Architecture from the future | by Alessandra Coppa

The pandemic has forced all of us to rapidly change our viewpoints and habits and to begin to contemplate a different present and future. In the wake of the crisis, the big challenge facing architects today is to attempt to create new habitats and collective spaces in a way that is both innovative and sustainable.

In the book entitled Architetture dal futuro. Visioni contemporanee sull’abitare [“Architecture from the future. Contemporary visions of living”] (160 pages, 60 illustrations, published by 24 ORE Cultura, price €32), I have attempted to investigate the idea of the future in architecture starting out from “yesterday’s future”, then proceeding to the “trends of the present” and on to the “visions for the future” of fifteen of the world’s most influential design and architecture practices.

Whereas the twentieth-century utopias of home and city living centred around machines, in the neo-utopias of the twenty-first century it is nature that has taken on a leading role.

The result is a new way forward for the practice of architecture, shunning the iconic gestures of starchitects in favour of a “new normal” that is more attentive to the urgent environmental, social, economic and now also health issues that are at the centre of the global debate.

As attention moves away from referential gestures that are mostly indifferent to the context, we are witnessing the diffusion of a new ethics of sustainability as well as high level of experimentation and use of technology in a complex new relationship between Natural and Artificial.

Architects are called on to adopt a different strategic approach that must take account of complex issues such as collective responsibility for climate change; the ethical role of architecture between human actions and nature; new housing emergencies and new types of users (such as the elderly, non-EU immigrants and new forms of post-crisis poverty); and the need to avoid new building.

The future will belong to those who learn to handle change. And without question, the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating the pace of transformation of processes that are already undergoing change.

How to design post-Covid? Will Covid be an opportunity to redesign our cities and homes?

The design approach adopted by Stefano Boeri is to forge a new alliance between City and Nature and between architecture and the world of plants at the building, neighbourhood and city levels. He maintains that the great challenge of the next few years will be to make cities no longer merely the perpetrators or victims of climate change, but the protagonists of a planetary campaign to reduce and slow down the drivers and impacts, from CO2 production to rising temperatures and air pollution. For this reason, he continued the experimentation work carried out for the Vertical Forest in Milan with the masterplan for Liuzhou Forest City in China, the world’s first forest city project.

Carlo Ratti likewise emphasises the need to integrate nature and the built environment. A strong advocate of climate mitigation technologies and urban agriculture based on hydroponic cultivation, he has designed a “roof vineyard” in Milan, imagining the home of the future as a kind of iPhone, a platform that can be reconfigured according to our needs through both physical and digital transformations.

Mario Cucinella is similarly convinced that buildings should no longer be seen as an environmental problem but part of the solution. Today’s building activity is far from sustainable, he argues, because most of the time it means transforming matter and consuming energy. This is why he has created TECLA, a new circular model of a home built entirely using 3D technology from reusable and recyclable materials collected from local land.

Elisabetta Trezzani, a partner at Renzo Piano Building Workshop, believes that an important commitment for the houses of the future is to design carbon neutral buildings as a stepping stone towards carbon zero, while taking account of function and location on a case by case basis. Although there is no unique solution, the goal is to adopt an integrated design approach that will help make the buildings we live in more resilient to different climates, weather and maintenance costs.

Gianluca Racana (Zaha Hadid Architects) believes that we will gradually move away from a concept of monocentric city to one that is more multicentric and multifunctional, in other words towards the idea of a smart city. The greater opportunities for working from home, he says, will result in more time being spent in the home environment. In turn, this will drive demand for larger housing units with dedicated working spaces and outdoor areas such as private balconies and terraces, as well as communal gardens and shared services.

Mario Botta reflects on the current emergency which has diverted our attention from the difficulties of the present and forced us to stop and rethink the fundamental values of life and living. Meanwhile, Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas are convinced that there is a need to rethink our way of living in the broadest possible sense and have decided to record their reflections in a letter addressed to the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella. In the four points of their letter, they set out the potential guidelines that can be applied to the construction of the post-Covid home, rethinking it as a first line of defence in health protection and equipping it, right from the construction phase, with an oxygen saturometer (pulse oximeter) and a PC to connect to the local health service.

Odile Decq reflects on the Covid lockdown that has forced us to work from home, creating problems due to the fact that many apartments are simply too small to spend much time in them. This in turn has generated new desires for living spaces, such as having usable outdoor areas like balconies, terraces or a garden.

Patricia Viel (from ACPV, Antonio Citterio Patricia Viel) believes that tomorrow’s homes will be flexible and easily reconfigurable: homes based on the hybridisation of functions such as those in the La Bella Vita skyscraper in Taichung.

Ben van Berkel from UNStudio believes that following today’s technological earthquake combined with the pandemic, future scenarios in the field of living and architectural design will offer many different opportunities. Our homes will soon become empathetic machines capable of recording our preferences and automatically responding to our behaviours and habits. But perhaps the most interesting thing for the future is that technology will be able to collect data and consequently analyse and measure our lives.

Envisioning an even bolder challenge for the future, Foster + Partners aspire to build sustainable homes on other planets such as Mars, a venture that will offer lessons for survival here on Earth in the face of extreme climates or exceptional events such as the current pandemic.

For the Italian Pavilion at Expo Dubai due to be held in 2021, Italo Rota experiments with “materials of the future” made from orange peel, coffee grounds, mycelia (the vegetative bodies of fungi) and recycled plastic recovered from the ocean. These materials will be used as building elements to experiment with more sustainable building practices and to commit to the circular economy.

The book is on sale in bookshops and online.


November 2020