Ever since the very beginning of architecture, the only thing we can be sure of is that it is uncertain, and ever-shifting: the discussion about the meaning of architecture and its reason to be is a topic that has caused controversy over the years. So we may ask ourselves: what will the future of architecture be? This question, open as it is, may be interpreted in many different ways.

There is a seed that has been planted in the late 19th century and has been rooting consequently: architecture has been gradually acquiring a more humane dimension, understanding and conceiving space according to human needs and desires. Thomas Carlyle once said: “The whole past is the procession of the present.” If we believe in his words, and take a glimpse towards history, architecture will become the new activist for more inclusive, democratic and organized cities, the banner of progress and resilience. 

“So the future of architecture is to look after the citizens and urban life … but how will this be achieved? What will the future of architecture look like?” you may ask. The innovations in technology and theoretical content have brought about new materials, methods, as well as opened up our minds to all the diverse possibilities offered by architecture in its application, and its metaphorical meaning. These new ‘trends’ will be the image of the architecture of the future.

Sustainability 

“Climate change, overpopulation and segregation are three of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.”  – (D. Sims, 2000)

We can all agree that when we think of futuristic architecture, the word sustainable is the one to lead them all: utopic images of towering buildings of green facades with extremely complex processes and technology to assure a smaller carbon footprint. 

Sustainability is not an up-to-date concept. However, its spectrum has grown exponentially over the years by recent discoveries, as well as a re-signified understanding of what being ‘sustainable’ means. We are familiar with the terms ‘alternative energies’, ‘water waste’, ‘thermal control’, ‘natural lightning’, and so on. But sustainability is so much more, from reusing materials, retrieving residual urban spaces, to amortizing the financial costs. These variables cannot be considered sustainable per se: sustainability can be achieved when designed in the integrity of the building. 

Verticality

From the construction of the first skyscraper around 1886, the incessant search to touch the sky became an icon of contemporaneity. According to theory, the vertical development of the city would help solve the problem of overpopulation and density, as well as endowing the urban display with disruptive, yet welcomed morphological innovations. 

Moreover, energy economization and responding to climatic conditions has become a key factor in determining the shape of a building, its façades and language. Just like technological advances have proven to be essential to respond to the requirements of climatic adversities and resilient architectural developments, building in the heights has shown to be the most economic to operate under sustainable parameters.

The Iris Bay Tower

The disruptive, futuristic ‘egg-shaped’ morphology of the Iris Bay Tower in Dubai has two faces: on the one hand, it could be read as a statement that strives to protest against the standardized image of what a tower should look like gifting the city with an iconic site; while on the other hand, the technical explanation resides in reducing the structural efforts as a response to wind forces, and the mechanical movement of the wind to allow better cross ventilation. 

The façades count with photovoltaic cells that ‘harness solar energy’ (K. Al-Kodmany, 2018) responding differently according to the sun orientation to enhance energy saving. As lead project designer Richard Hay said: “If you design something which has good form, good integrity and is visually appealing, you actually find that the sustainable issues are already there to be peeled back and revealed, or, if necessary, easily integrated.”

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Iris Bay Tower by WS Atkins & Partners | ©Atkins via CTBUH

“Urban Forest” Development

Architects nowadays compete to build the greenest skyscraper, literally and figuratively speaking. Koichi Takada strives to project a space where, in his words, “the world can reconnect with a more natural, intuitive and conscious future.” In his project “Urban Forest”, he intends to build Australia’s greener building in a 30-story mixed-use residential tower. 

More than 20,000 plants and trees of over 260 native species would dress the stepping façade, bringing movement and well being into the packed city, while aiming to protect the users from climatic conditions, as well as offering a natural thermal and humidity control. The gardens are watered by harvested rainwater, solar panels supply the whole building which has been built with sustainable, low maintenance materials (Koichi Takada Architects, 2021)

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”Urban Forest” project by Koichi Takada | ©Binyan Studios
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Over 260 native species would dress the stepping façade, bringing movement and well being into the packed city | ©Dean & Wolf

Furthermore, the building looks forward to giving back to the city part of its territory by freeing the ground floor, disintegrating into wide, textured columns as a millennial tree rooting onto the earth granting porosity, becoming one with its surroundings in a vast open space. The project includes an information center where the curious can learn about Australia’s native biodiversity and the building’s design, creating a stronger bond between the inhabitants and their territory. 

All in all, the design aims to create an inclusive environment that fosters a sense of community and wellbeing. This tower is a perfect example of ‘mass greening’.

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The permeable ground floor encourages the sense of community and inclusion between each other and the environment | ©Binyan Studios

“We need to be embracing more living materiality, living architecture.”  Takada believes green construction is the sustainable, inclusive way of approaching prosperity, health and comfort in the future of our over industrialized cities.

Restoration

When we talk about sustainability, we tend to forget about restoration. And the thing is, restoration is a sustainable act per se, and its role in the shaping of a city is crucial. Architecture should be conceived as heritage and ambition working in synergy to ‘explain’ the story of a place marked by a culture. 

By making these two variables coexist, as well as meeting the standards of contemporary construction and planning while re-signifying these buildings we find ourselves in an integral sustainable project with a humane, collective perspective: reusing materials and structures, projecting lighting, water, heating plans to achieve a smaller carbon footprint and giving back to the city it represents. 

Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires

In Argentina, Buenos Aires, the area of Puerto Madero used to be the old docks used for international commerce, but could not survive the advance of naval technology, becoming obsolete. The renewal masterplan looked forward to the creation of a gastronomic and economic center on the east side of the canal, building a gastronomic tour within the iconic brick deposits employed for grain storage while turning the dock’s top floors into privileged offices and loft apartments. The façades remain unchanged, keeping the unified image of now one of the most touristic parts of the city.

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The renewed historical side of the canal | ©Corporación Puerto Madero

Crossing the canal, new streets, boulevards and avenues were opened, art centers and glass office towers were built, their ground floors becoming renamed restaurants and coffee shops over the enduring tiled streets. Green areas such as the ‘Micaela Bastidas’ Park and the ‘Mujeres Argentinas’ park contrast with the modern side of the dock, revitalizing the once abandoned area. 

The idea of sustainable development remains, as some of these modern towers were granted with the LEEDS award.

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The modern, industrial footprint characterize the southern side of the canal | ©Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires
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Heritage and contemporaneity coexist in Puerto Madero’s skyline | ©Corporación Puerto Madero

Social Housing

Housing has been one of the most discussed topics in contemporary architecture ever since the industrial revolution. From LeCorbusier to Alvar Aalto, every architect has tried in their own ways to solve the seemingly unsolvable problem of overpopulation and density by the construction of social housing. For what is worth, today the conception of these spaces have proven to be a great opportunity to deal with these topics as they offer the city a renewed meaning. 

Frequently built-in lands that lack value, they tend to revitalize urban areas with their vivacity and sense of community, as they heal the wounds in the urban tissue through an integral design of space.

Holmberg Street, Buenos Aires

Holmberg Street in the Coghlan neighbourhood, Buenos Aires, is a clear example of how social housing can bring meaning to a disused area. A series of developments of various designs display a new façade for this residential area: as they retreat off the street line, green parks with concrete urban furniture and designed paths invite the passers-by to acknowledge the advance of urban design as a nod towards them to enjoy this inclusive aspect of the city. 

The ground floors become bars, coffee shops, restaurants, even barber shops, creating a commercial center within the neighbourhood. This area had been abandoned for many years, which made it dangerous and unpleasant for those who wander. These developments enlightened the area, growing into the neighbourhood’s heart.

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The ground floors become bars, coffee shops, restaurants, even barber shops | ©Unknown
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Green parks with concrete urban furniture and designed paths invite the passers-by to acknowledge the advance of urban design | ©Unknown

Dortheavej Residence

A bigger scale example is the BIG development of the Dortheavej Residence in Nordvest, Copenhagen, a multicultural area where the sense of community stands out at first sight: the once-industrial neighborhood took advantage of the rustic buildings for the development of inclusive activities such as hop farms and crop and manufacture of beer. 

In this context, BIG Architects were asked to develop a housing project that created a public space that at the same time dialogue with the existing surroundings. The overall design of the Dortheavej Residence is a proper sustainable development: the five-story building intends to merge with the existing urban image by maintaining the same height as the adjacent buildings at the same time it frees the ground floor creating a permeable, park that serves the city and grants the dwellers with a soothing view.

