The Future is Now

Here we stand in the thick of the 21st century, the famed harbinger of the technological era, yet we couldn’t be more disillusioned about the current situation. Fed upon promises of a future resplendent with flying cars across a chromatic landscape, we are forced to settle for a future clogged with the smog of our own making. What with environmental activists crying themselves hoarse over big corporates’ failure to reduce, or even acknowledge, their carbon footprint and the world media neatly pinning the blame on the common man’s crippling plastic straw addiction…. things are a bit of a mess, to put it lightly. The Scientific American has declared that we are in a” state of climate emergency”, while the U.N. hastily measures global progress against sustainable development goals set to stay under the critical threshold of 1.5 C warming. The problems of today will become the blueprint of tomorrow-a sentiment that may be translated more literally into architecture. The climate crisis and the recent pandemic have laid bare our poorly planned spaces and cities and failure to account for high carbon emissions in construction projects. As architects, we must intervene to introduce sustainable practices and materials to translate those metaphorical, ’greener pastures of tomorrow ‘, into a reality.

Documentation shows that buildings produce nearly 40% of annual global emissions yet the construction sector is still a far cry away from the benchmark value needed to eliminate all GHG emissions from the built environment by 2040(UNEP and Global Alliance For Buildings And Construction). To remedy this, the USGBC and LEED have started to organize the masses towards the idea of environmentally responsible construction to produce buildings that yield substantial energy savings and reap equivalent climatic and health benefits.

Sustainable Architecture

Sustainable architecture focuses on looking at buildings as complex metabolic systems rather than things in isolation. By paying attention to the interconnectivity of architecture with nature we can understand user-sensitive design that lowers energy consumption and maximizes efficiency. The Bahrain world trade center is the perfect merger of futuristic architecture with sustainability. Its 50 story commercial office towers pay homage to Arabic sailing vessels and funnel wind into three turbines via sky bridges that supply the trade center with 11 to 15 percent of its required energy. The dry arid climate is relieved by the reflective pools below, keeping the towers cool via evaporation.

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Bahrain World Trade Center_©Atkins

The regenerative building design movement is fast gaining traction in the green building initiative. The philosophy goes beyond reducing the negative impacts of existing construction practices and instead seeks to use design as a positive force to repair natural and human systems. This design emphasizes the need for a universal architecture- that bridges communal divides, competition for natural resources, and reduces waste. Regenerative building design can be understood through materiality, eco-friendly architecture that promotes economic growth, and sensitive planning of smart cities to repair our urban landscape.

Materiality in Construction and Design

When considering materiality, it is important to reduce our carbon footprint and look towards more sustainable alternatives to popular post-industrial building materials. Concrete, a staple of the construction industry, is one of the largest carbon dioxide emitters in the world. Concrete exacerbates the urban heat island effect in cities. It is also responsible for nearly 10% of international industrial water use resulting in droughts, particularly in the equatorial region. It is no secret that our existing urban infrastructure is largely responsible for trapping heat and worsening cumulative warming and health index significantly.

 Many companies have taken the initiative to provide more viable material solutions that seek to utilize waste products and provide healthier alternatives. Some examples include the recyclable bio cement produced by North Carolina’s Biomason and the recycled waste blocks made of coffee grounds and plastics by Columbia’s Woodpecker company. Similarly, organic materials are now being utilized more creatively: there is greater pushback to incorporate wood as a base material owing to its nature of producing the fewest overall emissions in its lifetime, potato waste is utilized by a British company to produce building material. Such materials help not only to give a unique character to an area but also help to control ideas of lightness, adaptability, and suppleness in the urban context. Krown Design effectively utilizes the concept of materiality to combat the problem of clean air within cities by designing the ‘Growing Pavilion’ made entirely of mushrooms that clean the air around it by capturing twice its weight in carbon dioxide as it grows. The mycelium is lightweight, strong, shock absorbent, fire-resistant, and provides excellent insulation.

