Interview with AI architect Qasim Iqbal: pushing boundaries

Advent of AI is quite evident in all spheres of life. While some are scared of it taking over the human race, others are using it as another useful tool to push their creative boundaries. Qasim Iqbal, an architectural student is one of those. His incredible architectural designs using AI tools are giving us a glimpse of what could be the future.

  1. Improving power of AI is a hot topic right now with many afraid that it might take over the world, but you have found a way to use this new tool to show a new world of possibilities. How did you get into it?

I just saw it scrolling through Instagram and I was fascinated by the simplicity of it initially. And saw it as a cool tool to try concepts. So, I ended up downloading it and I guess I got hooked onto it. Maybe the simplicity of it just made it so easy to explore different ideas so quickly. And my imagination always wandered so it was a perfect match. It was only when I started developing ideas and really trying to focus on the quality of output. I realised that this could become something quite sophisticated over time.

  1. Baroque architecture and renaissance seems to play a big role in your inspiration but the way you have modified is spectacular. Could you elaborate a bit on this aspect of your work?

For me those eras and styles have a timelessness about them and so studying those structures. The forms, the language, and space making inspires me. Each masterpiece from the past and their architect has embedded lessons into their work for us to learn from and this is what I try to do.

  1. Do you plan to make any small models of your work with clay or any other material? 

I’m not a huge model person! If I must, I enjoy making rough sketch models of projects. That are not for presentation purposes but are experimental and are part of the design process. But to answer your question I don’t have any intentions to make models of my work. But you never know if the right opportunity presented itself then why not, like I said I’m not opposed to models if they have an explorative purpose.

  1. In terms of practicality, do you think that your vision can be made into reality that can also be durable?

I have been asked this before and I always say it’s not impossible (in some cases) but it would be an engineer’s nightmare! I think images like mine aim to portray an element of architecture which is not about being practical. It’s about beauty, space and emotion, until we can find these aspects of architecture to be essential then visions like my work will be hard to realise in reality. But if we were to say that we overcome that then structurally it would be interesting.

I think stone would have to be the material of my choosing but a lot of craftsmanship architect would be needed, highly skilled individuals who could help sculpt the form of the building. Maybe this sculptural exterior becomes a sort of self-supporting façade. And then there could be a brick masonry construction that makes most of the building similar. To how some of the renaissance and baroque works are made to help with costs and weight. In terms of durability, we know stone can stand the test of time so this wouldn’t be an issue.

  1. You have gathered a lot of following by your unique work. Any assignments on the horizon that may help us actually see your work beyond the AI screens?

Maybe but nothing official at the moment. However, I am interested in experimenting architect with video format and VR applications using the Midjourney images.

  1. Your latest work shows famous urban buildings and landscapes nestled within nature. What is the inspiration behind it, and do you plan to expand on it since it’s a bit different than your usual work yet very interesting?

With this it was about reimagining our realities, trying to see a future or alternate view of the world where we are more intertwined with nature. I think there is a huge potential for how we could incorporate and develop our spaces to incorporate nature both philosophically and physically.

  1. AI is definitely going to change the way things work in every field. What do you see as the future of architecture? 

I think we are getting close to a huge shift in a lot of industries. But with architecture I would like to say that AI will be used as a tool in different parts of the design process. Now I see it as a great tool for a more tailored and specific mood board exercise with clients. Also, it is great at creating visualised sketches of initial ideas and sort of sophisticated napkin sketches if you like. However, the technology is developing exponentially.

And it won’t be long before we can start creating coherent sets of images. And maybe even generating digital models and architect which could lead to a greater impact on the architect’s role. I think as with any new technology there is an ethical way to use it. And then there will be those who will ignore the ethics and maximise it for economic value. For me it will always be a tool. It will help productivity but also allow us to expand our imagination. Maybe spark avenues for design that we wouldn’t normally consider and hopefully it can help us create beautiful buildings again.

  1. If you had the power to manifest your future, how would it look like in 20 years’ time? 

This is a tricky question! I guess I would like to be known for my architectural work, hopefully own my own practice and have designed a few buildings architect that made an impact socially and culturally. In a dreamland I would be the next starchitect, but I think we are past that era and now design is a collective act, this is why I would be happy to have a hand in a design that is deemed successful by the people who use it but also by myself in terms of the way I see good architecture. I would also love to have explored areas that go beyond designing, maybe some sort of writing or something related to architecture in film/gaming.

  1. The scope of what you do is very unlimited. It could be used in video games, virtual tours of unrealistic worlds and imagined versions of our existing world, movies and so much more. What sort of projects will you like to be involved in?

I am not too familiar with the technical aspects of the virtual worlds but assuming I could get around that I would love to create a world of fantastical architect for a video game or even just explore AI in VR that would be quite a cool project. Architecture and film have always been fascinating to me ever since I saw Inception and the limitless possibilities that the dream world offered, I would love to explore that in a project.

  1. Your work seem to effortlessly marry hard and soft elements. silk and stone seem to be intertwined to the point where it is hard to tell the difference. Similarly, your new work puts urban master pieces in the middle of almost rural like landscapes. Could you elaborate of it a bit?

I think my work will always explore opposites, contradiction, and juxtaposition. The late architect Doshi put it best when he talked about rules and conventions in his book Paths Uncharted. “that only exceptions help to define the rules with absolute clarity”. And “that an order has a meaning only relative to the disorder.” This is a mannerist approach: you break the rules but only because you know the convention or norm so well. And you are trying to offer something new, to question it. To make people look closer, slow down and ‘see’. This is what I aim to do: break the rules we are familiar with. Or we don’t think twice about and when this happens it makes people stop and look closely, intentionally providing room for slowness – timelessness if you like.

  1. What lies ahead of you?

Hopefully a job in the architecture field will give me some much-needed experience. But I also want to push this AI exploration further. See how far I can take it (along with the other amazing people who are doing great stuff in this space). Explore a more practical use case for AI in architecture. All or most of my work architect has been more on the “art” side of things. But I am keen on exploring AI as a practical tool in architecture. Finally, I want to create prints or limited pieces to sell (if there is enough interest that is). Or push the work into the NFT space depending on where the demand is.

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