It’s Surreal—Midjourney Offers a Free-Spirited Design Assistant for Architects

Stephen Coorlas uses cutting-edge tech to create conceptual designs.

Stephen Coorlas, an architect in the Chicago area, is far ahead of ordinary architects—those who sketch in 2D, whether on paper or on tablets. He uses cutting-edge technology, specifically generative design and artificial intelligence (AI) for his concepts. It is the first case we have seen of computer-aided imagination. The result: buildings like you have never seen before.

Creating images of the most fanciful, yet somehow still habitable designs, from a text-to-image engine like Midjourney is not quite a push-button process. You give Midjourney a start with a simple text string. For example, here’s one picked at random from the Midjourney community: “fantasy animal cute cat wings long tail pink lightblue,” which generates a peculiar image valuable only to the single lost soul who requested it. But to generate images that will be valuable to architects, a little more cajoling is needed. You can add depth to an image by using a depth creator. You can add rooms, windows and other architectural details by special request. The point is, with Midjourney you have to work the image, but it’s not as harrowing a process as programming. The reward for your (rather minimal) effort could be an AI-powered free-spirited design assistant.

Midjourney is just one of the tech tools Coorlas uses. Coorlas likes technology of all types.

Midjourney is an AI-powered text-to-image engine—the sort that has captured the imagination of digital artists by storm recently. Text-to-image may have started with DALL-E (a play on surrealist artist Salvador Dali and WALL-E, the Pixar animated robot). The initial excitement was so great that it has created a backlash—as all popular new technology does. Warnings have been issued by art watchdogs, perhaps because art is suddenly too easy to create. They argue that it’s too easy to create art that is harmful and that it will lead to “real” [quotation marks mine] art being copied.

But none of that is on Coorlas’s mind when we find him in his home studio. A “second- or third-generation Greek,” Coorlas has reacquainted himself with his heritage after a vacation on the Greek isles.

Among the digital tools that Coorlas uses are SketchUp and Rhino. He has been able to wrestle with those tools to make organic shapes, but he doesn’t recommend them to others. Architects may admire shapes such as those made by Frank Gehry, but most will have a difficult time creating them.

It wasn’t easy for Gehry, either, according to Coorlas.

“Frank Gehry used to build a model and then scan it to make the digital model,” he says. “That’s how hard it is to model organic shapes with CAD. 

“We’ve gone down this road too long. But there are off-ramps. Midjourney is one of these off-ramps.

“Drywallers are going to hate this guy,” says Coorlas in reference to one of the many artists who have generated what could be considered fantastic models of houses. Also among the haters would be plywood manufacturers, timber producers, framers, general contractors … any one or any trade that owes its existence to the state of the art: straight, flat and square structures.

We have to wonder if Coorlas has found anyone who can build what Midjourney creates. Indeed, he has found one.

What besides the white houses of the Greek islands have inspired Coorlas, we ask.

Antoni Gaudi, of course. Coorlas has studied architecture in Gaudi’s backyard, earning a master’s degree at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain. Other influences are Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect.

A vacation that inspired. The island of Santorini, Greece. (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.)

A vacation that inspired. The island of Santorini, Greece. (Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.)