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A manifesto for the next 10 years

8 wafx 1

To mark the 10th anniversary of the World Architecture Festival, which takes place in Berlin this November, Paul Finch and Jeremy Melvin suggest 10 big issues that the profession will affect, and be affected by, in the coming decade

Architecture is nothing if it does not contain the seeds of a better future. Whatever its relationship to the past or present, its prime duty is to look forward, to construct new relationships between what exists and what can come into being.

This manifesto draws on our experience of curating the World Architecture Festival (2017 will be the 10th edition) to highlight 10 areas that will, and should, inform architectural practice over the next decade. They are urgent challenges for the global community, and humanity’s success in dealing with them will determine our future on this planet.

Waf x 2017 logo low

Architecture does not, of course, have exclusive rights or responsibilities in respect of these challenges. But it has several characteristics that give it an important role in addressing them. First, architecture is inherently collaborative. Division of labour has been integral to architecture since buildings outgrew what one person can do alone. If we cannot collaborate with people of different skills, cultures, beliefs and economic position, we will die. At its best, architecture can show the way.

Second, architecture has developed techniques, from the earliest delineations to the most sophisticated VR environments, for advocating what it can do. Through them it can set out multiple possibilities for the future and persuade others to back their implementation. 

Third, architecture has developed in recent centuries distinctive characteristics as a profession. That gives it a particular status in society, neither fully beholden to either capital or labour, but deriving its position from understanding technology and knowing how to best apply it. This means being able to make fine judgements, not just between the interests of clients and broader communities, but also decisions about which technologies and techniques are appropriate. Architecture may often fall short in this role, but growing inequality and emerging science make this responsibility ever more important. Rediscovering it is part of the purpose of this short manifesto. 

Fourth, architecture creates and enhances spatial frameworks. It does this in conjunction with politicians, financiers, engineers, planners, builders and citizens, and its enhancements are socially contingent. But it sits in the centre of and overlaps with all of them – as they do not necessarily do with each other. It is architecture, more than engineering or planning, that has the power to set out how the physical environment can engage with social justice, at every scale (from domestic to urban) and with more nuance (from avoiding pain to adding pleasure).

As cities are our future, but in many cases are becoming more dysfunctional from environmental, logistical and social viewpoints, architecture has a clear purpose. We believe the contributions made to the World Architecture Festival, with 6,000 award entries so far and around 2,000 attendees at each festival (from nearly half the countries recognised by the UN) have made a distinctive forum for understanding the challenges architects face across the world. These contributions have allowed us to create this manifesto. We hope it will be a point of debate which in turn will inform WAF’s contribution to architecture over our second decade. 

All texts by Jeremy Melvin

CLIMATE, ENERGY AND CARBON

Carbon use in building - complexity of problem requires synthetic thinking

For a brief moment on a sunny day in May this year, almost one quarter of the electricity being used in the UK came from solar panels. With slightly less coming from nuclear, and adding in contributions from hydro, biomass and wind, non-carbon-emitting sources must have accounted for well over half the energy use at that instant: and this in a fog-bound northerly island whose substantial coal reserves initiated the first industrial revolution and the resultant anthropocentric climate change over two centuries ago.

Since the energy crises of the early 1970s, architects have made useful contributions to the problem. The then RIBA President Alex Gordon coined the term ‘long life, loose fit, low energy’ which still outlines the agenda for responsible design now, even as the science – both understanding the terms of the problem and in developing solutions – has advanced exponentially. In its first iteration energy efficiency was all, which moved into eco-awareness and sustainability before finally, by general consensus, focusing around carbon use and emission.

Since then it has become possible for buildings to generate their own energy. At its simplest form this means covering external surfaces with solar panels and adding wind turbines in place of chimneys. But more sophisticated design and greater investment can enhance these passive means, using shape to accelerate wind and capture moisture from humid air.

Architect Simon Sturgis has spent years examining carbon use in buildings. Building on aspirations by professional institutes to achieve as close to zero carbon as possible, he has developed a methodology for considering the dual issues of embodied carbon captured in the construction process, and carbon used during buildings’ operational lives. Depending on the types of materials the former can be considerably larger than the latter, though this may be offset by very long life or potential for recycling. The embodied carbon in a brick wall, for instance, may be justified if it lasts a century. But if it is needed for much less time, the lower embodied carbon of a timber wall may be preferable. 

