Houston 2035 Predictions: Architecture
DAVID J. CALKINS
Regional Managing Principal
The construction process is heading towards being highly automated. You could set up a machine that could, essentially, squeeze out a house like toothpaste coming out of a tube. Very quickly, the structure is printed. In addition, 3-D visualization tools will continue to evolve—eventually, you’ll be able to experience a space or a building, in three dimensions, before it’s ever built. On the construction side, we will see the reduction of the use of resources, and the speed of construction will increase. It used to be that construction was a subtractive process, but with 3-D printing it’s an additive model. Lastly, there are new construction materials being developed that can grow, heal themselves and that are self-cleaning. The term is ‘self-assembling,’ and these materials could be used for building skins. They will know how to put themselves together much like a seashell grows, and they will also be capable of taking themselves apart, dissolving back into the environment when they are no longer needed.
There’s a whole trend towards resilience—how do you make a city resilient and sustainable? Building with water systems, waste management and power generation will become increasingly efficient and reliable. In addition, they will be making use of solar, thermal and wind technology. In terms of power consumption and water treatment, we may see the tendency to go away from big, centralized systems towards systems that are much more localized. If photovoltaic technology continues to evolve, we could have nearly every face of a building collecting energy in a very unobtrusive way. That may result in fewer power lines.
Seeking to improve indoor environmental quality, there are green walls that we’re putting into projects now, and we are maximizing access to natural light. All kinds of studies have shown that people work better and are more productive in naturally lit settings. What if we could design buildings that actually restore the environment? That would be greener than green—maybe we could start to harvest photosynthesis so that buildings look more like forests or green plants than anything. If you can keep people comfortable and keep them safe, they would be embedded in a green, lush, nurturing kind of environment that’s full of natural light. It would be the opposite of today’s cities where there’s noise and environmental pollution. They would be greener, healthier and more fundamentally satisfying.