Climate Crisis: Living, Breathing Cities of the Future

future-city2The human race has been thinking the way it lives in the past few decades, due mainly to a number of challenges posed by climate change and resource development. This is not only an environmentally and socially responsible idea, its an absolute necessity given the sheer number of people that live in urban sprawl, and the many more that will need homes, sanitation, food and energy in the near future.

And a number of interesting concepts are being proposed. Using striking technological breakthroughs across multiple fields of study, designers are moving closer to making lightweight buildings that can move, and perhaps even think and feel. Instead of hard, polished building faces, emerging prototypes from some of the world’s research centers suggest future cities that would resemble living, breathing environments.

masdar_city1To break it down succinctly, urban environments of the future will be built of “smarter” materials, will most likely be constructed using advanced techniques – possibly involving robots or bacteria – and will be powered by greener, more sustainable means. Sanitation and irrigation will also be provided and involve a fair degree of recycling, and food will be grown in-house.

And while much of this will be accomplished with good old-fashioned plumbing, air vents, and electrical circuits, a good deal more could come in the form of structures that are made to resemble and even behave like living organisms. Might sound like a distant prospect or purely theoretical, but in fact many of these ideas are already being implemented in existing and planned cities around the world.

Scale_model_Masdar_cityFor example, the planned community of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, designer Alexander Rieck has helped create a vast central cluster of opening and closing solar powered “sunflower” umbrellas that capture the sun’s rays during the day and fold at night, releasing stored heat in a continual cycle. In addition, the concept of the Wind Stalk is being pursued to generate wind-farms which don’t rely on turbines, and look just like standing fields of grass.

Another project comes from the American designer Mitchell Joachim of Terreform ONE (Open Network Ecology), who’s plans for a vast site covering Brooklyn’s Navy Yard call for the engineering of living tissues into viable buildings. This would involve concepts like his “living tree house” which involves building a human habitat by merging the construction process with the surrounding environment.


Such a project not only presents a way of building structures in a way that is far more energy-efficient, but also fully-integrated into the ecology. In addition, they would even be able to provide a measure of food for their inhabitants and be able to clean the local air thanks to the fact that they are made from carbon-capturing trees and plants.

And there was this project by Near-Living Architecture which was recently shown at the London Building Centre Gallery. Here we see a floating canopy of aluminum meshwork fitted with dense masses of interconnected glass and polymer filters that houses a carbon-capture system that works in much the same way that limestone is deposited by living marine environments.


Within each cell of the suspended filter array, valves draw humid air through chemical chambers where chalk-like precipitate forms, an incremental process of carbon fixing. This is not only an example of how futures of the city will help remove pollution from the air, but how buildings themselves will merge biological with artificial, creating a sort of “biomimetic building”.

What it all comes down to is breaking with the conventional paradigm of architecture which emphasizes clean, linear structures that utilize idealized geometric shapes, highly processed materials, and which create sanitary artificial environments. The new paradigm calls for a much more holistic approach, where materials are more natural (built of local materials, carbon, or biomimetic compounds) forms are interwoven, and the structures function like organics.

future_city1All of this cannot come soon enough. According to a recent UN report, three-quarters of humanity will live in our swelling cities by 2050.The massive influx to our planet’s urban populations could create a whole host of problems – from overcrowding to air pollution, extra stress on natural resources and loss of habitats to grow more food. The most obvious solution to this problem is to make sure that these future cities are part of the solution, and not more of the same dirty living spaces that generate megatons of waste and pollution year after year.

Hope you’re enjoying this “Climate Crisis” segment, and that its not getting anybody down. Granted, its a heavy subject, but crises have a way of bringing the best and brightest people and ideas to the fore, which is what I hope to present here. By addressing our present and future needs with innovative concepts, we stand to avert disaster and create a better world for future generations.

Up next, I plan to take a look at some of the air-cleaning building designs that are currently being produced and considered. Stay tuned!

Sources: bbc.com, (2)

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