When it is so hard to keep up with technological potential, it is vital to know why something should be built in the first place.

Designers have always worked at the intersection of cultural trends, whether in designer products or buildings. But today these cultural trends are being accelerated by advances in technology, some of which are so rapid that it is hard to integrate them into planning, design and development before they are superseded.

Thirty years ago the internet and mobile phones were new and no one was sure what impact they would have. Today over three billion people have a smartphone and the fantasies of science fiction writers are becoming a reality. We meet via teleconference, augmented and virtual reality are becoming mainstream, while machine learning and AI are managing hugely complex sets of data and transforming the potential for people’s living and working spaces.

Nest, Hive, Smarthome and other home automation apps are changing the way our houses are managed. With Cortana, Alexa and other personal assistants, the way we shop, play and manage our time is also being transformed. With the rate of technological innovation so far ahead of human behavior, we have to wonder, will artificial intelligence be a tool in the hands of designers or will it become an autonomous chief architect, handed the keys to making our environment harmonious and conducive to our every requirement?

The Future of Design

The BIQ building in Hamburg has a “bio-adaptive” facade that uses algae within its glass-paneled facades to generate energy. Photo: Paul Ott

Connectivity is becoming the fourth utility that underlies all the changes that are coming from new computational architecture, intelligent software and, of course, the Internet of Things in the built environment.  Already, the ability to correlate largescale datasets is transforming the way in which buildings frame the way people work. At Qubis Pharma a correlation was discovered between higher sales and higher cross-departmental interaction, an understanding which could never have been discovered without the ability of technology to interrogate the data. Such findings can transform the way in which companies want their staff to operate.

And it is not just computing architecture and datasets that are accelerating. New materials and approaches are transforming what is possible. A sugar-lump sized piece of Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOF) porous materials can have the same surface area as a football pitch. Splitterwerk Architects and engineering firm Arup designed the BIQ in Hamburg, which has a “bio-adaptive” facade that is claimed to be a first for using algae within its glass-paneled facades in order to generate energy, and provide shade, to a working building.

The demands of sustainability are changing how, as well as what, we build. One example is the 8 House in Copenhagen’s Orestad area. The development was designed by BIG and while it was designed to consume less energy, water and cut down on waste, it is also a new type of living community. It integrates all the ingredients of an urban neighborhood into a 3D figure-of-eight – hence the name. The whole neighborhood is connected in a bowtie-shaped space, where three different types of housing, commerce and commercial operations interact. The idea behind the building was to create an entirely new form of neighborhood, affordable living spaces hand in hand with commercial, as part of a grand design for a new way of living.

The Future of Design

The 8 House packs all of the ingredients of a lively urban neighborhood into horizontal layers connected by a continuous promenade and cycling path up to the 10th floor. Photo: Jens Lindhe

Ambition has to serve reality

“What matters is to develop perspective about what we can do, and whether it’s worth doing. It’s important to have a vision and not simply implement what’s possible,” points out Owen King from the futurist consultancy Unwork.

The future of design will be more about what we do with our time through an array of technology-supported options. Sustainability and the need to mitigate the impact of climate change will also require advanced technological solutions to improve energy efficiency. Designers and architects’ role will be to anticipate people’s interactions with technology and provide them with products, living and working spaces that help solve the many challenges the 21st century world brings.