In our imagination, the future cities are an amalgamation of towering skyscrapers, magnetic levitation trains, flying cars and robots (built to cater to our every need). We might have imagined a smart city designed for the best possible experiences that modern technology could offer.
Accordingly, a small part of my expectations does remain consistent. The future of architecture remains to be contingent on the design of smart cities and to qualify as ‘smart’, these cities are going to have to be sustainable.
Sustainability is a concept we have all heard repeatedly about in recent times. We are on the brink of an irreversible climate crisis; the human population is growing exponentially and uncontrollably. We are in danger of depleting our resources within the next five or six decades.
The sea levels are rising. Global climate experts predict that a lot of coastal cities are going to be submerged underwater by the year 2050, including Indian cities like Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. Therefore, sustainable architecture is not only a necessity but an inevitability.
Besides that, there have been immense breakthroughs in the architectural field in terms of immersive technology, building materials and construction techniques with novel advancements every day. So, what can we expect from our future cities?
According to the UN, 56% of the world’s population lives in cities. This percentage is expected to rise to 68% in the next thirty years. On that account, our housing crisis is only going to get worse. What choice will we have but build vertically? Perhaps future skyscrapers will not be the concrete giants of today but they will be there all the same.
One central park is one such example. It is a mixed-use dual high-rise building located in New South Wales, Australia. Designed by the firm, Ateliers Jean Nouvel, the concept was to create an integrated experience for living in harmony with the natural world. It consists of a 64000 sq.m public park spread out vertically with over 250 species of fauna.
When it comes to building materials, there are a lot of factors that come into play. We must consider cost, workability, carbon footprint, innovations and sustainability. Approximately 8% of the world’s total carbon emissions come from the production of cement and concrete and 5% from the production of steel. With those statistics, it is unsurprising that architects are reverting to wood.
Lighthouse Joensuu is a 14-storey student housing project in Finland. It is also one of the tallest all-wood buildings in the world. Apart from 2-inch concrete slabs between storeys, the building is made entirely of mass timber or structural timber.
Another material quickly gaining popularity in construction is plastic, more specifically recycled plastic.
The Micro Library in Bandung, Indonesia uses plastic ice cream buckets in its facade for protection from rain and to harness natural light.
Glass also contributes to sustainable buildings. Advancements like Liquid Crystal Window Technology increase energy efficiency by controlling the amount of light let into a building. It is also visually stunning. Using glass in interior spaces can help create more fluid planning.
Material Ecology is a term coined by designer and professor Neri Oxman. She is known for her art and architecture and has often been described as way ahead of our time. New York Times describes material ecology as:
“a combination of the technological advances of computational design, synthetic biology and digital fabrication (otherwise known as 3-D printing) to produce compostable structures, glass objects that vary their optical and structural properties, and garments made from a single piece of silk fabric”. Her team at MIT has been collaborating with natural organisms to make unusual but incredibly fascinating, extraordinary designs.
Her silk pavilion is a dome made entirely of woven silk. A robotic arm was programmed to construct the dome the way a silkworm builds its cocoon. The robotic arm laid out the foundation for the dome with silk fibre. It was then replaced by 6500 live silkworms which completed the construction.
Dr Oxman believes that the computation of building techniques of natural organisms like spiders and silkworms can help us understand the intricacies of 3D printing.
3D Printing & Parametric Design
3D printing is the computer-aided construction of three-dimensional objects using mechanical systems. Also known as additive manufacturing, it involves the layering of material within the parameters set on a computer. 3D printing decreases the need for manual labour and room for error.
However, it is yet to be seen if 3D printing is a viable option for large scale structures and how it works out on the sustainability scale. Developments in 3D printing technology also augment the feasibility of parametric design.
Sandwaves is a 3D printed pavilion made of sand and furan resin by Chris Precht and Arthur Mamou-Mani in Saudi Arabia to be used as street furniture.
VR & Immersive Reality
Virtual Reality takes 3D modelling one step further and allows you to experience ideas as though they are physical forms. VR is set to be an integral part of a design process and presentation.
Apart from being an exquisite experience, VR systems will help us detect defects in building systems beforehand and help us understand the context of a project from anywhere in the world.
We cannot determine with utmost certainty what the future of architecture will look like. However, we must ensure that our cities are energy-efficient and adapted specifically to climate and context. They must conserve our already degrading environment and promote the health and well-being of all of its inhabitants; human or otherwise.
Most importantly, I hope our future cities are beautiful enough to inspire an even better generation of architects.