Inspired by Sphere, the new music and entertainment venue in Las Vegas, I decided to do a deep dive on the past, present and future of architecture over the next few weeks.
In part 1, we looked at the architectural revolution of the mid-20th century, which was a pivotal period in the history of architecture, with the emergence of modernism, minimalism and brutalism.
This time, I want to look at the start of the 21st century, when architectural practice began to focus on sustainability.
The dawn of the 21st century witnessed a profound change in the world of architecture. Sustainability, once considered an option, rapidly became an architectural imperative. Climate change, scarcity of resources, and environmental degradation became widely recognised issues. Architects and designers realised the role they played in these challenges and embraced sustainability as a response.
Governments and organisations around the world introduced stricter environmental regulations and certifications and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification emerged as a significant driver, shaping design principles by emphasising energy efficiency, water conservation, and environmental responsibility.
In addition, society began to demand more environmentally responsible designs. Clients and the public wanted sustainable buildings that not only minimised environmental impact but also promoted health and well-being, and architects were compelled to respond to these changing expectations.
New design principles
Sustainability was no longer limited to energy efficiency and materials. Architects embraced a more holistic approach, considering factors like site selection, water management, and human-centric design, designing structures that integrated seamlessly with their environments.
There was also a sharper focus on adaptive reuse and renovation: rather than tearing down old structures, architects began to find innovative ways to revitalise existing buildings, reducing waste and preserving architectural heritage.
As environmental consciousness continued to rise, sustainable materials and technologies continued to evolve as well. Architects utilised innovations like low-emission materials, solar panels, and smart building systems to create energy-efficient and environmentally responsible buildings.
For example, low-emission concrete, recycled composites, and high-efficiency insulation materials are now used in sustainable building construction.
Prefabrication and modular construction techniques have gained prominence. These methods reduce waste, construction time, and energy consumption while offering greater precision in assembly.
The smartest building in the world?
Edge, located in the heart of Amsterdam, is widely regarded as the smartest building in the world, setting new standards in sustainability, technology, and workplace design.
It showcases an impressive range of eco-friendly credentials, including a hugely sophisticated energy efficiency system that adapts lighting, heating, and cooling in real-time, reducing energy consumption. It has rooftop solar panels which generate clean, renewable energy, while a rainwater harvesting system conserves water to use within the building (not for drinking I should add though!).
It also has a green roof which not only provides insulation but also improves the air quality.
Bringing the outside in
Speaking of green roofs, something I really like about modern architecture and building design is the idea of bringing the outside in. Living walls, also known as vertical gardens, are installations of plants and vegetation on building facades, which look great as well as providing benefits such as improved air quality and temperature regulation.
Green roofs, as mentioned above, involve covering a building’s roof with vegetation. This serves as natural insulation and reduces energy consumption, as well as managing rainwater effectively, minimising runoff and making things easier on a building’s drainage systems.
Bosco Verticale, or “Vertical Forest,” is an iconic architectural marvel in Milan, Italy, designed by architect Stefano Boeri. This innovative residential complex comprises two high-rise towers adorned with a lush variety of trees, shrubs, and other plants on each balcony, creating a thriving vertical forest in the heart of the city. Celebrated for its commitment to environmental sustainability and urban greenery, it not only enhances the city’s skyline but also serves as a model for eco-friendly urban living.
But what about architectural styles in the 2000s? In terms of contemporary architecture, a notable trend has emerged, bringing back postmodern design elements.
Contemporary architects have shown a renewed interest in incorporating historical references, symbols, and motifs into their designs. Buildings are no longer limited to the modernist palette of neutrals but employ a broader spectrum, often in bold and unexpected ways.
As an example, take a look at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle, which was designed by Frank Gehry – who I mentioned in Part 1. The design combines postmodern elements with innovative materials and technology, with an unconventional, curvilinear form and metallic cladding, which demonstrate the blend of postmodern aesthetics with contemporary design approaches.
Some architects and firms have gone a step further by advocating for the return to classical forms. Buildings inspired by Greek, Roman, or Renaissance architecture coexist with modern sustainability efforts, demonstrating a fusion of old and new.
The Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, is an excellent example of this. Designed by architect Bernard Tschumi and completed in 2009, the museum’s architectural design pays homage to the classical style of ancient Greece while incorporating environmentally friendly features. The glass floors of the museum allow visitors to view ancient ruins beneath, showcasing how old and new can co-exist.
The resurgence of postmodern design elements in contemporary architecture adds a layer of diversity and creativity to the architectural landscape. The coexistence of postmodern aesthetics and sustainability efforts demonstrates the potential for harmonising historical references with modern environmental responsibility, illustrating how architecture evolves by drawing from the past while addressing the challenges of the present.
Life in 3D
The 21st century has also witnessed the emergence of parametric design, a dynamic approach that allows architects to create intricate, highly customisable structures based on specific parameters and algorithms. Architects like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry have embraced parametric design to fashion awe-inspiring, organic forms that were once nearly impossible to construct.
3D printing has revolutionised the construction industry by offering the ability to create complex architectural elements with incredible precision and efficiency. This technology reduces waste and labour costs while enabling architects to experiment with new designs that previously would have been too intricate to execute.
Projects like the Shanghai Tower, designed with parametric principles to withstand high winds, and the Museum of Tomorrow in Rio de Janeiro, which employs 3D printing and renewable energy strategies, demonstrate the profound impact of these technologies, which have paved the way for daring and environmentally conscious architectural achievements.
They offer a glimpse into the future of architecture where aesthetics and sustainability are harmoniously integrated, which we’ll be looking at in more detail next time. See you then!