The strength of Sturgis’s method is that it relates embodied and operational carbon use to each other, enabling designers to define the optimal solution within the overall goal (including life expectancy) for each project. Recognising that zero carbon will remain an aspiration rather than reality, and that some socially necessary building types will always need more carbon than others, he sets a framework which allows urgent scientific priorities to become part of serving the interests of clients and communities.

Key issues: designing for the effects of climate change; proactive design for energy generation; life-time carbon analysis and strategies; renewal versus re-use.

WATER

Water interacts with human life at so many levels that its future will inevitably be entwined with that of architecture. Though the challenges of water supply, drainage, movement and defence are far beyond the scope of architecture, the Netherlands’ Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, Henk Ovink, has given some clues as to where architects might focus their efforts.

Speaking at the launch of the Norman Foster Foundation, he proposed what amounts to a sociology of water. His own work combines high-level diplomacy with on-the-ground problem-solving, bringing the lessons of his hydrologically challenged nation to other places where flood or drought risk compromise human life. Dictating from above leads to idiocy, such as building walls around Japanese fishing villages after the 2011 tsunami, protecting the settlements from flood but preventing access to fishing grounds. Expanding wetlands is a far more efficient mitigation strategy.

A millennium ago waterways in what is now the Netherlands proved a magnet for disparate social groups. Slowly they realised their long-term survival depended on finding ways to share use of, access to and responsibility for water and its management. Over time this set a precedent for the consensual and inclusive politics that characterise the country.

This is where architecture can make a difference. Water gives pleasure in many ways which architects can enhance, from access to seas, lakes and rivers, through fountains and pools, to the sensory delights of bathrooms. Architects are well placed to create aqueous visions to exploit, regulate and distribute these benefits. The first need is to separate ‘good water’ from ‘bad water’ – often no more than water in the wrong place – for example flood defences as well as adequate water capture and storage. From that a social consensus could develop about how to distribute water and its pleasures fairly. Ultimately water should no longer be the cause of war, but a celebration of human ingenuity. 

Key issues: responding to flood, drought and shortage; embracing and exploiting; designing for management; individual lifestyle.

Steamers in the dynamic port of Sadarghat, Dhaka, Bangladesh

AGEING AND HEALTH

Between 2010 and 2050 – when people now entering architecture school will be at the height of their careers – the UN estimates that the global population will grow by 22 per cent for those under 64, 188 per cent for 65-84 years old, 351 per cent for those between 85 and 100, and a massive 1004 per cent for centenarians, though they will still be a relatively small part of the population. 

The really critical band is those between 65 – until recently the standard age for collecting a pension in the UK – and those in their 90s. Two separate challenges immediately appear: many of those people will need to work for at least part of that period (there will be relatively fewer young people), and society will have to become far better at handling chronic conditions and non-communicable diseases that will hamper their ability to work and otherwise blight their lives. Quality of air, food and water will all take on new importance.

What can architecture do? Possibly the single biggest contribution that architects can make directly is to design environments and buildings that encourage their inhabitants to exercise. Staircases need to be visible and alluring so that people naturally use them for two or three storeys (some measures indicate that using the stairs to go up a single storey adds six minutes to life expectancy). 

dRMM’s newly opened Maggie’s Centre in Oldham, providing support to people with cancer and their families, is built around a courtyard

External spaces similarly need to be enticing with shelter from sun, wind and rain, easy gradients and a cornucopia of delights along and around them and the majority of necessary services within short walk. City builders of the past, from Hippodamus of Miletus to the Commissioners of the New York grid knew this, of course. But for them it was the lack of alternative means of movement that drove their urban plans; for us the urgency is to supplement various means of movement with personal exercise, which in turn extends our range of activities and the services we can reach.

