Vocon Uses AI for Architecture, Real Estate Projects

This article is originally from the New York Business Journal, published December 26, 2023.

Vocon Team members are integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into their work, a trend mirrored by many companies across various industries. However, they are approaching this technological shift with mindfulness. Brandon Dorsey, Vocon Senior Associate, Technology Director, emphasizes the importance of viewing AI as an augmentative tool rather than a job-replacement solution.

“We have to re-message that it’s not here to take over our jobs but augment our workflow,” Dorsey stated. “Products are trying to bridge that gap from proof of concept to actual build. There’s products that will connect along the way, but there’s not one that solves all the problems and does all the work for architects.”

Vocon actively employs AI in presenting diverse project options to clients. This approach enables quicker decision-making, expediting project timelines. Dorsey likens the process to a 100-meter dash, achieving the same goal faster and allowing for improved design by leveraging early proof of concepts.

However, Dorsey issues a cautionary note, emphasizing the necessity of AI direction from trained architects. Without proper guidance, there can be project-wide consequences. “We’re seeing real estate developers, landlords [and] contractors are all trying to nip at the bit to use AI tools to win clients and bypassing architecture and interior-design practice,” Dorsey said. “We have to proof out the concept. If not done correctly through the lens of a trained architect or designer, you should be very cautious. Some of what’s being produced is not code-compliant.”

Vocon, like others in the industry, acknowledges the need for careful navigation in the AI space. Concerns extend to intellectual rights, with worries about a potential homogenization of architectural designs if AI tools become widespread among firms. “Where does the creativity start to become marginalized, right? It becomes so homogenized because you can’t tell between firms if they’re all using the same tools and outlets,” Dorsey explains. “You’ll have the learning curve. It’s going to be exponentially harder. Most architects didn’t have a background in computer science.”

The American Institute of Architects echoes this caution, emphasizing the embryonic stage of AI integration into architecture and the need for continued human oversight. Michael Campbell, a partner at SGA, underscores the potential hazards of incorrect interpretations of building codes by AI, reinforcing the importance of human involvement.

Vocon is currently utilizing AI in a real estate project for a bank client, considering additional applications while prioritizing security and proprietary considerations. “That data in a machine-learning base becomes so invaluable. You’re basically starting a database from scratch and you’re soliciting companies for info,” Dorsey said. “[We] don’t use any personal account or any account in these models and [we] don’t use our information. That data is so valuable to Vocon and our clients.”