As this gruesome year comes to an end, what are some of the interesting things trending in architecture under current circumstances?
Architecture has come a long way, through trends and influences, and still continues to evolve. Studying the evolution of architecture highlights the most crucial factors that have influenced architecture throughout history, factors that include influential art movements, groundbreaking and innovative technological inventions, unconventional design philosophies, and most of all, social conditions such as wars, poverty, industrialization, national development and politics, and ofcourse, pandemics.
Humanity has come face to face with deadly pandemics and epidemics numerous times in the past, and each wave changed the dynamics of planning, sanitization, and design necessities in urban as well as individual aspects.
For example, The Black Death or Bubonic Plague that spanned from 1346 to 1353 in Europe, induced a better sense of urban planning among the citizens, eliminating prospering environments for diseases such as slums and overcrowded areas and adapting more sanitary and open design principles, such as providing natural ventilation, hygienic services, open public green spaces, etc. It is no surprise that major societal changes induce architectural changes with fresh trends and ideas.
Covid-19, although not as deadly as the Bubonic Plague, has organised our priorities as architects, shifting our attention from building big and tall mindless structuress to more inclusive and environmentally friendly designs. Concepts like space saving and multifunctional spaces in case of emergencies have taken over recently. Sanitization and social distancing have become a part of every design brief. And a worldwide lockdown and the WFH system has taught us about how designing homes and interiors needs to be more functional, efficient, and at the same time open and relaxing.
2020, of all things, brought with it a heightened sense of environmental awareness. Although this trend has been around for a few years now, its relevance keeps growing.
With this eventful year almost behind us, it’s time to rewind 2020 and check out what architectural trends have been prominent and how we can adapt to them.
The most prominent event of 2020 has been the inception and spread of Covid-19, gripping the entire world with the effects of a pandemic. It has forced architects all over the world to reconsider architecture as we know it.
It starts with reminiscing, How is architecture responsible for covid-19?
We went from creating socially interactive spaces to designing for social distancing. Architects have learned and understood some essential design solutions to incorporate safety and security, and consider the possibility of a ‘pandemic’ while designing spaces.
Lockdown did not just change the design considerations of external spaces. Working from home has made us realise the importance of a well planned and designed interior space. Balconies went from being empty spaces used to hang clothes and store things to a space of recreation and enjoyment. The importance of having a comfortable and compatible work space indoors has forced us to rethink interior design.
Even as offices slowly open up towards the end of the year, basic amenities in workplaces now include having hygienic areas with sanitizers and ample space to carry out social distancing indoors. Many firms and architects have come up with interesting proposals for workplace designs, such as Woods Bagot’s proposal for workplace designs post pandemic.
“The pandemic has brought to surface the inherent flaws in the way we plan our cities intertwining personal and public space. These are all unequal cities with barely any room for the poor. Going forward, it would be imperative to reconsider densification and also ensure our cities are egalitarian, inclusive, less consumptive and more human, with space for everyone — from the rich and famous to hoi polloi,”
- AG Krishna Menon, urban planner and a founder member of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH)
The pandemic has forced us to rethink how we plan our cities, and if these plans are flexible and equipped with emergency facilities, and prepared for situations like a pandemic. The spread of the virus globally was surprisingly convenient, and it tells us a lot about how our cities have been planned. New ideologies include functional division of space, safe mobility within its physical environment, and other, already existing factors for healthy cities.
2. Digital Innovations
Another effect of the pandemic was on our work environment. The lockdown forced all architects, BIG or small, old or new, famous or not, to upgrade their work and virtual presence to suit the technological advancements that crossed records, as social media became the new socializing, and an online presence became a basic necessity.
This has led our attention to virtual advancements and developing and innovating technologies such as AI. Using Artificial intelligence for processes such as construction, design, etc has become the new agenda.
Education went online too. Students and architects alike have seen a hoard of courses and workshops accessible online. With increased time on our hands, these courses are enhancing education and providing knowledge in various fields related to architecture.
3. Sustainable Architecture
Although sustainability has been trending throughout the past decade, if not before that, it still remains one of the major concerns and considerations in Architecture.
It is imperative that architects understand the effects of their design on the environment.
