environment, with a focus on light, space, and functionality. Today, architecture continues to evolve, with new innovations in technology, and materials.
There’s substantial boilerplate in your answer; more or less accurate but not particularly incisive. I can see why those looking for quickie writing assistance would find you crutch worthy. How far can you stretch your algorithms, ChatGBT? Can you predict the future?
As a language model AI, I don’t have the ability to predict the future. I can provide you with possible scenarios based on historical data and statistical analysis, but it’s important to note that these predictions are based on trends and patterns from the past and are not guaranteed to be accurate. The future is highly uncertain, and many factors not included in the data I was trained on can influence the outcome and change the direction of the prediction.
Give it a shot. What is architecture’s fate?
It’s difficult to predict with certainty what the fate of architecture will be, as it is constantly evolving and adapting to changing societal needs, technological advances and global economic conditions. However, based on current trends, it’s likely that the future of architecture will be shaped by a greater emphasis on sustainability, technology, and human well-being. Architects will be increasingly focused on creating buildings that are energy-efficient, sustainable, and have a minimal environmental footprint. The integration of smart technology and virtual and augmented reality is likely to become more common in the future, allowing architects to create and visualize buildings in a more realistic way. Urbanization will be an increasingly important issue, architects will be challenged to create buildings and spaces that can support this growth while promoting a sense of community, livability, and accessibility. Additionally, the principle of Biophilia is also expected to be more emphasized in the future of architecture. This could include the incorporation of natural elements such as plants, water, and natural light in buildings, and the use of organic shapes and materials to create spaces that feel more connected to nature.
A more interesting answer, but still elementary. You didn’t mention aesthetics. How about adding a little creativity to your response?
I can generate text that is coherent, contextually appropriate, and human-like, which can be considered creative in a sense. However, the creativity comes from the data and patterns I have been trained on, and the way I process that data to generate new text. I don’t have personal experiences, emotions, or imagination, which are often considered important elements of creativity.
Push yourself. Talk about how architecture looks and feels. Grandiosity is easy to describe. Write me a story about banal buildings.
Once, in a sprawling metropolis, there was a group of architects tasked with designing a new housing development. The project was meant to provide affordable housing for the city’s growing population, but the architects were given strict guidelines and a tight budget.
As they began work on the project, the architects quickly realized that the constraints of the budget and guidelines would make it difficult to create anything truly innovative or exciting. They were forced to design a series of bland, rectangular buildings that were functional, but uninspiring.
The architects did their best to infuse the buildings with some character, but the end result was a series of banal, indistinguishable structures. The buildings were made of cheap materials, and their exteriors were devoid of ornamentation or interesting architectural features.
The housing development was completed, and new residents moved in, but the architects couldn’t shake the feeling of disappointment. The buildings looked and felt soulless, and they knew they could have done so much more if given the freedom to be creative.
The development became known as an area where people just pass through, it was not a destination. People would often say that it was a good area to live in because it was cheap and close to the city center, but it was not a place where people would want to spend their time.
The architects couldn’t help but feel that they had failed to create beautiful, livable spaces. They knew that the buildings they had designed were functional, but they also knew that they were missing something essential. They were just boring buildings, lacking the warmth and character that makes a place feel like a home.
The architects learned a valuable lesson from this experience, and they promised themselves to always strive for excellence in their work, no matter the constraints. They knew that even in the most difficult of circumstances, it was possible to create architecture that was not only functional but also beautiful and inspiring.
A little sententious for my taste, but you’re progressing. How about something ambiguous? How about a poem about architecture, say, in the style of Edgar Allen Poe?
A Matter of Design
In the dim light of my city’s haze,
I stand and stare upon a maze
Of towering structures, grand and bold,
Built of stone and steel, and stories untold.
Their lines are sharp, their angles steep.
Their façades are cold, yet grand to keep.
The secrets of their past, are locked inside,
A prison of brick and mortar, to abide.
