Cloud-based computing for architects is already here

Cloud-based computing for architects is already here

“We're doing it, and we're doing it really well”

In the next few years, we can expect to see a major shift in how architects and design studios approach productivity. With the proliferation of innovative cloud technologies and the rise of remote work, the fundamentals of computing for architects are being brought into question. 

And one business right at the cutting edge here is Canadian firm DS Studio, an architecture and urban design firm based in Toronto, with a remote workforce. 

Dina Sarhane, founding partner of DS Studio

We sat down with Dina Sarhane, the firm’s founder, to learn more about their fully cloud-based approach to computing for architects – and what others can learn from it. 



The fundamentals of computing for architects 

Any firm of architects requires several fundamental tools and technologies to support productivity. Architecture computing essentials include:

  • Hardware: Most architects use PCs (Dina points out that getting architecture software on Macintosh is complex, as described in our blog) and monitors. They may also use other devices. For example, DS Studios provides its designers with specialized drawing tablets. 
  • Storage: Architects work on very large and complex files. Traditional in-office servers are one approach, although the emergence of cloud-based storage, such as Dropbox or Google Drive are also popular. 
  • Design software: Each firm will have its own preferences, but architectural design software such as AutoCAD, Revit, or various BIM tools are essential for drawings. Firms also make extensive use of design programs, with Adobe’s suite most popular. 
  • General productivity apps: Like any business, architects need word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation software. Project management, conference calling and similar tech are also invaluable. Again, all these technologies are available on-premises, but are equally accessible on the cloud. 
  • Computing for architects: is it really possible in the cloud?

    Traditionally, computing for architects was almost entirely on-premises. All hardware was in the office, and software ran locally on in-office workstations. 

    However, with the widespread emergence of cloud computing in the last 15 years, the way many industries work has been transformed. Dina started DS Studio in 2017 and even then, following the traditional on-premises approach “felt really dated.” As a startup that transitioned from fulltime, in-office work to hybrid, Dina points out that “I didn't want to be storing massive servers in my home office.” DS Studio prioritized cloud technology, and “we became a virtual business” during the COVID pandemic

    Despite Dina’s success running a purely cloud-based business, she says “I've had a lot of people challenge what I'm doing... They tell us that you can’t do design work remotely.” 

    There’s no doubt that architects (along with related sectors like construction and engineering) have been slow to adopt cloud technology. One survey of architects in the US and Europe reported that 68% struggle to find the right tech for digital transformation. What’s more, less than 10% of architecture businesses are working fully remotely. 

    There are a couple of common challenges for cloud-based and remote computing amongst architects:

  • Software: Many of the most widely used forms of software for architects – from Adobe to Revit – are designed primarily to be used with on-premises workstations (although it is possible to run them remotely via virtual desktops). 
  • File sizes: Architects work on very large files. If architects need to edit them remotely, any lag or delay can be very frustrating. 
  • Culture: Dina believes there’s also a significant cultural barrier to using the cloud in architecture, engineering, and construction: “a lot of the consultant and trades we're working with are still using AutoCAD. They're not even using BIM, or if they are, they are not using its full cloud-collaboration capacity.”

  • Nevertheless, for Dina, the notion that architecture firms can’t be cloud-based or benefit from virtual working is a misconception: “I really think it's just [that] people don't have the correct tools.” 

    Case study: How architecture firm DSP migrated to the cloud

    What cloud-based tools can architects use?

    To support productivity, Dina explains that her firm uses a range of cloud-based architecture computing solutions:

    • Dropbox for file storage and sharing
    • Autodesk Cloud for building model design (BIM)
    • Miro for collaborative design work 
    • BlueBeam for collaborative work

    Notably, Dina says that “we're actually prioritizing software that gives us collaborative capabilities above its functional capability.” 

    For example, Adobe’s Acrobat PDF is widely regarded as the best software for many kinds of design work. But since it’s only available on-premises, DS Studio shifted over to BlueBeam. While BlueBeam may be slightly less feature-rich, the fact it enables cloud-based work makes it more attractive. 

    How the cloud can transform architectural practice 

    Since launching in 2017, DS Studio has always been a cloud-first business, an approach which Dina believes has been hugely beneficial to the business. Here are just some of the benefits she’s seen in that time. 

    Truly remote work and hiring

    Becoming a remote business has allowed Dina to employ full time staff and subcontractors from anywhere in the world. That means she can recruit from the widest possible talent pool. 

    What’s more, it allows Dina and her staff to travel and work on site and be close to her clients. “We’re in constant motion as a team. In February, I’m spending a month in Mexico [on a project]; someone else will be in New Brunswick. We can move a lot.” 

    Democratizing design work

    By using design platforms in the cloud where everyone can see drawings and collaborate on them, Dina says the approach “democratizes” architectural practice. 

    Compared to the traditional way of working, where the lead architect “marks everything up on their own and then distributes information,” using collaborative software means everyone has access to the same information. It means firms no longer must rely on a hierarchical approach where one person knows everything, and other employees cannot participate in the creative process. 

    Better security

    Using Dropbox to store files has given DS Studio greater control over who has access to which files and documents – an important consideration in an industry where subcontractors are often used to help on specific parts of a project. 

    “One of the things I'm always worried about is when you disconnect people [from an on-premises server] do they have copies of the files?” But by using Dropbox, she could easily manage access, onboarding and offboarding with the click of a button. 

    Powerful collaboration

    One of the most attractive things about the cloud is that it allows Dina and her team to work simultaneously on files. “If I work on a file, I want my whole team working on it at the same time – even if we're all scattered all over the world. I don't want to save it, pass it along to somebody else, and they save it, and they pass it on.” Using cloud-based technologies speeds up collaboration, improves workflows and boosts productivity, too. 

    Read more: 7 reasons to move your architecture computer to the cloud

    The future of computing for architects

    While only a minority of architecture practices are working fully remotely today, innovative firms like DS Studio are showing what is possible. Cloud-based architecture computing is now widely available and can deliver equal – or even greater – productivity, efficiency, and collaboration than traditional workflows. 

    As Dina puts it, “I don't know why everybody's saying you can't do it. Because I feel like we're doing it, and we're doing it really well.” 

    At Designair, we provide an application cloud that allows architects to work with any CAD or BIM software from anywhere, on any device. Whether you plan to work fully remotely, or need a solution for hybrid work, our solutions can support your architecture computing strategy. Learn more about our cloud-based architecture computing solution here