Alongside the reconfiguration of the public realm this implies, there will also be reconfiguration of building types. Homes will need to cater to residents with different physical conditions and possibly different generations. This may help with offering opportunities for part-time or casual work for the elderly, but new public building types may also emerge. Who will need doctors’ surgeries when your computer, smartphone or lavatory will constantly monitor your heart rate, blood pressure and insulin levels – and inform you of what to do about them? Surgeries might be retrofitted as casual workplaces, the equivalent for elderly workers of business incubator units.

Key issues: responding to profoundly changed demographics; a new focus on wellness, air quality and diet; coping with differing household formation; gradations of support/care.

IDENTITY

How far society can accommodate, foster and find synergies between myriad diverse individual identities will underwrite humanity’s ability to survive. On the surface we have far more possibilities for constructing our own identities than our ancestors, whose roles in life were largely prescribed by ‘grand narratives’ which we no longer hold.

Architecture, once the tool of those ‘grand narratives’, has enormous potential to work with new technologies, beliefs, aspirations and opportunities in constructing new identities that satisfy individual desires and help them coalesce at local, national, transnational and global scales. If homes are seen as places where occupants can grow; if developments are seen as opportunities to create layers of possibilities (including food production); and if architecture itself is seen as a way of nurturing and redefining different identities alongside each other, this potential can be realised.

Two projects, both seen at WAF, show how architecture can foster and express identity. One is Zaha Hadid’s Middle East Centre at Oxford University, where digital technology enables a form that draws on geometry as much as Sinan’s great Ottoman domes in the 16th century for an institute that will further the study of Islamic culture. In transforming a specific cultural identity, it also strengthens its impact on contemporary society.

Peter Rich’s Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre in South Africa viscerally recreates a lost culture through its design, construction, materials and use. Craft and on-site construction enable local people to contribute to the centre and to rediscover forgotten skills – and, perhaps, to find ways to move beyond the visceral tensions over cultural identity in this country.

At two extremes of technology, these projects show how the physical nature of architecture and its potential for real use can offer the possibility for richly layered identities.

Key issues: combine place, people and purpose; establish identity; reinforce identity; distinctiveness in homogenised environments.

Source: By Peter Rich Architects

Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre, South Africa

Zaha Hadid’s Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford

ETHICS AND VALUES

Following a code of ethics is the price professionals pay for status in society. In the early modern period as doctors and lawyers, and subsequently accountants, surveyors, engineers and architects became vital to social and economic development, the professions promulgated ethical standards that made up their side of a social contract which gave them that status and concomitant financial security. Until the rise of social democracy led governments to take more responsibility for organising society, these professional rules were the only defence against naked social exploitation.

Indeed social democracy and professional standards seemed natural allies. Professions existed for social good and did so for fixed fees or salaries. But this rosy settlement came unstuck as regular incomes did not necessarily guarantee performance, and architects in many parts of the Western world, at least, hid behind their professional status to take fees for imposing buildings and ideas that were not always in the best interest of society. On top of that, increasing general affluence and greater complexity within professional worlds changed the balance in relations between the professions and society – from respectful deference to consumerist demand. 

At a time when information and knowledge have grown far beyond what any individual can possess, architecture faces several vital ethical challenges. First, it needs to build on its educational principles as the base for developing new ideas and new ways of projecting them in the service of society. Second, the increasing complexity of knowledge requires more effective collaboration between experts in different areas. 

As architecture has become a genuinely urgent activity in recent decades, these challenges are especially important. The goal should be to develop an ethical system that addresses globalisation and its consequences, basing its standards on the positives that architecture can achieve, both shaping change, or at least advocating how change might be shaped, and aligning imaginative power with responsible delivery.

Key issues: commonality in a period of profound change; information, knowledge and wisdom in a ‘post-truth’ age; educational challenge and opportunity; collaboration as working method.

Masdar Institute by Foster + Partners, part of the larger Masdar City, Abu Dhabi masterplan

POWER AND JUSTICE

Architecture has long been associated with power – both the expression and the exercise of it. More recent and more subtle is its capability to express justice, which is both about power (there must be an authority to administer and oversee justice) but also about its responsibility to individuals and their rights within the social order. 

