A WRLDCTY Debate // Hosted by ERA-co

AI and the Death of the Architect: The Debate Starts at WRLDCTY

Cities have forever been a reflection of humanity. With AI suddenly designing for us – does this ring in the death of the architect or urban planner? 

In a world of ever-accelerating technology, an urban revolution is underway. Cities are transforming into living, breathing organisms, interconnected by a vast digital ecosystem. 

Generative AI is rewriting the playbook for architects and planners. Autonomous vehicles are cruising down freeways (and annoying San Franciscans) as smart transportation rewires streets, sidewalks and railways. Adaptive streets and buildings with systems powered by AI/ML are learning our habits and patterns and are adjusting accordingly.

These digital layers upon bricks and mortar have ushered in a new era for cities, but it hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been coming – and perhaps some of us just believed AI/ML would impact other industries first.

However, the sudden explosion of generative AI in 2023 means we all have access to powerful artificial intelligence at our fingertips. 

AI is no longer only for data scientists, it’s for all of us now. And that poses both existential opportunities and risks. Especially to city-builders and urban designers who believe their craft is an art. One that deeply understands the human conditions and designs spaces and places with mastery that unlock human potential. A machine can’t do that … right? Or can it?

  • What does it mean to be an architect or designer if AI, with a few well-crafted prompts, can dream up transformative building designs?

  • What is the role of an urban planner if AI can crunch the data and design more efficient streets and land uses better than a team of humans can. And, what defines “better?”

  • What can AI and machine learning do to developers and building operators?


Here, friends, is where we ask: will AI make Architects obsolete?

Welcome to the debate at WRLDCTY!

Will AI mean the detriment of human-centered cities, or will it help us get out of our own way and create better places for people and planet?

Innovation shines in times of tension and cities are feeling the tension right now. As some worry that technology will make certain jobs obsolete, or reinforce biases that impact segments of our society, others are sprinting forward in the belief that we must embrace these digital technologies in our pursuit for better cities.


Proposition: Yes, AI will make the architect redundant

AI has paved the way for smarter, quicker decisions. Cities have required a new kind of creative leadership for some time. One without flaws, where certainty replaces ambiguity. Where data-led modeling supersedes creative form making. A world where the profession of architect as we know it today is dramatically reduced, paving the way for a new urban decision maker – AI.

  • Claire Johnston, CEO, Lendlease, Americas
  • Siqi Zhu, Associate Principal, Planner, Director of Planning & Urban Technology, Sasaki
  • Alex Baum, Principal and Global VP of Strategy, ERA-co


Opposition: No, A.I will not make the architect redundant

AI has paved the way for smarter, quicker decisions. But, cities are not products to be replicated or sold. Cities are living breathing ecosystems. Their unique DNA is a direct reflection of the humans that design them. Like any living ecosystem, their character and experience lies as much in their flaws as it does in their perfections.

  • Shane Burger, Principal, Global Leader – Technical Innovation, Woods Bagot
  • Elisa Ours, Chief Planning & Design Officer, Corcoran
  • Andrew Witt, Associate Professor in Practice in Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design


Which side are you on?

At the WRLDCTY Global Forum for Urban Innovation, this October 2-4 in NYC the stage plays host to a lively, fiery debate – and the audience gets to decide the victor. Bring your opinions and join us!

At WRLDCTY, we gather the world’s top urban innovators to create, debate, and build what’s next. 

….What future are you building? Join us for the live debate on stage in NYC.

View the full WRLDCTY program and secure your in-person or virtual tickets at wrldcty.com