Population growth and the use of resources for construction will increasingly be crucial issues for
the building industry. The forecasts presented by Architecture 2030 are clear, and in order to meet the demand for housing and sustainable buildings we will need to build an incredible amount of square meters. In 2060 we will build more than twice what is currently existing on Earth.
If we want to discover answers to this emergency, the questions are: where will we find the resources to build new housing and where we will find the energy to maintain it? The EU is responding to these questions with a road map of precise objectives for the reduction of CO2 emissions and the construction of almost zero energy buildings.
These objectives require a change of paradigms for design and construction. Before imagining a technological future for buildings, we should look to the past where for millennia we have constructed buildings using the available resources to the maximum.
This look back, which is anything but nostalgic, can offer us some extraordinary surprises. However, first it is necessary to clarify that in the last decades—if not the last two centuries—we have lost the ability to dialogue with the climate, convinced that technology was a natural part of human evolution and the solution to our problems.
The internationalization of construction processes—indifferent to places, cultures and landscapes—has created a diffusion of inadequate models for local climates and environmental conditions, to the extent that buildings have become a planetary energy problem rather than an opportunity to transform the situation. The consequences of this indifference to diverse needs has been a vulgarization of building models, which has led to a flattening of the urban landscape along with the creation of a problem of consumption often irreconcilable with micro-economies and an increase in pollution levels incompatible with people’s lives.
In order to get back to the basics of designing a sustainable building that responds to climate, site and the use of local materials—what we would call a truly sustainable building—we need to expand on the idea that architecture is not just an aesthetic activity, rather it’s much more an integrated design process developed across various disciplines.
There are two main pillars of the definition of sustainability. One is related to performance, although a building is not only a technical object. The other part of sustainability is understanding how to properly design a building for a specific context based on “creative empathy.” It is the same way you create a human relationship; being empathetic means trying to understand others.
Architects need to think about how they can solve local problems, not global issues, which is the most interesting aspect of architecture: how a building’s design can be adapted to a specific culture. This is an empathic action because sustainable design can offer technical solutions, but in the end, you need an acquired level of learning to make this interpretation. This is why education is essential in order to inspire future generations regarding these concerns. The new generation of designers will need to understand the problems of today—such as the consequences related to CO2 and energy consumption—and what the next step will be for buildings.
In the future, the problems will be infinitely more difficult. Of course, young professionals must have technical tools but they will also need the ability to go beyond today’s limits and imagine beyond consolidated schemes. Only this attitude can cause a change and open unexpected views. I think that schools should help young people to reflect on the unpredictability of the future that sometimes cannot be seen, but which can be glimpsed through knowledge, creativity, intuition, and talent. Young people are aware that they are the key players in this future and look to the schools for the tools to deal with it with confidence and courage.
MAIN IMAGE: Regional Agency for Environment and Energy (ARPAE), a new complex for offices and research laboratories that meets maximum levels of environmental sustainability, Ferrara, Italy, Mario Cucinella Architects. Photo © Moreno Maggi.