Designers and architects are now, more then ever, facing their greatest challenge – the future of the city. With recent statistics showing that 41% of Europe’s energy consumption accounts solely for heating and cooling buildings. It’s apparent, by continuing our current model of fossil fuel reliance the demand for consumption is unsustainable. If we examine our constructed environment, it’s clear that the buildings where we work and co-habit are actually working against us. A typical 21st century city consists mainly of inert architecture that consumes enormous quantities of resources. Should we therefore fear the cities of tomorrow?
Designers and architects are now, more then ever, facing their greatest challenge – the future of the city.
If we analyse the situation on an anthropological level and consider our footprint on the earth, a disturbing trend emerges. We are the only species that has not (yet) learned to live in harmony with our environment. Ironically, humans, the most intelligent species on the planet, are creating the most damage. We are continuing to fracture a fragile equilibrium – depleting the food chain, erasing natural resources, increasing levels of carbon and air pollution. So how did we reach this point and where does the problem lie? Rachel Armstrong, a sustainability innovator, believes we are still trapped in a Victorian age. Where construction techniques have not developed and progressed. With concrete still being the predominant building material of choice. A substance that over time breaks down and requires expensive repairs and replacement. Simply stated, she describes it as a ‘one way transfer of energy’ – architecture that consumes on an enormous scale but gives little back to the environment. It therefore seems strange that in our environment the species and objects that are the most resilient are found in the biological world – natural structures and forms. Why then, with the level of intellect in the 21st century, do we continue to fill the planet with foreign objects, when over time they have been shown to consistently fail? Biomimicry, the examination and replication of the natural world and it’s systems, may hold the key for architecture. By analysing how nature forms this resilience and thrives in it’s own habitat, could we go on to mimic this process? Mitchell Joachim of Terreform, thinks we can. One of the number of Terreform concepts which takes inspiration from the natural world. The New York Smart Park project encompasses vertical towers of energy creating algae. Feeding power back in, thus creating energy positive communities. ‘Intelligent’ materials are now being developed and becoming available. Bath University are creating self-healing concrete, containing bacteria that produce limestone which over time strengthens any developed weaknesses. Similarly, thermobimetals, a material that consists of two metals combined together which expand at different rates to heat. By using these as a skin for a building, in the future it may be possible to create intelligent architecture containing pores allowing respiration, like human skin. Philip Beesley architects call there work ‘Hylozioc Ground’ based on the ancient belief that all matter has life. He talks of giving life to architecture not simply in a symbolic sense, as seen traditionally, but in the actual essence of the material itself. Creating ‘protocells’ which form a mesh, absorbing carbon to create limestone which in-turn builds and repairs structures. Air-purification, energy-provision, and thermo-regulation are all key denominating factors of a complex equation that need to be solved. We’ve been copying the forms and aesthetics of nature in our designs for years, therefore isn’t the logical step now to copy the essence, the functionality and process of the natural world. Developing living/breathing spaces – structures of plant composites producing oxygen and harnessing the power of photosynthesis to produce energy. Building a new architectural world where humankind can finally give a little back to the planet we have gained so much from. What are your thoughts about the future of our cities? Have your say by leaving a comment.