Architectural Outlook for 2019

Trends that are helping to shape the future of architecture.

From drones to interactive wall paint, technology is transforming the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry, bringing new efficiencies and cost savings as well as altering the landscape of residential design. As we look ahead to 2019, let’s take a closer look at how these trends are impacting the sector.

Drones Are Changing How AEC Professionals Design and Operate

Drone usage in both architectural and construction firms is on the upswing. According to a 2016 Goldman Sachs report, businesses and civil governments expect to spend $13 billion on drones between now and 2020. Because of their ease in accessing difficult-to-reach places, drones have proven to be a useful tool in architectural surveying, providing a new way for architects and clients to visualize how the finished product will look in the landscape. Mapping, which used to take a month or more, can now be done in minutes, making projects more efficient and accurate. According to, data collected by drones can completely eliminate the need for hiring land surveyors to do topographic surveys. Instead, architects can use this information to build precise 3D models of the landscape and site and import them directly into drafting and modeling software. For construction firms, drones offer a bird’s-eye view of job sites, helping them to monitor the sites, report progress and conduct safety inspections, while providing real-time information that allows companies to troubleshoot issues. While drones have not yet been used to build actual buildings, some experimentation has already taken place. In 2012, Swiss architecture firm Gramazio Kohler Architects, roboticist Raffaello D’Andrea, and ETH Zurich came together to program a fleet of drones to lift and stack thousands of polystyrene bricks at the FRAC Centre in Orléans, France.

One obstacle to drone use in the AEC industry has been government regulation. However, a collaboration between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and private industry called Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) has been beta testing throughout 2018. A milestone in the development of commercial drone applications, LAANC directly supports the integration of drones into the airspace. With LAANC, commercial drone operators who have a Part 107 license will be able to get FAA approval for their flights in near real-time—in essence, opening 99 percent of the national airspace for drone business.

Smart Homes Are on the Rise

Consumer acceptance of smart homes, those that use control and automation of lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, security, home appliances and communications, is on the rise. According to Statista, revenue in the smart home market is expected to show a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) between 2018 and 2022 of about 16 percent, resulting in a market volume of $37,262m by 2022. The smart home influence allows architects more flexibility to incorporate transformative housing features. Architecture, Art and Design reports that since smart homes are based on wireless infrastructures, architects are adapting by reducing the visibility of outlets and switches, making their designs less dependent on wiring restrictions. Rather than one room being the focal point, the ability for home features to be controlled from any location with mobile devices also allows architects to make spaces more open and accessible, providing more room-to-room integration. New developments continue to expand the smart home space and its implications for the AEC industry. For example, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and Disney are using conductive paint to transform walls into smart surfaces that can sense human touch, detect gestures and detect when appliances are used. Using the paint and an electromagnetic sensor, users will be able to adjust room brightness or track use of electric appliances, changing any room into an interactive space. According to CMU assistant professor Chris Harrison, "As the Internet of Things and ubiquitous computing become reality, it is tempting to think that walls can become active parts of our living and work environments.”

Forecast for 2019

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) predicts that nonresidential construction spending will continue to grow in 2019. Their forecasts have been marked up to 4.7 percent growth in spending for this year and an additional 4.0 percent in 2019. According to AIA’s chief economist, Kermit Baker, “If these projections materialize, by the end of next year the industry will have seen nine years of consecutive growth, and total spending on nonresidential buildings will be 5 percent greater—ignoring inflationary adjustments—than the last market peak of 2008.”

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever.