The Future of Architecture, rajapack, April 2019

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Working on behalf of eco-friendly packaging brand RAJA, Greenlight Digital were looking for expert opinions on the future of architecture and sustainability. They interviewed me by email and put together an article for the RAJA blog from my answers. All copy as provided to the client.

ARCHITECTURE IN 2020

Trends move quite slowly in architecture, so 2020 is likely to see a continuation of the current shifts and movements: Innovation around small-space living and the ‘tiny house movement’ as more people move to cities where space is at a premium and young people find innovative ways to own their own homes – and the continued growth in the importance of sustainability and wellbeing in both new builds and adaptations of existing buildings. The UK Green Building Council is focused on: ‘mitigating and adapting to climate change, elimination waste and maximising resource efficiency, embracing and restoring nature and promoting biodiversity, optimising the health and wellbeing of people, and creating long-term value for society and improving quality of life’ and I think and hope we’ll see positive shifts in all those areas.

ARCHITECTURE IN 2070 

The United Nations predicts that two thirds of us will be living in cities by 2050, and so-called ‘megacities’ such as London, New York and Tokyo already house more than 10 million people, so by 2070 we can assume the population will have urbanised further putting extreme pressure on space; and we can anticipate more single-dwelling premises too. MINI Living – the architecture arm of the automotive brand – has come up with creative solutions such as tiny two-story ‘totems’ that operate as live-work pods for single people within communal spaces that offer shared kitchens, dining rooms, gyms and entertainment zones. This sense of sharing space chimes with mid-century ideas for how we might live in cities and might finally come to fruition.

I would also like to see the notion of ‘universal design’ (also known as ‘design for all’ or ‘inclusive design’) that is already popular in Norway, America and Japan gain traction worldwide. Universal design brings the people usually at the peripheries of design into the process very early on, resulting in solutions that might only be needed by some, but are better for everybody – it avoids the stigma and mis-steps associated with the 'special solutions for special needs' that typify accessible design, and ensures everyone’s needs are considered – Oslo School of Architecture and Design professor Tom Vavik defines it as ‘a framework that accepts diversity of ability and age as the most ordinary reality of being human’. The Norwegian government has committed ensuring their entire infrastructure is created according to the principles of ‘inclusive design’ by 2025 – so another 25 years for the rest of the world to catch up doesn’t seem unreasonable.   

ARCHITECTURE IN 2120

Trying to predict the future is always dangerous and tends towards either utopian or dystopian thinking, but let’s be optimistic. I would like to predict that in 100 years’ time the most significant change in architecture will be a shift in focus away from skyward gestures of ego, towards a more inclusive practice that finds lasting solutions for the 1 in 200 people who are currently homeless or living in inadequate homes, for the people in the 617 UK buildings still thought to be fitted with combustible cladding and insulation, despite the 72 lives claimed by the Grenfell Fire in 2017, and for the 46% of 25- to 34-year-olds currently unable to get onto the housing ladder and therefore living with the instability of renting. Just like inclusive design, this sort of architecture would start with building solutions that might only be needed by some, but create better world for all of us.

FUTURE CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS

There is a lot of material innovation at the moment – largely driven by sustainability and that will continue. Fast growing, mouldable and entirely compostable, fungal mycelium is a really exciting material to watch for its use in cladding, temporary structures and insulation. Green & Blue’s bee bricks are another interesting innovation – they provide habitats for solitary bees – currently in decline due to loss of habitat and yet responsible for a third of what we eat due to their pollination activities.  

FUTURE CARDBOARD

We’ve been experimenting with cardboard as a sustainable building material since Buckminster Fuller prototyped a house in 1944 – attracted to cardboard’s low cost, flexibility, strength, sustainability, and recyclability. Japanese architect Shigeru Ban returned to the material in the 1990s and built emergency shelters for Rwandan refugees and dwellings in Turkey and India from cardboard tubes and tarpaulin. He built a schoolhouse in China, a concert hall in Italy, and a cathedral in New Zealand, all out of cardboard, promising a life expectancy of 50 years for the latter. Most recently Dutch collective Fiction Factory created cardboard ‘Wikkelhouses’ made from made of 24 layers of corrugated cardboard, which is glued together and then wrapped up foil. It’s clearly a material architects will keep returning to, and with the need for sustainable, flexible and temporary dwellings only looking set to increase, it seems cardboard might indeed become an increasingly a viable option as a sustainable material.   

FUTURE BUILDING SHAPES

When Louis Sullivan coined the term ‘form follows function’ he was actually referring to forms found in nature. It has become a somewhat of a mantra for architects the world over ever since, but many are now coming back to its original meaning and embracing more organic shapes, especially as we understand more about their role in sparking joy and supporting wellbeing.