Decoding Design

The future life of buildings

Posting in Architecture

To survive the influx of the six billion people who will live in cities by the year 2050, scientists and designers predict that cities will come alive.


By the year 2050, six billion people will live in cities. To survive the influx of all those people and the increase of energy demands, scientists and designers predict that the manmade urban environment will come alive. A report by Spencer Kelly for BBC looks at projects that will allow buildings to sense and adapt to the people in them and the environment around them.

To work as truly intelligent buildings, the structures will require sensor technology. Two such projects profiled in the video report are the Media-ICT building in Barcelonaand Hylozoic Ground.

The Media-ICT building, designed by Enric Ruiz-Geli, has an exterior skin of EFTE (the same material that formed the skin of the Beijing Olympics Water Cube) cushions that become dynamic sun shades. With the help of a nitrogen based fog and smart temperature sensors that collect information about the outside environment, the cushions can adjust, inflate, deflate, and become opaque. Each element of the exterior skin has its own IP address connected with Arduino, an open source software.

The sensors and software that enable the building to close or open all the curtains and activate the fog clouds can also read the shade produced by neighboring buildings. The building skin can then respond like a living skin. The exterior sensors are only part of a network of over 500 sensors in the building.

Hylozoic Ground, a project developed by Philip Beesley, represents a potential generation of responsive buildings that move and breathe. Presented at the 2010 Venice Biennale, the research is based on a latticework of digitally-fabricated components, microprocessors, and proximity sensors that react to human presence. The "geotextile" acts like a giant lung to exchange and filter air and moisture.

The lightweight structure looks delicate but Beesley says that the materials could be compressed to form walls.

Beyond the recent developments of sustainable architecture like biomimicry and green walls and roofs, projects like the Media-ICT building and Hylozoic Ground represent exciting steps towards a self-renewing urban environment.

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Images: copyright Luis Roz, Cea Flickr

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure