Technology and the Future of the Built Environment

This post is also available in: Chinese (Traditional)

Technology progresses at such a fast rate that the built environment can struggle to keep up. Derek Clements-Croome opened the ‘advancement’ session at last week’s Futures Fair 10 by stating that the technological provisions in buildings can often be out of date by the time the building is completed, but added that most modern buildings are adaptable enough to cope with these changes. As an architect who ‘takes a very person-orientated view of buildings and architecture’, Clements-Croome’s focused on the context aware technologies that can change human lifestyles for the better.

Technologies that allow us to measure blood sugar levels, and devices that monitor energy consumption in the home were given as examples of advancement being driven by improvements in quality of life and environmental sustainability, with Clements-Croome suggesting further technological developments that may include the harvesting of energy generated by human movement, security devices that can recognize you based on your body, and Bars that sense your mood and mix drink accordingly!

He predicted an increase in smart technology in the building construction industry, mentioning smart concrete, which contain nanotubes (shown above) that make it stronger and lighter than traditional concrete, and self healing crystals that expand to fill cracks that can appear in buildings.

Ximo Peris of Crystal CG explored advancements in 3D technologies, and how these are improving the design of the built environment. Referencing the considerable computer generated work on display when China hosted the Olympics, Peris asked ‘where does this leave the ‘real’ world?’

Improvements in crowd technology are also changing the built environment for the better, reasoned Peris, with new technologies allowing us to test scenarios, from the everyday to emergency procedures, within digital designs of proposed buildings and public spaces. This is allowing us the opportunity to improve the built environment before it has even been built.

Alongside these beneficial technological developments, Peris also explored the concept of the avatar. This online representation of yourself means that there are people who approach life through fictional characters in a fictional online world. Peris questioned how a life lived excessively online could affect a person, and after ending on a video in which we were asked ‘what would happen if Dublin was invaded by zombies?’ the audience was left wondering the same.

Jake Desyllas further explored the benefits of virtual-world analysis on the real world, with a focus on how the visual elements of a design influence the way we navigate a building or space. He referred to the successful re-design of the Oxford Circus crossing as a prime example of visibility analysis done right, blaming ‘a massive imbalance in the use of space’ for the poor functionality of its previous incarnation.

By creating a virtual equivalent of Oxford Circus’ new diagonal crossing, his team was able to simulate user reactions with the space and explore numerous variables. Questions were raised about the functionality of the design, including ‘will people bump into each other in the middle?’, but the strength of the visibility analysis software answered these questions.

Desyllas stated that virtual analysis would continue to become more integrated with architecture and urban design, and could even be used to solve problems within existing buildings. Referencing Clement-Croome’s discussion around technological provisions within building design, Desyllas concluded the session be predicting a future where information systems would be less integrated into buildings, and we will have access to a world of information through handheld devices – a future that seems quite close.