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The Effects of New Technology

(Previously published Transgression #9, New Zealand Institute of Architects, November 1993.)

A basic understanding of the effects of new technology is critical when implementing new tools. The increasing emphasis on electric technologies is diminishing the importance of physical skills relative to mental skills. In some industries, most notably manufacturing, this directly results in the loss of jobs. In other areas, including architectural practice, the result is a dramatic change in work practices and the skill requirements of the worker. A basic understanding of the effects of technology is vital to optimize the correct implementation of the new tools.

Formula One Motor Racing

An interesting example of the effects of new technology, was demonstrated in a recent interview with Triple World Champion, Formula One, Racing Car Driver (the late) Ayrton Senna:

"Today Formula One is so sophisticated that the computers do most of the driving for you...If you have a clever computer you are in good shape; if you've got a monkey one you're in trouble. The input from the man, or the creative aspects of the driver, is only third or fourth in importance in determining the final result."

Senna describes how computers control the gear changes, corrects oversteer from excessive acceleration coming out of corners, and automatic suspension controls the ride according to the weight of the car as it varies with fuel load.

The Opportunity for Change

Technology changes the relationship of the user and the task at hand. As with all change, a previously accepted value is diminished and an opportunity is gained.

Formula One Motor Racing

In Senna's case, he represents the classic, but all-too-common, negative attitude to change. He quickly identifies what is lost (the demise in emphasis on his personal skills), but fails to recognize what is gained (a faster and safer car).


For the architect, a similar scenario is evident in the use of computers for the generation of presentation drawings. Typically, computer drawings are shunned in favour of the more traditional water-colour, air-brush, and pencil renderings. Clearly, the computer drawing does not possess the same aesthetic qualities of the sketch. But what is gained is the opportunity to make architectural images more realistic.

Raising the Standards

Essentially the basis of all technology is to extend the capabilities of man.

Formula One Motor Racing

For Senna, the liberation from dealing with 'technical matters' frees his mind to concentrate on other things; i.e. finding new ways to go even faster! For instance, by freeing him from changing gears, he may now have that extra split second that allows him to take an even faster line through a corner. This effectively increases the level of competition. The further spread of this technology then flows down to the next affordable level and a greater number of drivers are able to compete at the former exclusive level of Formula One racing.


In architecture, the current preference for the hand-drawn sketch over the computer-drawn model is so prevalent, computer software has been created to "add life to computer drawings." Yet this approach fails to acknowledge that new technology raises the standard of practice. Previously, the use of a freehand sketch was sufficient to demonstrate the building concept. The fuzziness of the linework, the cross-hatched corners and the varying texture of the drawn mark, combined to present a pleasing aesthetic and an acceptable level of information.

In contrast, when this same amount of information is presented in a computer drawing and the lack of precision is eliminated, the original sketch is transformed into the dull and lifeless. This is because the linework has been stripped of its aesthetic embellishment. The bare-bones, or basic structure, of the sketch is all that remains. To make the computer drawing 'come to life', is not a matter of reverting to the inefficiencies of past practices, ie. making it less precise, but by using the advantages of the computer to make it more precise and more detailed. The secret is to raise the standard!

The computer allows the user to raise the standard of presentation drawings through the use of: accurate perspective modelling; the application of thousands of different colours; elaborate and realistic shading of reflective and non-reflective surfaces; and the addition of realistic trees, cars and people. The fully animated tour of the proposed building further diminishes the value of the humble sketch.

A Shift in Value

The application of new technology effectively shifts the emphasis from certain skills, in favour of new work practices. Therefore, the value of skills alters - what was previously valuable in one era is not necessarily valuable in another.

Formula One Motor Racing

The changing technologies in the Formula One racing car, change the ratio of skills, however subtly, necessary to win Grand Prix races. For example, the elimination of gear changes, obviously eliminates this skill from the drivers' repertoire. Senna is understandably disappointed by this shift, since it has taken him many years to hone his current skills to their present level.


The shift in skills required in the emerging, computer based, architectural office can be witnessed in the creation of a perspective rendering. To create an appropriate hand-drawn 3D sketch requires some knowledge of the principles of perspective. Rendering may also require the physical skill of using water-colours, pencils and an air-brush.

Alternatively, a computer drawn version merely requires the ability to interact with the software to describe the 3D form. No knowledge of perspective drawing is needed to create the image and the shadows can also be created automatically by the computer. Consequently, very little specialized rendering skill is needed. It is even possible, with the help of scanned images, to add the extras, such as motor cars and people, without drawing anything! Ironically, a photo-realistic computer image requires less physical skill than a hand-drawn, semi-real rendering.

Like the horse that previously pulled the cart, the skills of the hand-drawn perspective renderer will be put out to pasture, as the efficiencies of the new technologies allows more people to perform a 'better' job, quicker and easier.


In this article we have discussed 3 specific effects of new technology:
1 Technology creates change which provides opportunities.
2 Technology raises the previously accepted standard.
3 Technology creates a shift in values.

In simple terms, these effects of technology are changing work practices in all industries. If you are not working within this framework, your competitors may be gaining a greater benefit from the available technology, and therefore an advantage in the marketplace.

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