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Op-Ed: What Will Shape the Architecture of the Roaring 2020s?

Luis Vidal is the Madrid-based president & founding partner of luis vidal + architects. To learn more about his firm, visit: https://www.luisvidal.com/en/.

This decade, perhaps another Roaring 20s, will no doubt be one of the most exciting and fast-paced decades in recent memory. With the rapid pace of tech, climate and business innovation, I expect that we will continue the momentum by cramming 100 years worth of living into the next nine.

More specifically, I believe that there are five major themes that will lead to this societal acceleration, all of which will be reflected in our urban, residential, commercial and infrastructure designs:

1. The first is the coronavirus pandemic, which has already generated enormous changes in our day-to-day lives – in cities, in the workplace, our daily habits, etc. Architecture must match these advancements, both as a way to stay ahead of the curve and accommodate a changing populace.

2. Our next theme is the environment, a longstanding issue in our profession that has become an urgent reality due to climate change: rising sea levels, volatile weather, warming temperatures, etc. While COVID-19 has temporarily relegated environmental concerns to the background, they will no doubt return in the months ahead, leaving us with existential questions about our survival.

Concerns over long-term sustainability will certainly re-dial the agenda that was altered by the pandemic. The question will become: How quickly, and how efficiently, will we respond to the need for systemic change in the way we travel, congregate and manufacture?

3. The third theme is the digitization, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, which certainly will transform and accelerate the way we conduct business, where and how we gather and travel, and, ultimately, the ways we interact with our surroundings. This ongoing digitization has posed societal questions for years, but rapid advancements in the 2020s will force designers to inject new security and recreational features in any given design project.

4. Next, we move to financial resources: As a society, we have never seen the sheer size and scale of our current markets. Globalization has allowed us to invest heavily — and cross-cuttingly — around the world. This certainly has financial ramifications as budgets increase, new funding sources emerge and innovation gets pushed even further into the foreground.

5. Finally, our fifth accelerating agent is the social revolution that will lay the groundwork for a new generation. Social and demographic changes demand new levels of access to be built into our systems and destinations. This anticipated reality, coupled with increasing financial resources, equates to measurably larger and more significant design projects on the horizon.

Rendering courtesy of the author.

All five of these factors will directly influence our architecture. But, it goes even further: These changes will likely be reflected across two very clear lines of action.

The first relates to rehabilitation and transformation: In the coming years, many of the spaces we’ve grown to know and love may be rehabilitated and retrofitted — a transformation to equip them for the post-coronavirus reality. These retrofitted buildings will have to be exponentially more sustainable and environmentally responsible (think self-sustaining processes for heating/cooling, etc.).

Further, our spaces will have to incorporate the new technologies that continue to shake up our day-to-day. Both as a result of the coronavirus and just innovation in general, we’ve grown accustomed to digital tools that provide additional layers of safety/security. In our airports, for example, these security and public health-related systems will become the norm.

Our architecture will be able to create entirely new technological spaces, which, at the same time, will have to be warm, inviting and human. Spaces like this are the convergence point for the five factors, where advances service the user, not the other way around.

The second line of action is the new building, which will go a step further in sustainability. In fact, we are already assisting in the construction of zero-emissions buildings with the ability to generate their own energy. The years ahead will see immense change in the layout and functionality of our buildings – and we expect to see many more LEED-certified spaces and self-sustaining systems built into the design phase.

Rendering courtesy of the author.

The common denominator of both rehabilitated and new buildings will be flexibility, a guiding principle that we’ve built our business around. Flexibility will be key to match the rapid tech advancements and the security measures we’ll deem necessary for the foreseeable future.  Luckily, there are resources already in place to incorporate these transformations. Mark my words, the Roaring 2020s will be a game-changer.

Let’s not forget that the purpose of architecture is to improve quality of life, and in this decade, we are presented with the opportunity to substantially improve the way society inhabits, occupies and uses the planet.

If we are able to responsibly carry out this tall task, a better, brighter and more interconnected future awaits us. In it, we’ll have answered the pressing questions of the present — including those posed by the once-in-a-century pandemic.

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