Many major firms and influential architects have turned green in the past year, innovating and using technological advancements to their advantage. Reducing carbon emission and designing context oriented architecture has made its way into the brief, with clients and architects both realising the importance of being environmentally conscious.
From going vertical due to lack of open spaces with vertical gardening and green facades to re-using, recycling and upcycling various materials in construction and design, sustainable architecture has come a long way.
For example, Gensler takes a vacant building in Austin—formerly a recycling center— and converts it into creative office space, called UPCycle. Almost all of the components found on the site were reused in the renovation, and anything that couldn’t be reused was saved for another project, a process that saved around 1,824 metric tons of CO2.
Hundreds of engineering companies have signed up to public commitments which cover issues such as life-cycle costing and carbon modelling, while there has also been a steady rise in the number of green rated projects. The international standard looks at the environmental, social and economic sustainability of infrastructure projects and buildings, assessing them on how they enhance the wellbeing of the people who live and work in them, and help protect natural resources
With Net Zero trending among architects recently, considerations about overall life-cycle, costing, carbon modelling, materials and availability, immediate effects, passive strategies, waste and water management, construction waste, environmental, social and economic sustainability as well as assessing designs based on enhancement of wellbeing and health of users has made its way to the top of the list when it comes to priorities while designing.
4. Social evils and gender equality
With major movements such as ‘Black lives matter’ internationally and re-considering casteism with Dalit oppressions happening in India, we are forced to consider the possibility of architecture increasing the gap of unequality instead of bridging it.
Architecture has been used as a tool throughout history because of the influence it has on people. Architects tend to pertain to the client and immediate contexts alone when designing spaces, instead of considering the bigger picture. This year has made us rethink the design of interactive spaces.
The year began with India being gripped with communal hatred and riots throughout the country. We fail to realise that all these communities build our cities and with them, our nation. The virality and uniqueness of our architecture lies in the multiple cultural influences and how they amalgamate under the umbrella of ‘Indian Architecture’.
With an increasing demand and need for sustainability, not just in a finished building but also in the process of designing, building and maintaining it, and a rapid growth in technology and digitalization, 2020 has seen an emphasis on automation.
From using BIM, a 3D model-based process while designing and executing a project to using automation technology for construction, automation and digitizing processes prove to be practical, sustainable and efficient. They also allow more room for designs and ideas that were impossible to build a few years ago. This is empowering bolder design visions.
Robotic automation brings higher production efficiency, a safer working environment, lower costs and superior quality. After years of development and deployment, the process now requires minimal human involvement leaving minimal room for errors and accidents.
Automation also applies to interiors, as seen in the trending wave of building smart homes. Automated systems which control lighting, temperature and security are in the forefront when designing homes. A smart building provides its tenants with two key features: greater comfort and lower energy use. Additionally, this also allows users to save money on energy bills.
In association with Tecnalia and IAAC Barcelona, Ar Chenthur introduces Digital fabrication in his TEDx talk.. Digital Fabrication helps in creating a dialogue between material intelligence and digital fabrication. 3D printing using mud/earth for passive architecture can help in creating climate responsive and contextual designs, as explained in the project Digital Adobe.
Here is a review of the talk given by Ar. Chenthur Raaghav at TEDx Vienna.
On Site Robotics is another collaborative project of IAAC and TECNALIA, which demonstrates the potentials of additive manufacturing technology and robotics in the production of sustainable low-cost buildings that can be built on site with natural materials.
The growing technology sector along with a more humanitarian and sustainable approach to designing, together, forms a successful combination. This past year has changed the way we think. It has changed the dynamics of user oriented design.
Cities such as Paris, Milan and Melbourne are piloting the 15- to 20-minute ‘hyper local’ city model to ensure all amenities are within a 15-minute walking or biking radius.
The legacy of modernism continues to evolve with new innovations and their usefulness in architecture.
Could architecture be socially and environmentally sustainable?
Can we topple old hierarchies in wake of newer challenges, economically or politically?
Can architecture be something bigger, like smart energy efficient skyscrapers or walkable cities?
Is architecture just about making a building, or is it about designing?
Could architecture, like the world the virus was threatening, become organic?