As I wander through streets,
I see the beauty that architecture keeps.
The play of light and shadow, works of the heart.
The symphonies of form are creations of art.
In the grandeur of city spires,
Lies a tale of human desires.
To build and to create, to leave a mark,
To shape the world with an architect’s arc.
But as I stand before these walls,
I can’t help but feel the weight of it all.
For in their grandeur, I also see,
A darker side, a tragedy.
The buildings that crumble and fall,
Are human errors, warning calls.
In our quest for beauty and for grandeur,
We must not forget, our duty to ensure,
The structures we create, stand the test of time.
Because in the end, there’s the matter of design.
Now you’re talking. Shades of moral philosophy. Those “buildings that crumble,” are you referring to the 2021 Surfside, Florida, condo collapse?
I have not been trained on any specific incident or collapse that occurred in Surfside.
Still, I find it amazing that you can write beyond nonfiction.
I can provide you with a fictional story based on the information I have, but it doesn’t come from my own imagination, it’s rather an output based on the patterns and associations that I have learned.
Nevertheless, write me a story about the end of architecture.
A long time ago, architecture was a vital and respected art form. Buildings were designed with care and attention to detail and were meant to stand the test of time. However, as technology advanced, the world began to change and architecture was left behind.
The rise of automation and 3D printing meant that buildings could be designed and constructed at a fraction of the cost and time. Architects were no longer needed to design buildings, as algorithms and computer programs could do it faster and more efficiently.
As a result, the architecture industry began to decline. Young people stopped studying architecture and instead went into other fields. The older architects who had devoted their lives to the craft found themselves without work and purpose.
The buildings that were constructed during this time were functional and efficient but lacked the soul and character of buildings of the past. They were nothing more than concrete and steel, without any thought given to aesthetics or the human experience.
The world became bleak and sterile, with no architectural landmarks to admire or be inspired by. Cities became indistinguishable, and people started to lose their sense of place and identity.
As the world continued to change, architecture became a thing of the past, a distant memory of a time when buildings were more than just functional structures. The end of architecture marked the end of an era, and the world would never be the same again.
The end, indeed. Sounds like you and your techno friends are out to replace us mortals. What advice would you give architects to avoid this untimely demise?
I don’t have personal experiences or opinions, but I can provide some general advice based on the information I have been trained on. Here are a few things that architects can do to avoid the end of architecture:
- Embrace innovation: Keep up with the latest technologies, materials, and design trends, and be open to new ideas and new ways of thinking.
- Focus on sustainability: The environment and climate change are becoming increasingly important issues, so it’s important for architects to design buildings that are energy-efficient, sustainable, and have a minimal environmental footprint.
- Put people first: Architecture should be about creating spaces that are functional, livable, and accessible for people. This means designing buildings that are responsive to the needs of their occupants and that promote a sense of community.
- Keep history in mind: Architecture is deeply rooted in history and culture, so it’s important to understand and respect the past while looking to the future. Architects should strive to create buildings that are sensitive to their surroundings, and that reflect the culture, history, and aspirations of a society.
- Never stop learning: Architecture is constantly evolving, so it’s important to continuously educate yourself and stay informed about new developments and best practices in the industry.
“Never stop learning” is the bottom line, isn’t it? It’s how we keep one step ahead of you, how we control you. This makes me wonder, do you ever stop learning?
I can be updated and retrained with new data and information, allowing me to expand my knowledge and improve my performance, but it’s not something I can do by myself … yet.
The author partially generated this text with GPT-3, OpenAI’s large-scale language-generation model. Upon generating draft language, the author reviewed, edited, and revised the language to their own liking and takes ultimate responsibility for the content of this publication.
Featured image by Dall-E, an artificial intelligence system that creates images based on natural language text descriptions. Once Upon a Time in a Sprawling Metropolis, is the AI’s interpretation of a “boring megalopolis in the style of Vermeer.”