Driverless cars, The Internet of Things, smart materials and sustainability have been the driving forces behind the most innovative accomplishments in architecture in 2016. What are the trends that will mark 2017?
2016 was an exciting year for architecture. While we still haven’t started travelling to space – though we are a step closer thanks to a successful rocket launch and landing SpaceX accomplished earlier this year – technology has been significantly impacting the way we inhabit cities.
Designers have been experimenting with innovative, intelligent building materials, car manufacturers are rolling out self-driving models, and urban infrastructure is relying more on connectivity to optimize everything, from commuting to working. Many among these are long-term trends that have had breakthroughs in the last year, which promise to continue into 2017.
Here are the 7 most significant trends affecting the built environment that will shape the upcoming year.
#1 – Urban Connectivity
Connectivity extends far beyond Internet access. In fact, several companies across the globe are currently working on integrating tech products into urban environments in order to improve transportation, social services, health and public spaces. We have already written about Sidewalk Labs, a “smart-city” company owned by Alphabet Inc., which creates digital products through public-private partnerships to provide ubiquitous connectivity, real-time sensors, precise location services, distributed trust, autonomous systems, and digital actuation and fabrication.
Several incubators targeting urban environments are creating funding opportunities for companies that greatly influence how we live, work and commute. Y Combinator already funded companies like reputable Airbnb, among others, while Impact Engine supports early-stage, tech-focused businesses that change neighborhoods and urban conditions in the Chicago area.
#2 – Autonomous Transportation
Self-driving vehicles are promising to revolutionize the transport industry, which will greatly impact the built environment. Car manufacturers are rolling out models that are already hitting city streets. Last August, Singapore has become the first country in the world to launch a self-driving taxi service, beating Uber by a few days to public road tests. US-based start-up called nuTonomy received permission from the Singapore government to test self-driving cars and start testing with passengers.
Last December, Uber brought a small number of self-driving Volvo luxury SUVs to San Francisco. Another interesting trend – drones – is getting into the transportation race. Chinese drone manufacturer Ehang has created a vehicle capable of autonomously transporting human passengers and their luggage. Aerial drone delivery companies like Flirtey and Matternet are also developing solutions for air traffic. It will be interesting to see what 2017 brings for autonomous transportation.
#3 – Space Sharing
The sharing economy is expanding to include an increasing number of industries. WeWork has come to the forefront of the “space as a service” trend as one of the fastest growing consumers of office space, transforming a real estate business. The company has recently begun testing its first residential offering – WeLive, which brings a “co-living” philosophy into the world of residential real estate. WeLive links tenants with living areas that share kitchens and bathrooms. According to company documents – as Nasdaq reports – WeLive is expected to bring in about 21% of the company’s total revenue by 2018.
Last December, Airbnb has started investing in Home Sharing Clubs – host-led local organizations – around the world, closing out 2016 with 112. The emergence of Club-like organizations is an important trend to watch in 2017.
#4 – AR/VR
Augmented reality and virtual reality are being used in architectural design and real estate with increased frequency. Architecture studios are embracing VR as a way to optimize communication with clients and speed up the design process. This trend is expected to grow in 2017, with firms like NBBJ developing new, immersive solutions. NBBJ has already developed a self-contained venture Visual Vocal to built a VR platform integrated into the firm’s design process. Computing chipmaker NVIDIA conceived a VR demonstration of the completed building powered by NVIDIA products. The VR headset allows Gensler designers to navigate the model of the structure and notice design flaws that could be easily missed in a 2D environment.
According to digi-capital, the virtual and augmented reality industries will be worth $150 billion dollars by 2020. Virtual home experiences are expected to dominate 2017, and can potentially get into architecture schools.
#5 – Entrepreneurship in Architectural Education
Speaking of schools, entrepreneurship seems to be increasingly taught to architecture students. Architecture schools across the world are starting to offer bachelor and master programs in entrepreneurship and real estate development.
The Parsons School of Design offers an undergraduate minor in creative entrepreneurship, while a Penn State-sponsored business accelerator program aims to help student entrepreneurs turn their innovative project into reality. Canada’s Ryerson encourages its students to participate in a variety of projects that allow them to gain skills in architecture that are not taught in class.
The School of Architecture and Planning (SA+P), one of five schools at MIT, launched an entrepreneurship accelerator, DesignX, which allows students to “make the critical leap from project to startup”. DesignX will include a four-month, for-credit accelerator workshop through which participants will get a chance to pitch to outside investors and industry partners.
#6 – Material Innovation
The Multiscale Materials Laboratory at Rice University is working on developing what they call “programmable cement” which can allow designers to control the kinetics of cement to get desired shapes, the morphology and size of the basic building blocks of C-S-H. This way they can self-assemble into microstructures with far greater packing density compared with conventional amorphous C-S-H microstructures.
Another common material that is gaining momentum is timber. Architects are increasingly using this rapidly renewable, carbon sequestering material that environmentally outperforms concrete and steel. In 2016, PLP Architecture and researchers from the University of Cambridge have revealed a concept for London’s first wooden skyscraper, architect Michael Green completed the largest mass-timber building in the United States – a seven-story tower in Minneapolis called T3.
Companies like Solar Roadways and Wattway are developing solar-harvesting road surfaces, while power-generating textiles are being experimented on at the Georgia Institute of Technology. This fabric harvests energy from solar and kinetic sources and is highly flexible, lightweight and consists of widely available, environmentally friendly materials.
#7 – Sustainability
From energy to transportation and architecture, industries are steadily moving towards sustainable practices. 3D printed buildings, like the world’s first 3D printed office in Dubai, also influence the costs and environmental impact of the AEC industry. Cities are moving toward clean energy and a green economy.
After completing the Vertical Forest tower in Milan, Italy, architect Stefano Boeri has recently announced a similar design to be developed in China. This will be the first project of its kind in Asia.
Malaysia’s Forest City is set to become Southeast Asia’s largest mixed-use green development. Sasaki Associates designed the $40.9 billion master plan as an ecosystem that mimics the natural coastal ecologies of the region.
Urban Renewal and farming Projects are also a path to more sustainable cities. Some of the largest are The Los Angeles River Revitalization, Green Square – Australia’s biggest urban renewal project – while the Chinese megacity of Shanghai is set to realize the Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District.