As the construction industry claws its way back from one of the most severe contractions in decades, designers are looking to reinvigorate and redefine the field with innovative architectural stylings that will give a new generation of buildings a lean, intelligent identity. Informed by a green sensibility and a renewed commitment to versatile utility, the following design trends are building momentum, and may reshape our cities in the years to come.
On the leading edge of the green building movement is a strategy called biomimicry - using patterns in nature, particularly in biological systems, to inspire innovative and more efficient designs within architecture and engineering. One such leap from the natural to the artificial is the advanced passive cooling and ventilation systems found within termite mounds and other hive-like structures. Other architects have copied the structure of shells to create stronger, more versatile bridge designs, as in the proposed Shi-Ling Bridge by Arup. Whether by mimicking natural forms or drawing inspiration from the principles that shaped them, architects are increasingly looking to the eon-won wisdom of evolution to provide clues to maximal efficiency and the aesthetic of tomorrow’s buildings.
Prefabrication is making a strong comeback in both commercial and residential properties, as the benefits of greener and faster production techniques become more attractive to firms looking to cut building and operating costs. With modular construction, units can be stacked and arranged into aesthetically pleasing, functional designs that convey an eco-conscious mentality. Clean lines, aluminum paneling and energy-efficient glass give modular buildings a modern chic that will soon populate downtown corridors the world over.
Glass usage has typically been a symbol of energy inefficiency, as heat exchange in large, translucent surfaces is higher than in insulated walling. Advances in window design have combated this problem, but new developments stand to make glass the staple of green building. Electro-chromic glass uses electricity to instantly darken or lighten windows, depending on seasonal needs and the time of day, allowing for greatly decreased heating and cooling energy expenditures. Photovoltaic glass – the next generation of solar cells, incorporated directly in the window surface – means that these once power-sapping features could soon be a primary source of energy.
All buildings have an impact on the surrounding environment, but as complexes have grown in size and resource-needs, this footprint has become painfully substantial. Skyscrapers block light from surrounding plant life, sprawling commercial and residential facilities take up thousands of square feet of usable land, and the concrete congestion of urban centers continues to grow. One new trend in architecture is to significantly reduce this impact through intelligent structural engineering and environmentally friendly design. The Flat Tower – a unique proposal that took second place in eVolo’s 2011 Skyscraper Competition – utilizes a lattice-like design to maximize sunlight, with raised living spaces to allow for open parks and pedestrian space below. These open areas can also be harnessed for rainwater harvesting and solar energy production.
In that the building sector is experiencing a reboot of sorts, the industry more than ever needs an influx of inspired, innovative architectural designs that will work to give our cities and communities physical shape to our evolving goals of environmental care, energy conservation, and improved resource management. With these and other emerging trends leading the way, the next few years in the building sector will be greener and more imaginative than ever.