So how can our future cities help? The fabric we create our cities with needs to be dynamic to tune into the environments in which we live, and we need to use the waste we produce to better effect. Natural resources such as tidal flow, solar power and air movement also need to be used more efficiently.
Whilst it is impossible to describe the future, we can see trends that enable us to predict it. We know that the greatest development in modern life is the digital revolution, where communication through smartphones and the internet has already become second nature. We also know that for more of us the city is the backdrop for everyday life. The spaces in the city need to change to meet new working patterns – taking into account that we often now meet in coffee shops and via video conferencing rather than in big office buildings.
Currently our built form is measured for its cost on the environment. This is fundamentally wrong. The fabric we create should help make our spaces more comfortable and efficient. Building skins should change their performance based upon light and temperature differences, like plants reacting to sunlight. The materials we use to create our buildings, like our energy creation, is still firmly based in the Victorian times and heavily influenced by the results of the industrial revolution.
Today’s materials should draw on more natural resources. Organic matter, soils and algae will form part of our buildings in the future. We are already working on projects which incorporate algae and other natural products to enable zero carbon biofuel creation or fertilisers for treating the eroding topsoil. Researchers at Barcelona’s Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (UPC), for instance, have come up with ways of promoting growth of moss and lichen on biological concrete, which helps insulate the building and also takes carbon out of the atmosphere.
We have to use the building fabric to help us harness the power the Earth provides naturally. Bioluminous structures to light the streets or building skins that feed off the waste we create. For instance, one project my studio is working on involves building algae tanks into a school roof to absorb CO2 and produce fertiliser for the school grounds. Ideas such as these reduce the energy load, decentralising our energy production.
With this, we will begin to understand our energy demand in relationship to its supply as it will be a visible part of the new city. If this is achieved then we will be able to reduce the reliance on imported energy and fossil fuels, in turn creating a better, healthier environment.