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Design scheme | ©BIG Architects Studio
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Design scheme | ©BIG Architects Studio
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Design scheme | ©BIG Architects Studio
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Stacking system creates porosity that integrates the city to the development | ©BIG Architects Studio

Furthermore, the stacking system leaves room for terraces that provide the user with open private spaces, as well as good lighting as it proposes different façade solutions to the different orientations according to sun exposure. Playing with the subtraction of volumes at ground floor level, generates visual permeability and physical porosity, opening up the internal park to the city. The concepts of integration and community remain in the ideal of the disintegration of physical barriers and careful exposure towards the inside of the apartments. The pattern and rhythm proposed give character to the buildings remarked by the use of wooden planked frames. 

Last but not least, the overall project cannot be completed if we do not conceive the interior: 3.5m roofs added to the floor to ceiling windows create a high spatial quality of great potential, as the natural lighting and visuals close the deal. The contrast of concrete and wood, their colors, texture and temperatures add up to the curated interior that intends to create a humane, inviting environment.

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©BIG Architects Studio
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Heights, materiality, lighting and view grant this apartments with cozy, intimate spaces | ©BIG Architects Studio

Interiors

As wide as the topic is, we cannot forget to mention that it’s not only the outside that matters: the interior of a building it’s as important as its function and role in the urban tissue. In the end, we may be included and contained in our cities, but our private life is lived behind closed doors. If architecture is to play the role of an activist for urbanity and human well-being, interiors cannot be left unattended. 

Interiors are not something superfluous or superficial, but a crucial part of the overall project as it carries the weight of the hardest of jobs, which is to make the user feel at ease wherever it chooses to be. In designer’s Ilse Crawford’s words: “Interiors are ultimately where we live, they are a lot more than pieces of furniture. They’re really about interior life, how we live as human beings.”

226 Development, Hong Kong

Crawford’s work has always been to put the user in the center of the project and capture its humanity in space, in other words, “creating environments where humans feel comfortable; public spaces that make people feel at home and homes that are habitable and make sense for the people who live in them.” 

Architecture makes the user feel included and considered. She achieves this by working with materials, texture, colors, designing furniture and products that aspire to appeal to the user’s needs of comfort and functionality. Her studio’s work is known for conceiving interiors as part of the integral design project . 

The 226 Development in Hollywood Street, Hong Kong, depicts the crucial role interiors plays in the overall project. Over the black brick façade, a black door stands tall behind a bronze gateway, poetically resembling a kind of preface to a story of, in Ilse`s words, “solidity and permanence”. The intention is to transmit a sense of warmth, something alien in Hong Kong, as it revitalizes this cultural district that is Hollywood street. 

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‘Solidity and permanence’ | ©StudioIlse

Each of the five apartments of this five-story building fluently speaks the streets’ language, the built “physical and sensorial world that ties into surroundings’ (R. Etherington, December 2010). The separation between interior and exterior seem to disappear in these continuous, rich spaces: floor-to-ceiling windows dissolve the physical boundaries, inviting the Hollywood Gardens in with open arms. 

The material language and furniture design transmit a sense of warmth, comfort and temporality: contemporaneity meets classic Hollywood standards, granting the space with a certain personality, yet welcoming and inclusive aura. Every detail has been cured of such a humane, honest perspective, gifting the dweller with the present of the physical manifestation of the soul

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Meditated contemporaneity and glamorous Hollywood shine | ©StudioIlse
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Color, materiality and furniture as the creators of soothing, welcoming spaces | ©StudioIlse

So, how will the architecture of the future be? As any activist, it will be confrontative, straightforward, disruptive. It will fight to get across its convictions and strive to conceive more inclusive, sustainable and democratic cities; cities where the humane perspective prevails over selfish ideals, that protect the sense of community and responds to the needs and desires of the growing population.

We can make a rough guess of how this architecture would look, estimating the feasible possibility of a more vertical, technologically advanced, sustainable city, but sustainability has too many faces, polymorphous and unpredictable: its probable the future will be unforeseeable. But, between us, if we knew, what would be the fun of it?

References

Constanza Bianco
Author

Constanza Bianco is a 3rd year Undergraduate architect in the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her passion for writing dates back to her childhood, becoming an avid reader and learning enthusiast at a young age. She believes architecture to be a powerful tool and aspires to understand its endless possibilities.

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