“The present is the ever-moving shadow that divides yesterday from tomorrow. In that lies hope.”

– Frank Lloyd Wright, The Living City

There has always been speculation about the possible futures of architecture. With every generation, prospects turn out to be far more unpredictable than before since architecture is an organic enterprise, feral but always disguised under a veil of laws, patterns, principles and ethics. It is a reaction to the cultural shifts that are constantly taking place everywhere and all the time. No one can even remotely predict what will happen next, which art movement will take over or how society and the architecture community will react to the fast-paced changes that have been ongoing since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and it would be unreasonable to try to foresee the future of architecture unless it rims on the borderline of prophecy. In hindsight, it is easy to see the breadcrumb trails that lead to every significant event in architectural history, but the tunnel vision of the present spares no one. Therefore, to understand the changes which are taking place right now and based on that, drawing any reliable conclusion to speculate its course would require a careful and detailed analysis of the cultural shifts and political movements across the global landscape. In popular discussions, architecture is at the crossroads where it may lead to a sustainable future, higher Floor-Area-Ratio with equitable space distribution, aesthetic complexity, and a social media revolution. The latter has already begun.

Future of Architecture- Synthesis of Culture, Technology and Global Capitalism - Sheet1

Where Does the Future Lie?

Imagine a chemical reaction, where you put the essential elements of any society, i.e., culture, history and social psychology, to name a few, topped with an unwavering need for change. As a result, you get a novel art movement as the finished product. That stimulates new ideas, knowledge and experimentation into every related field of architecture, photography, fine art, fashion and many more. There might be a new revolution waiting around the corner for the right time and the minds to persuade it, and if we look closely, we can always see the faint footsteps of the next consequential movement or the next Frank Lloyd Wright. The entire architecture enterprise depends on the social and technological responsibilities of its time, and as society and technology progress, so does architecture.

What chances are there for an emerging global consensus about the future of architecture? The capitalist, political and social landscapes of the current global society are some of the decisive factors that govern what will happen next. Only what is better for the international tenets shall be happening. In other words, everyone expects architecture to respond to the economic needs of the time and place, which seldom aligns with the architectural principles since they are often contradictory. The quest to find a true synergism between architects and builders where their actions complement one another rather than hinder shall drive the next few decades. We may also be close to an economic tipping point, at which the quest itself turns out to be profitable and compatible with the ever-evolving global capitalism. 

Future of Architecture- Synthesis of Culture, Technology and Global Capitalism - Sheet2
Wallmakers, n.d._©Wallmakers

Possible Outcomes in the 21st Century

With the rapid decline in the availability of space and shrinking F.A.R, the future of architecture lies in the verticality and the super tall (wherever possible) with low rise development slowly phasing, firstly out of necessity, then out of style and finally out of common sense. An ever-growing cascade of architects has been joining the high rise bandwagon lately with some big names, including – Padma Bhushan Hafeez Contractor.

In 1957, Frank Lloyd Wright had envisioned the first-ever super tall, mile-high city in the sky. His vision of turning to high rises is starting to gain some relative ground in most countries almost half a century later. There is no way around the fact that to bring the said changes, there shall be a global consensus and the willingness to significantly change our societies, behaviours and our relationship to the built environment. But one thing that even Frank Lloyd Wright could not have seen coming was the era of green architecture and sustainable development. The entire notion of green architecture stands counter to the modern design movement. Therefore, we cannot expect the previous generation(s) of architects to understand the needs of this era, further proving the point that any attempt to speculate the future of our society and hence, of architecture is a near futile attempt. 

Cook, 1970_©Archigram

In a country with a population of more than a billion people, India’s urban housing shortage has increased by 54 per cent, from 18.78 million in 2012 to 29 million in 2018 . Congestion emerges as the primary cause of physical inadequacy in housing (Roy and ML, 2020). That puts a rather unprecedented pressure on housing schemes, builders and architects to produce ever more housing and other supporting infrastructure. Such an explosion in population demands speedy results that give rise to capitalist greed, and investors now have a legitimate reason to build fast and cheap that naturally doesn’t give the architects enough time or freedom to innovate and experiment with their approach. That often results in a cloning approach with little regard to the psychology and living behaviours of Indian households. The culture of consumerism and exponential growth has split over from the goods market into the housing market, and that has been the prime reason for our houses being cramped, dingy and leaking. These houses are built fast but certainly not to last.

  1. NUDES (n.d.). Eco Machine Housing by NUDES. [Digital] Available at: http://www.nudeoffices.com/#/xii/ [Accessed 13 Nov. 2021].
  2. Wallmakers (n.d.). Pirouette House, Trivandrum. [Digital] Available at: https://www.wallmakers.org/pirouette-house-trivandrum/f1x2wehdj7u47ubb5qnjcd5ax1layj [Accessed 14 Nov. 2021].
  3. Roy, D. and ML, M. (2020). HOUSING FOR INDIA’S LOW-INCOME URBAN HOUSEHOLDS: A DEMAND PERSPECTIVE. In: Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, ed. [online] New Delhi: WordPress. Available at: http://icrier.org/pdf/ES/ES_Housing_for_India.pdf [Accessed 12 Nov. 2021].
  4. Cook, P. (1970). Instant City Airships, Visit to a Small Town by Peter Cook, 1970. [Digital] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/nov/18/archigram-60s-architects-vision-urban-living-the-book [Accessed 14 Nov. 2021].

Priyansh is a multi-disciplinary architect + designer. A creative nerd who gets geeky about art would jump at the chance to skydive and in another life would like to travel the world practising Jiu-Jitsu.