As architecture experiences solid growth after the most recent major economic crisis, with hiring and billings increasing, architects enjoy not only better job prospects, but expanding ability to positively influence the built environment.
Key trends influencing architecture include greater urbanisation, the need for adaptive design, and the need for sustainable design. In addition, a few people hold a substantial/surprising amount of power to influence what gets built and what doesn’t.
The world is rapidly urbanising, and the need for more creative and cost-effective building, landscape, and urban design has never been greater. By 2050, about 70 per cent of the world’s people will live in cities. Australia has nearly reached that mark, with about two thirds of residents living in the capital cities, and some of those cities near the bottom of affordability rankings.
If the Sydney area, for example, is to successfully accommodate another 1.6 million residents over the coming 20 years, it’s estimated that 665,000 new housing units must be built. In many developing areas, such as Rio de Janiero, the favelas are the fastest-growing areas, leaving millions of people without modern water, sanitation, electric, and transportation systems.
Green Star and LEED have accelerated the adoption of sustainable building design and practices, such as reducing a project’s carbon footprint, energy use, and origin of materials. Beyond those familiar themes, architects are also being called to more diverse facets of architecture and urban design, such as accommodating walkability and cycling, adaptive re-use for seniors, green infrastructure, and healthy buildings.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, most adults spend about 90 per cent of their time indoors, where pollution levels are higher. The EPA states that indoor air pollution is linked with respiratory problems, cancer, and elevated blood lead levels in children. In addition, unhealthy buildings can negatively affect their occupants due to lack of ventilation, insufficient or excessive humidity, and uncomfortable temperatures.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory summarizes the necessity of effective ventilation in a study.
“Throughout the normal range of ventilation rates encountered in buildings, increased ventilation rates are, on average, associated, with fewer adverse health effects and with superior work and school performance,” he found. “There is also some limited evidence that occupants of buildings with higher ventilation rates have lower rates of absence from work or school.”
The US Green Building Council’s chief operating officer, Mahesh Ramunujam, speaking at the Tenth International Conference on Green and Energy-Efficient Building & New Technologies and Products Expo, told attendees that studies show that employees working in unhealthy buildings “are absent more often, lose more work hours, and are less productive than employees without these conditions.”
In addition, he said, some studies show “11 per cent gains in productivity from improved ventilation and 23 per cent gains in productivity from improved lighting design.”
Like buildings, cities can be designed for better health. As Denmark and the Netherlands have shown, cities can be designed, or redesigned, to accommodate cycling and walking without completely prohibiting motor vehicles.
In the US, Canada, and Australia, the Walk Score rating has been instrumental in bringing this factor to the attention of the public and giving them the information to choose more walk-friendly and bike-friendly neighborhoods. It’s also useful for demanding better design from municipalities and developers.
Rapidly urbanising cities also face massive challenges in maintaining healthy and regenerative green space. Green infrastructure, such as street trees, parks, green walls, urban woodlands, green roofs, and bioswales, offers a host of benefits, including wastewater control and better health for residents. Not only do living plants sequester carbon and pollutants, they cool the air and produce much-needed oxygen. Green infrastructure projects can mitigate the shortcomings of aging gray infrastructure, such as overtaxed sewage and wastewater systems, with bioswales and wetlands that also protect rivers, lakes, and oceans from polluted runoff.
A major challenge in growing cities is a pinch on buildable land, creating great pressure to minimize all forms of green space. Functional green infrastructure can address many needs simultaneously, and talented architects and landscape architects are needed to create designs that meet those needs and are physically attractive.
Worldwide, most developed nations have aging populations, with the ranks of senior citizens growing rapidly. By 2050, one-quarter of Australia’s population will be 65 or older. Many of those people want a home than they can grow old in, rather than needing to move to a large institutional-style retirement community, or “retirement ghetto.”
Some changes to existing buildings are possible, but adaptive design builds in features such as wider hallways and easily moveable walls. The American Institute of Architects’ recent Home Design Trends Survey highlights a few sought-after features. At the top of the list is dedicated guest rooms to accommodate live-in help, followed by the ability to accommodate multiple generations, inclusion of ramps and elevators, and on-grade entries.
“As many households become caretakers for aging relatives, separate living suites have become popular options for accommodations,” said AIA chief economist, Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “Homeowners want to ensure that their homes can support the needs of aging parents who may be staying for an extended period of time and other visitors with accessibility needs.”
In addition to important concepts for better buildings, a few people have substantial and surprising influence on architecture. “Starchitects” like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid get a great deal of press coverage, mostly with good reason. Their projects are visually stunning, complex, controversial, and are often accessible to the public. His Royal Highness Prince Charles, though not an architect or building professional, is also influential, not to mention controversial. Many UK architects loathe him.
Architecture critic Douglas Murphy, writing in The Guardian, called Prince Charles “the bane of the architectural profession” for his efforts (sometimes successful) to derail projects he did not like. Since 1984, when he delivered a famous speech comparing a design for an extension to the National Gallery to a “carbuncle,” he has had some influence in quashing major projects. In particular, Prince Charles dislikes modern architecture, and wields an architecture team that he offers up for assistance on projects such the Chelsea Barracks, on which he was able to get lead architect Richard Rogers sacked.
Architectural Review recently published Prince Charles’ 10 key principles and his explanation of them, where he wrote, “We have to work out now how we will create resilient, truly sustainable and human-scale urban environments that are land-efficient, use low-carbon materials and do not depend so completely upon the car.”
Charles’s 10 key principles:
- Developments must respect the land
- Architecture is a language
- Scale is also key
- Harmony: neighbouring buildings ‘in tune’ but not uniform
- The creation of well-designed enclosures
- Materials also matter: local wood beats imported aluminium
- Limit signage
- Put the pedestrian at the centre of the design process
- Space is at a premium – but no high-rises
- Build flexibility in