Law courts are the most literal point of contact between architecture and justice. In the past architects such as CN Ledoux, John Soane, James Gandon and GE Street all made serious contributions to this complicated functional typology, but their designs still seem to set the hierarchy of power over the equality of justice. David Chipperfield’s City of Justice in Barcelona, a category winner at WAF in 2010, is a recent example in this tradition.

A very different concept is expressed in Janina Masojada and Andrew Makin’s Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. Created to uphold South Africa’s new constitution, it starts with the concept of ‘justice under a tree’ and extends that through its use of space, light, levels, colours, textures and art to suggest to the country’s population that justice has some relevance in their lives. Using architectural means it symbolises, facilitates and offers an imaginative vision of South Africa’s emergence from apartheid.

City of Justice in Barcelona by David Chipperfield Architects

If architecture can help to convey the concept of justice, why should it stop with law courts? In his Reith Lectures, Richard Rogers (WAF Superjury chair in 2014) explains how ideas of justice permeate the public realm. Many other architects from Charles Correa to Muf and Jo Noero, have tried to put this into practice. It should be the goal of all masterplans and public projects. 

Key issues: the appropriate expression of power; designing buildings of power enabling democratic expression in the built environment; designing for social equity.

SMART CITIES

Cities have always been smart, in the sense that they foster opportunity and encourage innovation (a point Jane Jacobs makes cogently in The Economy of Cities). But in the 19th century they started to acquire unprecedented characteristics which are the underlying origins of today’s ‘smart city technology’. What defines these characteristics is their fundamental irrationality in normal circumstances, but made logical by new urban conditions, such as moving people and goods underground, and reversing the flow of rivers. 

All this contributed to Georg Simmel’s famous analysis of ‘the metropolis and mental life’, where he pointed out that the numerous disparate sensory stimuli in large cities, for example the sounds of machines and electric lights, caused bewildering mental overload. For all his perception, he did not foresee the impact that contemporary digital technology could have on collating, analysing and representing huge amounts of micro-information.

For good or ill, our presence in the city can now be traced, through means such as CCTV and public transport use. The plethora of data that Simmel thought guaranteed anonymity can be marshalled into a profile that would have made the Tsar’s secret police blush. 

But digital technologies can also make cities more enjoyable and efficient. Buildings can predict their own cycles of power and water usage, with benefits for managing infrastructure. Logistics can be optimised, with movement of people and goods coordinated in a seamless flow, making best use of space in all transport and storage systems, road, rail, pedestrian and conceivably with aerially operating drones. 

As we move through an urban environment our smartphones can identify every opportunity it offers for its relevance to us as individuals – at least as based on our previous habits – in a simulacrum of emotion and possibility, a complete opposite of Simmel’s desensitised metropolitan man and mixing, as TS Eliot put it, memory with desire. 

Key issues: combining buildings, cities and logistics; addressing storage and delivery; designing for flows of data, people, energy and services; developing new transport strategies.

Matthias Kohler of ETH of the Norman Foster Foundation suggest future possibilities in computation, material science and fabrication

BUILDING TECHNOLOGY

Digital technology is not just transforming building technology, but the whole imaginative framework in which architecture exists. The division of labour between designers and makers, which began in the Renaissance and was then absorbed into professional ethics and social status, is disintegrating in the face of digital programming, printing, fabrication and assembly. 

That at least is the vision of ETH’s Matthias Kohler, who gave a compelling account of the potential for interaction between computation, material science and fabrication at The Future is Now, the inaugural forum of the Norman Foster Foundation (p126). Predicting the imminent emergence of a ‘digital building culture’, he cited projects where the whole process from conception of completed 1:1 scale structures emanated from digital programs. 

The implications are profound. At its best, digital technology can open new territories for designers from micro-scale via nanotechnology (the atomic essence of materials) up to the macro-scale (smart cities). Robot arms will replace both cranes and workers on building sites: the only operatives left will be ‘computer watchers’ rather than labourers or artisans. Whole tiers of manual labour will vanish.

