Issue 3
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
10
PERSPECTIVE
June 17, 2024
We Need More Than Fewer, Better Things
by Deb Chachra
10
PERSPECTIVE
June 3, 2024
An Ode to Garages
by Charlie Weak
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 28, 2024
In Search of Domestic Kintsugi
by Edwin Heathcote
10
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 13, 2024
The Perils of the Landscapes We Make
by Karrie Jacobs
10
PERSPECTIVE
May 6, 2024
Using Simple Tools as a Radical Act of Independence
by Jarrett Fuller
9
PERSPECTIVE
April 29, 2024
Why Can’t I Just Go Home?
by Eva Hagberg
9
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 22, 2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
April 8, 2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
April 1, 2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 25, 2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
March 11, 2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 4, 2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
04.10.2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings

In tweaking visuals made by artificial intelligence, designers “gain awareness of what they actually want,” says architect Jose Luis García del Castillo y López. “In a way, it’s not that different from going to a therapist.”

Architect Jose Luis García del Castillo y López lecturing at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design
Jose Luis García del Castillo y López at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. (Photo: Saurabh Mhatre. Courtesy Harvard University)


The robot apocalypse is nigh—or maybe it isn’t. For months now, one of the liveliest debates on the internet has concerned the increasing sophistication of and prospective world takeover by artificial intelligence, particularly as it relates to artistic pursuits where humans have always exerted sole sway. In the production of text, and even more so of images, platforms such as DALL-E and Stable Diffusion have demonstrated alarming skill at producing reasonable facsimiles of original content, churning out fake movie posters and fake landscape paintings based on nothing but a few text inputs. 

Does this signal the beginning of the end for creativity as an anthropocentric endeavor? Apparently not, according to Jose Luis García del Castillo y López. Born in Spain and trained there as an architect, García del Castillo now serves as a lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. His particular province: AI and its design-world potential. After a promising early-career stint as a designer with a large engineering firm, García del Castillo eventually made the jump into researching, writing, and teaching about design technology, following what can only be described as an intellectual epiphany. “I was at a conference in Barcelona,” he says, “and I said, ‘Screw everything.’ That was my coming-out-of-the-closet moment.”

Since crossing over into the digital world, García del Castillo has advised corporate clients and written lengthy studies (most notably his 2019 Harvard doctoral thesis, “Enactive Robotics: An Action-State Model for Concurrent Machine Control”) on the use of technology in the conception and construction of buildings. And while he’s prepared to entertain worst-case scenarios, the primary gist of his pedagogical project to date has been resoundingly optimistic: don’t fear the bots. “Computer scientist Ted Nelson once said that computers are Rorschach tests,” says García del Castillo. “Whatever you see is what you project on them.” In García del Castillo view, the dire predictions regarding fully automated architects, interior designers, artists, and even—gasp—journalists are not only hyperbolic, but neglect the immense opportunity that AI actually presents, failing to recognize its generative power for design innovation. 

What could that innovation look like? And how can designers harness AI to help produce it? In a recent conversation (conducted by phone—but we checked, he’s human), García del Castillo laid out his vision for the real-life future of synthetic architecture.

Architect Jose Luis García del Castillo y López holding a custom 3D print made by students from one of his computational design courses at Harvard.
García del Castillo holding a custom 3D print made by students from one of his computational design courses at Harvard. (Photo: Guangyu Du and Lucy Lip. Courtesy Harvard University)


“When I started out, I was super into architecture: space, texture, light, all that jazz. But the profession as a day-to-day thing was not what I thought it was going to be—they sell you the dream of being a starchitect, but it’s not that nice. Also, I was just not that good a designer of buildings! I never really enjoyed the studio and I wasn’t happy. 

Then I discovered a culture of people in the design field using computation and computer code for creative purposes. I got really excited about that. I started working weekends, learning stuff, doing seminars, and finally did a Master’s degree in technological innovation. By that point I was already 30. When I told my friends and family I wanted to switch careers, they said, ‘How are you going to give up on architecture now?’ But I wanted to reinvent myself, and so I made my way to Harvard.

My thesis had a very strong human-computer interaction component. What I was trying to explore was how to enhance human creativity by working in partnership with digital agents, and seeing how those agents might make us more expressive. Then, about five years ago, the whole field of AI exploded; these neural networks started coming out, creating images and creating text, and I saw an opportunity to continue that partnership project with simulated robots.

Most robots are pretty subservient, but neural networks have this uncertainty component—which is fascinating, because if you want to enhance creativity, you want to partner with something that sparks curiosity. Some degree of unexpectedness enriches you, and that’s embedded in how these AI networks work.  

What AI is giving us is just one more way to do design. You can design in a void, and whatever you come up with is whatever you find in your own mind. Or you can do it in a team with other humans—brainstorm and share ideas. With AI, it’s pretty similar to the latter. With these neural networks, you write text and it gives you an image. You can use that image just as it is—or it can be an inspiration, something to help you create your own design.

Let’s say I have a brief to design a house in the real world, with some basic parameters: I know my site is this cornfield with a mountain over there, a lake over here. I start punching in prompts—‘house,’ ‘view,’ ‘lake,’ ‘cornfield’—and get an image. I can then modify the prompts, put in a bigger house, get rid of the cornfield. It’s an iterative process, and as the designer continues refining it, they gain awareness of what they actually want. In a way, it’s not that different from going to a therapist. 

With any innovation, there’s always a similar pattern. A new technology comes in, and there are two ways to approach it. The first is: Can it help us do what we are doing better, faster, cheaper? Then there are people who ask instead, ‘What is inherent in this technology?’ It’s like when steel or concrete became a popular material, and façades no longer had to be two-foot-thick brick. Of course, when cast iron was developed, the first thing people did was cast it in Doric styles—that’s the only language they had. It takes time to realize what a material wants to be. 

With neural networks, there already is a kind of architectural language appearing in the images. I follow many of my colleagues doing AI, and you can see these stylistic trends beginning to emerge: There’s a level of organic-ness, a lot of color, and a level of what I would call ‘glitchy-ness.’ Neural networks don’t understand tectonic principles; something might look like a real arch, until you look closer and realize it’s defying gravity.

But that’s just because we’ve gotten so good at building things that are almost that way, creating these architectural gestures. It’s a bias that comes from the real world, not just from the images out there—and if you look at any of these online platforms, so much of the ‘architectural’ images are not made by architects at all, but by graphic artists. Everything tends to look organic, dreamlike, glitchy. Ultimately, as architects move into this field, I don’t think any of them will end up generating the snapshot of an image they get from AI. They won’t build the same thing, but will rather build on what it suggests to them. 

There’s also a lot of utilitarian applications. When I was writing machine learning, all clients wanted to see was apartment and office layouts. They just wanted a button in Revit that would take all the plans and make the tiny adjustments to align top and bottom. So you’ll see lots of automation for menial, boring tasks. But the creative aspect is more complicated. 

One thing we will eventually have is some kind of ethical framework, where you have to disclose details of what is and isn’t produced by AI. And there will be value, people paying extra premiums even, for things that are guaranteed to have been generated by a human. It’ll be like a USDA Organic seal. In journalism, for example, people will say, ‘Hey, there is value in having articles written by a human being!’ But that doesn’t mean we won’t see some AI journalists.

At the end of day, our new role as designers will be not just creating media to build as architecture, but curating the media that synthetic agents help us produce. We’ll be the judges of what’s good or not good, and of what we want to share with the world.”


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.