Factors that will shape the way we build cities in the future.
Updated: Jun 4
By 2050, the world’s population is expected to have exceeded 10 billion people, making overcrowded cities one of the most pressing issues of the present. Data analysis, machine learning, transportation developments, and the rapid development of new social technologies are increasingly changing the needs of people and communities, which will have a direct impact on the issue of overcrowding and on our built environment more largely.
The main challenge of designing new spaces or even modernizing existing ones lies in the fast-changing needs of humanity and the even faster-evolving technologies that surround and support these needs. Human-oriented design and experimental data-driven methodologies are the main paths explored when discussing the cities of the future. The combination of both creates a holistic interdisciplinary perspective that both identifies the human needs that will need to be addressed and combine them with the available technologies and data to help us design a competent and sustainable future, both in the built and virtual realms.
Arch Daily has identified architecture-related considerations that will shape the design of cities in the future:
Climate change is one of the most pressing matters to look to when discussing future cities. Buildings and construction together account for 38% of energy-related CO2 emissions. The simplest and most impactful issue to consider regarding climate change is that the most sustainable building is the one that never gets built.
Therefore, energy efficiency in buildings will be one of the main ways to reduce CO2 emissions. The entire industry is going through a transformation catalyzed primarily by BIM, which integrates the entire lifecycle of the built environment, and more recently, the Internet of Things (IoT).
Another important trend will be refurbishment over demolition which will save money and time. This will also decrease the impact of carbon emissions by eliminating the building process.
Our global average temperature rise needs to be kept below 1.5C, which means that CO2 emissions need to decline by 45% from its 2010 levels by 2030. We need to completely change the way in which we approach construction to reach zero carbon emission construction. Put simply, to keep global warming below the 1.5°C threshold - which will still have devastating implications on our habitat - there is a finite amount of carbon pollution the world can emit or a fixed C02 budget. If we keep our carbon emissions as they are today we only have 26 years before this ‘budget’ depletes.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is unfolding rapidly as the digitization of human interactions increases at an exponential rate and the timeframe at which people adopt new technologies decreases. The digitization of the construction industry is today one of the biggest opportunities for investors, attracting the global attention of thought-leaders, innovators, and professionals: urban planning, architecture, and design are today some of the most promising areas that can impact the future of humanity. The internet of things (IoT), regenerative and parametric design, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D printing, big data, and virtual reality are just some of the new tools that architects can count on to change the way they think about, design, and build the cities of the future. This means that the role of the architect will have to pivot, embracing multidisciplinary collaboration and adopting new technologies into their workflows to tackle this new interface of opportunities
Disruptive technologies are applied to issues of all scales, from complex multifactorial issues such as parametric urban planning to more human-centered products such as lighting products designed to change every few minutes, simulating real natural light conditions and regulating the circadian rhythms of people to generate spaces that make people healthier and happier.
New Construction Materials
All of the above considerations create a fertile ground for innovation in new construction materials and digital production technologies. The smartest way to address this issue is systematical: instead of devastating forests, beaches, and riverbanks, we should be using our own waste by reusing, recycling, and upcycling. Some of the most interesting options here include plastic waste-based materials, CO2-absorbing materials (such as CLT), renewable materials, and biomechanics.
3D printing additionally opens an interesting perspective by allowing the creation of new materials with enhanced performances and optimizing the amount of material used in construction. In the case of concrete, it can reduce use by up to 40%. This excess occurs today because there's currently no penalty for over-design, encouraging designers and engineers to err on the side of safety and aesthetics over material efficiency.
Helen Taylor (Woods Bagot) and Rachel Cooper (Arup) teamed up to explore deep basements as the future of the city, a concept based on how density and population growth have resulted in the need to dig deep as well as build high. Through their most recent project, The Londoner, they share how digging a 35-meter-deep basement in the center of London to hold amenities such as a cinema, ballroom, and restaurants would work better due to the thermal and acoustic conditions and the lack of need for natural light or views.
Also, sharing some ideas Lukasz Platkowski, Principal and Design Director at GENSLER, who actually participated in the design of one of the world’s tallest buildings (Shanghai Tower, China). He proposes medium to tall buildings that translate the horizontal granularities of house dwellings to the more vertical language of commercial neighborhoods. The result is a hybrid language in which tall buildings are disarticulated horizontally, creating richer spatial relations that increase the quality of interactions between people and allow them to connect and collaborate in spaces designed to merge workstyle with lifestyle.
Big Data and Human Behavior
Future cities are smart cities, and they will operate as one big data-driven ecosystem. Every interaction and condition is currently being recorded, and several companies are already using this data to extrapolate and project smarter designs that better fit human needs. Some of the most important aspects of the city that are currently being analyzed and which future design could further improve with data include walkability, accessibility, mixed uses, fluctuating usage levels at different times of the day and during different days of the week (good cities have balanced activity levels 24/7 and should never have ‘dead’ spaces), and the integration of different cultures and communities - a current pressing matter that grows bigger every day.
Co-working and Co-living
Human health and psychological wellbeing are also areas that can be improved and optimized through the use of technology and data. As the human population doubles itself, it will become critical to optimize the quality of public spaces, allowing communities to share and interact in spaces that are designed for accessibility and diversity. The quality of comfort in workspaces and housing will be measured through sensors providing real-time data on wellbeing and primary comfort indicators such as natural light, oxygen levels, and human interaction, just to name a few. For example, a building could detect that the oxygen levels are low, making people feel tired and stressed, and automatically activate the ventilation systems in response. It could also connect to calendar apps and suggest spaces that are not being used in real-time, optimizing the use of space.
Interior design also has an impact on comfort and health, and it gains relevance as spaces grow smaller and more crowded - making the quality of these spaces even more relevant to our psychological well-being. A deeper understanding of how color, materiality, spatiality, lighting, and even decoration affects human behavior will need to be further developed and put into practice.
Human needs are changing at a fast pace, while the technologies that transform our needs and interactions are changing even faster. Thus, it’s time now to rethink how we are approaching the challenge of designing the built and virtual environment in which these transformations are taking place. One of the first steps of rethinking this issue lies in identifying the considerations that are most influentially shaping this transformation - which we have found to include climate change, disruptive technologies, innovative construction materials, urban density, big data, and human behavior, co-working and co-living, and extraterrestrial architecture. The combination of human-oriented design, experimental data-driven methodologies, and holistic interdisciplinary collaboration is key to identifying the human needs that will need to be addressed while combining these with the available technologies and data will help us design a competent and sustainable future environment.