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The Climate Emergency

At the beginning of the new decade, harrowing scenes of Australia’s wildfires set off alarms around the world. While they wrought destruction, forced mass displacement and claimed dozens of lives, the uncontrolled bushfires also spewed 306 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. How much clearer a message do we need that climate change is a global crisis requiring our immediate and sustained attention? The art and architecture communities have released manifestos — such as Architects Declare and the Tate Museum’s Climate Emergency Declaration — while grassroots activists like Extinction Rebellion and the Swedish teen Greta Thunberg are fighting to keep the issue front and centre. But we are confronted daily with evidence that we aren’t doing enough.


From Co-working to Co-living

Just as WeWork was beginning to unravel, the realm of co-working began to morph into the future of co-living. From A/D/O by Mini to Ikea’s Space10 think tank (which created the visualizations shown), the prevailing notion is that we’re all going to be roomies one day, sharing common amenities like kitchens and living rooms in dorm-like (but totally rebranded) settings that maximize our creativity and productivity while adding yet another option to our housing-deficient cities. With recent developments, however, this might be an idea to shelve for the time being.


Tall Timber

As recently as a decade ago, skyscrapers made of wood seemed like an ecological pipe dream. Today, however, tall timber towers are being planned and erected from Toronto (where they’re a cornerstone of Alphabet’s ambitious Quayside smart ’hood) to Tokyo (the anticipated site of the planet’s tallest). In a sign of mass timber’s coming ubiquity, France has decreed that, starting in 2022, all new public buildings must contain at least 50 per cent wood or other organic materials.


Never Demolish

“The greenest building is the one that is already built.” Former AIA president Carl Elefante’s succinct dictum encapsulates the evolution of sustainable architecture. Focusing on the embodied carbon costs of construction, the movement to “never demolish” is the new vanguard of green building. From Lacaton & Vassal’s refurbishment of mid-century Bordeaux apartment blocks to Civic Architects’ transformation of a locomotive shed into a public library in the Dutch city of Tilburg (pictured), old buildings are the locus of new design thinking.


Plastics, Recycled

In 2019, the design world made a big statement about the use of plastics in furniture as many manufacturers, including Kartell (whose Philippe Starck–designed A.I. chair, shown, is made from recycled polymer), Humanscale and Emeco launched series made from upcycled material and bio-based varieties: it’s time to commit to diverting the vast amount of existing plastics away from landfills and into factories.



The Smart City Is a Forest

Since realizing his Bosco Verticale towers in Milan, Stefano Boeri has gone on to produce visions that make plant life integral to entire cities. The Smart Forest City master plan he’s created for Cancun, Mexico — on 557 hectares originally destined for a shopping district — is the latest example of the architect’s ambition to re-nature the urban realm. The city would abound with 7.5 million plants, 260,000 of them trees, which together would absorb 116,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Maybe Rem Koolhaas is right: the “countryside” is the future.


The Spectre of Facial Recognition

The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed. At the Shenzhen biennale, a blockbuster exhibition called “The Eyes of the City” incorporated a facial recognition feature that visitors could opt out of. According to Politecnico di Torino’s Michele Bonino, who curated the exhibition with Carlo Ratti Associati, many did just that. The surveillance technology already exists in many Chinese cities in a form that cannot be avoided — unless you’re wearing a medical mask. As the COVID-19 virus whipped through China, the biennale itself was temporarily shut down, lending the entire exercise a meta significance. Meanwhile, the spectre of AI-enabled facial recognition is slowly creeping into public and commercial spaces from airports to malls around the world.


Robots R Us

One of the most prominent voices warning of the threat posed by artificial intelligence, Elon Musk seems to have done a 180. The Tesla founder is betting big on Neuralink (left), a technology that utilizes brain-reading threads, inserted by a robot, to render humans more symbiotic with AI. Meanwhile, Carlo Ratti is among the innovators turning robots into friendly machines: Scribit (right) transforms any vertical surface into a canvas. The Dalai Lama Centre for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT has used it to draw the world’s first Robotic Mandala.



Small Town, Big Plans

 Utopia revived? Some 60 kilometres north of Toronto, the semi-rural town of Innisfil is an unlikely site for revolutionary design, but that’s just what architects Partisans have in mind. Dubbed “The Orbit,” the Innisfil master plan envisions a new urban centre orbited by concentric rings of smaller buildings that gradually meld with the pastoral landscape — complete with AI infrastructure and a fibre-optic streetscape: the Garden City meets Burning Man in Ontario.


Down to Earth

Glass and steel skyscrapers will continue to rise, and architects will continue to speculate about building on Mars, but we’ll also see a return to the earthiest of materials. Representing a yearning for the local and essential, terracotta finishes and mud bricks will have an enduring appeal as the decade continues. Shown here: Marc Thorpe’s proposal for Senegal’s Dakar Houses, a series of earth-brick residences for the craftspeople who work on Moroso’s ongoing M’Afrique line of furnishings.