A look at architectural innovations that will shape future cities

A look at architectural innovations that will shape future citiesImage Credit: Masdar City

Cities are vibrant, breathing nerve centres teeming with life — almost half the world's population to be exact. By 2050 it is projected this number will rise to 75 per cent. So how are cities in the future preparing for the influx of people? And what will these cities look like?

What we often forget when conjecturing about future built environments is that the meticulously engineered urban centres of tomorrow would likely have to coexist with the bricks and mortar of today, just as The Shard does with St. Paul's Cathedral in central London. Buildings reflect the era and culture in which they were built, becoming a central part of countless people's lives. For a built environment to stand the test of time it is not only enough to construct strong structures, but the buildings of tomorrow also need to be exciting, innovative, sustainable and inspiring.

Architects have already been designing smarter urban environments, and nowhere is this more evident than in emerging markets, especially in the Middle East, which has been transformed in recent years by what might be the world's largest collection of top-of-the-line contemporary architectural works.

''There are countless cities around the world vying for the moniker of Global Capital, and as developing cities continue to grow, there will soon be tough competition for today's leaders,'' says Paul Priest, Director and Head of Middle East and North Africa Studios at Benoy. ''We believe in designing for the consumer of today and tomorrow and with the longevity to withstand future trends; extending the life of each scheme and pleasing visitors for years to come.''

Today's architects are hard-pressed by societal trends and government agendas to help craft sustainable lifestyles, where built environments have to cater to the ballooning populations, unaffordable energy prices and scarcity of resources.

Priest believes that the best ideas are those that use existing features of a site; a key view, level change or important cultural link. ''Recognising the importance of a traditional urban site and connecting to it is vital to creating environments where old and new come together,'' he says. ''For a place to be both successful and sustainable it must be embraced by those who use it, which means understanding culture and heritage as well as planning for the future.''

20-minute living

Cities across the world are grappling with the myriad issues that arise from the flow of traffic and the time and resources expended to navigate busy streets and highways. In Portland, Oregon, US, property developers use the 20-minute living principle, ensuring that everything you need is within a 20-minute walk or bike ride of your home, therefore reducing traffic, pollution and fossil fuel use, saving money and making the city more eco-friendly.

People are looking for buildings with better performance and healthier indoor environment, which will drive the design market towards a sustainable direction.

''The focus is shifting from energy-efficiency to a more diversified direction,'' says Michael Fowler, Managing Director — Middle East at Aedas. ''Sustainable materials and healthy indoor environment will be taken seriously. There is a strong evidence that sustainable urban mobility planning raises the quality of life in an urban area, because the emphasis is on the people, shifting the primary objectives to accessibility and quality of life, as well as sustainability, economic viability, social equity, health and environmental quality.''

Good transport connection has become a primary catalyst for convenient mixed-use neighbourhoods in the best cities around the world, says Priest. ''From new transport hubs spring well designed dense urban clusters, which demonstrate the advantage of integrating rich mixed-use types to give a fresh, new focus,'' he says. ''Not only does this enhance mobility, but it reduces the reliance on car use. In addition, the higher densities encouraged closer to the primary transport hubs give opportunity to add landmark buildings with key addresses, which add variety to the city skyline in a positive way.''

Sustainable existence

A transit-oriented development is the very essence of a good sustainable design — it allows the reuse of brownfield land, higher density, mixed usage, reduced carbon footprint and good transport connections. Furthermore, economies of scale mean the finest-quality urban landscapes and green spaces are possible. This is all within a pleasant city quarter where one can live, work and play, while only minutes from the rest of what the city has to offer, using various public transport modes. This model creates a living environment where life's necessities and pleasures are all within walkable distance, reducing the need for private vehicles and reducing energy consumption. Furthermore, buildings are designed to shade each other and share mechanical systems, and are well-suited to passive energy strategies. The ratio of habitable area to building skin is also increased.

Developments such as Downtown Dubai and Dubai Marina reflect the willingness of residents to live a vibrant life closer together, resulting in reduced carbon footprint and lowering the energy intensity in a rapid urban development process, explains Fowler.

''Sustainable urban mobility is a critical component for healthy, livable cities,'' says Marie Laurent, founder of an eponymous Dubai based architectural practice. ''In several important cities, this has been considered a priority for their development. Infrastructures have been upgraded to promote sustainability. I believe this is a major, necessary step, and that it is essential to make the sustainability and care of our environment a priority.''

The UAE's carbon footprint is being reduced through strong governance and investment in research and technology. Sustainability is among the core themes of the various strategic plans announced by the government. The implementation of Estidama in Abu Dhabi and the Green Building regulations in Dubai also means that buildings are now more sustainable. Moreover, various institutions such as Masdar are making inroads into sustainable development research, while revenue from traditional energy production is being invested into new technologies more than ever. This is all part of a deliberate move by the government to ensure social, environmental and economic sustainability for future generations.

Easy maintenance

But Hazel Wong, Executive Director of WSW Architects, who designed the iconic Emirates Towers, cautions that it will take more than reducing carbon footprint to achieve sustainability. ''For example Leed or similar certification is not just about lowering carbon footprint, although the tangible benefits of lower energy bills is obvious,'' she says. ''Good appropriate architecture is essential to achieve the best results in any given circumstances. A well-designed project will pay back in so many ways, not just during construction, but also over the lifetime of the building. We have seen how in periods of downturn better quality properties retain their commercial value and are cheaper and easier to maintain.

''Perhaps the answer is greater regulation. The Dubai Green Building Council sets out minimal standards and these should be developed as this appears to be an effective way for developers and owners to compete on an even playing field.''

Priest adds: ''Passive design sits at the core of reducing carbon footprint, and clients expect this as part of the design process particularly in the Middle East. Technology is good, but the most significant and cost-effective reductions come from building massing and orientation, natural cooling and lighting.

''Our Beach Project in Dubai challenges convention as an open-air project in contrast to traditional air conditioned malls. It uses sea breeze to cool courtyards, canopies for shading and flexible spaces for use throughout the year.''

Smart lighting

Fowler, meanwhile, says a smart lighting control system will further enhance green spaces. Such a system dynamically responds to the changing characteristics of a building to provide the right amount of light. ''The smart lighting control system saves significant amount of energy consumption,'' says Fowler.

''[We can also] use high efficiency air filtration and disinfection technology, which will address concerns about urban air pollution. Urban air pollutant affect indoor air quality. High performance air filtration and disinfection technology can safeguard indoor air quality and improve the health of buildings.''

Nanomaterials are also increasingly offering opportunities for architects as they become more accessible in construction. Lighter, stronger, more flexible materials are pushing the boundaries of design. ''Benoy designed the first ETFE roof in the Middle East nearly 10 years ago as the entrance to Ferrari World,'' says Priest, referring to ethylene tetrachloroethylene, a fluorine-based plastic designed to have high corrosion resistance and strength over a wide temperature range. ''Now we are researching new material technologies for future projects. Materials which I particularly find interesting are memory materials, aerogels, dichroic glass, photoluminescent aggregates and transparent aluminium.

''Construction technologies such as large-scale 3D printing when used in combination with these, are the future.''

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Source: Sanaya Pavri, Special to Property Weekly


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