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Growing Pavilion_©Biobased.creations

Materiality is such a fundamental yet overlooked factor that is responsible for our disconnect to the environment at large in cities. Modernist ambitions to remake cityscapes as sleek, elegant machinery failed to consider that it was not a whole picture of what buildings should have been and was divorced from concerns of the larger, living world that we are ultimately part of. This is one of the reasons that factors like light, breathability, and tactile connectivity took a backbench to aesthetic and economic viability which was isolated from a profound sense of humanism. The pandemic was a good wake-up call to deeper connections between social, economic, and environmental problems and an eye-opener to reinforce ideas of biomimicry and sustainability. 

Eco-cities and Sustainable Living

Sustainable solutions can not hinge on ecological repair alone and must also provide solutions to our built environment. As a result, reparations to our urban environment must focus on developing smart cities/eco-cities. These cities focus on renewable energy, efficient transport solutions, smart home energy management systems, comprehensive healthcare, and public services and maximizing efficiency. Sino-Singapore Tianjin city is designed to have amenities deliberately within walking distance via a green corridor that runs 12km long to close the gap between natural and artificial environments and create healthier conditions. Inclusive architecture that seeks to bridge classist, ableist, age, and racial divides should be at the forefront of design consideration when determining solutions that will benefit everyone. 

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Concept drawing for Sino Singapore Tianjin City_©Surbana

With the advent of the population boom, the solution to dwindling space lies in constructing vertical cities that reduce waste and recycle space. Vertical farming mechanisms can counter the adverse effects of traditional agriculture and support the growing population. Design must now envision communities on a multi-tier scale and shift space allocation and user health index to the forefront. The Pasona HQ in Tokyo is an excellent example of how to incorporate innovative design on a small scale: the double-skin green façade, rooftop garden, and urban farming facilities integrated into the building are proof that sustainability can be made tangible.

Pasona HQ, Tokyo_©Konodesigns LLC, Pasona Group

Moving Forwards

To secure a greener, healthier future it is equally important not to dismiss the benefits that modern advancements have already brought us. Big data is essential in understanding how cities grow, how people adapt, and which systems will advance environmental sustainability. Ultimately adaptability and ingenuity will be the hallmarks of our architectural future- bright with decentralized energy and transit hubs improving the well-being of both people and ecology at large.

References:

  1. Asad, H., 2021. Future of Sustainable Design of Regenerative Buildings. [online] Environment + Energy Leader. Available at: <https://www.environmentalleader.com/2021/05/are-regenerative-buildings-the-wave-of-the-future-in-sustainable-design/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
  2. Barthjun, B., 2021. The Past, Present, and Future of Sustainable Architecture. [online] Pacific Standard. Available at: <https://psmag.com/environment/past-present-and-future-of-sustainable-architecture> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
  3. Delaqua, V., 2021. From Past to Future: The Urgency of “Green” in Architecture. [online] ArchDaily. Available at: <https://www.archdaily.com/958188/from-past-to-future-the-urgency-of-green-in-architecture?ad_medium=gallery> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
  4. Editors, A., 2021. The Future Is Green: Architecture + Sustainability – Architizer Journal. [online] Journal. Available at: <https://architizer.com/blog/inspiration/industry/architecture-plus-sustainability/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
  5. Fischetti, M., 2021. We Are Living in a Climate Emergency, and We&rsquo;re Going to Say So. [online] Scientific American. Available at: <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/we-are-living-in-a-climate-emergency-and-were-going-to-say-so/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
  6. Marusiak, J., 2021. Liveable Cities Series: Asian eco-cities rise to climate crisis. [online] Eco-Business. Available at: <https://www.eco-business.com/news/liveable-cities-series-asian-eco-cities-rise-to-climate-crisis/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
  7. Pritchett, L., 2021. What Is Sustainable Architecture? The Future of ‘Green’ Buildings, Explained. [online] LIVEKINDLY. Available at: <https://www.livekindly.co/what-is-sustainable-architecture/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
  8. Think Architecture. 2021. 5 Trends That Could Shape the Future of Architecture – Think Architecture. [online] Available at: <https://www.thinkaec.com/5-trends-that-could-shape-the-future-of-architecture/> [Accessed 17 October 2021].
Author

A self proclaimed literary geek, Aiman Shahid has a soft spot for all things archeological. Born in Lahore, Pakistan, she is currently surviving her third year as a student of architecture at N.C.A. She hopes to make her fellow architects feel less at sea ,one article at a time.

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