Even more importantly, our physical environment and how we perceive it will change fundamentally. Mario Carpo, the Bartlett’s Reyner Banham Professor of Architectural History, points out that traditional linear mathematics determined how spaces could be represented and how materials can be used. Digital technology unlocks the inherent make-up of materials and so moves beyond traditional concepts of space as well as material itself.

A single digital model can determine all aspects of a design’s evolution, from initial studies through design development to presentation material and information for fabricators and contractors. It could be possible to produce a computer rendering and use that as a basis to develop the construction method. All scales, from nano and micro to macro, will stem from the same source. The flow between design, construction, fabrication and materials will be seamless and inseparable.

If every piece of information is in one register and follows one mode of production, there may well be implications for the creative process itself. Shifts from one mode to another (for example from drawing to model-making) have long been an integral part of creativity, helping to move beyond apparent dead ends or to throw fresh perspectives on ideas.

Nowhere is the potential of digital design and making more apparent than in performance spaces. Not only can computational methods predict and rectify acoustic performance, but they can also add a creative edge to performance itself. 

Key issues: interactive architecture; robot construction; nano-technology – the implications of miniaturisation; biotechnology and materials.

RE-USE

Much has been promulgated about the need to move from a linear to a circular economy. In effect we need to consider our own consumption of all resources as a stage in a process where everything is re-used, sometimes after transformation from one state to another. On some occasions there is a long gap between different uses; on others re-use may be simultaneous.

This is especially true of buildings and infrastructure, which require significant amounts of carbon, money, labour, energy and materials. If their time in use (possibly different use) can be doubled or tripled, so much the better. Joseph Bazalgette’s Embankment in London is part sewer, part Underground railway, part road and in places a provider of public open space. 

 A more contemporary example is BIG’s waste-burning power station in Copenhagen. In addition to its primary purpose it provides an elevated, sloping public park in a flat landscape, which in winter turns into a ski run. It is both a building with multiple uses and a machine for reusing waste.

More often buildings have sequential uses. While traditional structures frequently have this potential, designers have substantial scope to build in possibilities. The phrase ‘long life, loose fit’ implies that the sort of functional gymnastics of mid-20th-century architecture are life-limiting, while more generous, regular forms have potential for re-use. Energy too is part of this cyclical process. It may not be worth making a short-life building highly energy-efficient if that involves using a great deal of energy in its construction, including manufacture and transport of materials.

But how those materials might be recycle is even more important on a 10-year than a 100-year time span. 

Key issues: making the existing go further (long life); making it perform better (loose fit); reducing resource needs (low carbon); envelopes and plug-ins.

BIG’s Amagar Bakke waste to energy plant in Copenhagen

VIRTUAL WORLDS

Architecture has always been an iterative process involving imagining, representing and making, where advances in one of the elements provokes development in the others. Recent advances in virtual reality contribute to new types of representation, rather as perspectival and orthogonal innovation did in the Renaissance, leading to new conceptions of space, themselves reflecting philosophical shifts.

But the implications of VR are more far-reaching. Their verisimilitude surpasses perspectival or trompe l’oeil imagery, giving seductive certainty to buildings so far unbuilt or even unbuildable. 

Yet the data used to construct the VR experience can be part of the same digital information that programmes fabrication, delivery and assembly of components. That data now performs the role that ideas once played, of the connecting tissue between imagining, representing and making. 

ScanLAB Projects animated in Ancient Rome in Rome’s Invisible City, a BBC television series

Armed with its new accuracy, VR technology can take architectural representation into hitherto unexplored places. ScanLAB, for instance, animated a BBC history series on Ancient Rome with compelling sequences of what it was really like, or at least what the available data implies it was really like, including sewage and water supply. They could bring the same level of veracity to a city that has no physical existence. 

Meanwhile architects have a powerful new tool for design and communication. Headsets are becoming lighter and more comfortable, so decreasing distraction that suspends illusion while increasing focus. And clients can be enticed with something that they think they will finally possess.

This all suggests new technological possibilities, especially when used in conjunction with BIM and construction management software. But it remains to be seen whether it will unlock new forms of creativity.

Key issues: implications of entirely new ways of seeing/viewing; the experience of virtual space; understanding volume; the city as virtual spectacle.