Interview with 3 pros on the architecture of tomorrow and the challenges it will not be able to escape in the years to come
Where will architecture take us to the near future? How does social evolution influence it? We asked Gonzalo Pardo, an architect and professor at Madrid Polytechnic University, Guillermo Lopez of the firm MAIO (New York and Barcelona), and Manuela Fernandez Langenegger, who works in Milan. In particular, they talked about sustainable development, inclusive approach, and public space.
- An architecture that thinks about the environment
The issue of climate change is at the heart of our societal issues. It naturally affects the architecture industry, where it has even become unavoidable.
The new EU directives require that all housing built in Europe after 2020 be very low consumption (close to zero). “Architecture has been slow to follow the movement, but today the measurements are multiplying,” says Gonzalo Pardo.
Construction techniques are increasingly taking into account the necessary protection of the environment. “The architectural project is now being viewed more from a thermodynamic perspective. The goal is to reduce energy consumption during and after the construction phase,” explains Gonzalo Pardo.
The new buildings will incorporate a water-saving system, energy-efficient appliances, and better insulation. “Anything that comes to taking into account basic factors such as sunlight and wind will be further exploited,” he continues. One ambition: to reduce the carbon footprint of each building.
2. Recycling and reusing: “from cradle to cradle”
The principles of the circular economy are increasingly applied to architecture, with the aim of reducing the environmental impact of buildings.
Construction and demolition alone produce between one-third and one-half of the solid waste in developed countries.
Until now, the construction process has been thought out and implemented in a linear manner: produce, build, use and discard or demolish. A way of doing things that consumes a lot of energy and natural resources, but also generates astronomical amounts of detritus.
The circular economy is based on “a C2C model (cradle to cradle, or “cradle to cradle,” NDLT). It is mainly a question of taking advantage and reusing everything that is identified as waste on the site, as well as using a minimum of natural resources, at all phases of the construction project,” says Gonzalo Pardo.
Many manufacturers already offer construction materials with a circular life cycle: second work coatings made of recycled materials such as tires or glass; crushed cork insulating panels; cellulose cotton wool obtained from newspapers and paper detritus from the industry.
Building using natural materials (such as straw or brick) generates less waste because it can be recycled and reused. The key is construction sites and houses that are less energy-intensive and natural resources.
3. Renovation: 1 – Demolition: 0
Old or disused buildings can be transformed into avant-garde structures, rehabilitated for a new life, or converted into contemporary housing. This year, recycling efforts are on the rise in the rehabilitation industry.
“The latter is developing in a context of economic crisis,” says Gonzalo Pardo. “The primary motivation is often financial: rather than buying a new property, the owners prefer to renovate their own.”
In a society where the reflex has long been that of destruction, more than that of preservation or transformation, the evolution of mentalities poses a double challenge to architects. Recycling first involves conservation and renovation work in keeping with tradition. The approach must also add value to the buildings and adapt them to the needs and habits of the time.
Manuela Fernandez Langenegger, who works in Milan, defines renovation as “a way of approaching construction from a more ecological and sustainable point of view.”
“Space is running out in the world. Everyone is becoming more aware of the value of undeveloped land or territory. In Germany, for example [the architect lived in Stuttgart for several years], the work is being made to densify the existing building, to modify the criteria of the building spaces, to re-qualify others, and to think of smaller houses.
4. Return to local tradition and know-how
While industrial materials and technologies are evolving, there is also a return to construction techniques inspired by local know-how and exploiting the region’s resources. “In restaurants, we talk about zero mile: chefs source live from producers within a radius of less than 100 km. The architects took the idea. Today, it is unthinkable to propose a project that would turn a blind eye to the origin of materials and the ecological future of the land in the medium and long term, says Gonzalo Pardo.
This return to local tradition and know-how can be explained in particular by the context of the economic crisis,” says Manuela Fernandez Langenegger. “But it’s also a reaction to globalization.”
5. Inclusive architecture
Architecture must have a social function, to adapt to the needs of all. “Among the young guard, there is a real consideration of the difficulties faced by the elderly. More broadly, issues of reduced mobility, loss of vision, or loneliness are all subjects of work for architects,” continues Gonzalo Pardo.
Inclusive architecture goes beyond accessibility for all and the removal of physical barriers. It is a question of designing suitable, welcoming environments that meet the needs and limitations of the individual. In this sense, we imagine different spaces for adults, seniors, mothers, fathers, babies, people with one or more disabilities, but also places of life that promote interactions.
6. Emotional architecture and priority to quality
The new luxury in architecture will be the quality of the space rather than the number of square meters. House prices are rising around the world and the population is growing in large cities: residential architecture needs to offer smaller-scale housing solutions for smaller budgets. “Luxury was previously linked to the material aspect of architecture. We move away from it today to be interested in what gives the soul, what plays on space, is flexible and perfectible,” observes Gonzalo Pardo.
The lifestyle of the younger generations, based on notions of multifunctionality and experience, will encourage architecture to think of versatility and modularity in open spaces. A small dwelling can thus play in the court of the greats in terms of comfort and functionality.
7. Public space for all
The city of the 20th century was built around personal vehicles. The 21st century sees the birth of a desire to reappropriate public space. “This can be seen in the transport policy of many cities,” confirms Gonzalo Pardo. “The car no longer has the right to a city: the public space becomes the pedestrian’s.”
“Cultural, social, and technological developments, as well as advances in infrastructure and transport, invite us to rethink the model on which cities have developed. We need to come up with new answers, based on pragmatic analysis and avoiding preconceived ideas,” says Guillermo Lopez, co-founder of the firm MAIO.
“Most of the buildings built today incorporate common spaces and community services such as kitchens, daycares, laundry facilities… He continues. “We try to encourage relations between neighbors, communication, and social connection.
Architecture, therefore, has the challenge and mission to (re)create urban spaces as places of coexistence and leisure, where everyone can walk, play or simply enjoy the great outdoors.