In the United States, 101 million square feet of new construction is already underway. These new structures will define and have the potential to transform our urban spaces, making cities smarter. But are we allowing the evolution of “living” buildings to emerge and create smarter, more resilient urban spaces?
The Smart City paradigm, still under construction itself, represents a wide spectrum revolution, where the material and the digital worlds co-exist, creating new symbolic spaces, approaches to reality, ways of human interaction and of course major transformations of urban space. American buildings generate 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions; therefore, we have an unprecedented opportunity to address climate change by giving birth to a new evolution of buildings that minimize negative environmental impacts.
Within the Smart City context, it is typically the physical urban transformation that can be widely ignored or forgotten by a community, as focus can easily concentrate on apps and sensors or other more “sexy” solutions neglecting, for instance, the architectural structure of our cities. There are some exceptions where Internet of Things projects understand architecture not as a passive object but an active player in both data generation and data translation. However, even with these exceptions our physical buildings are still treated as inert objects within the urban fabric.
We can say that the hyper-real scenarios imagined by Baudrillard have, like Janus, two faces—one represented by serious risk that cannot be ignored and the other representing a new frontier of possibilities to explore. The opportunity inherent in the latter gives reason to imagine a new urban landscape where the buildings of our cities, which are often the most symbolic and characteristic assets and give a city its very identity and character, can “live” with us as part of the great urban ecosystem.
From sensor technologies to innovative building materials and building skins, the structures of our cities are developing new opportunities for interaction, data generation, responsiveness and solution implementation. Unlike many dimensions of Smart and Resilient advancements in our urban centers, our buildings represent not the digitalization of the material world but the materialization of the digital world. From this perspective, there is an entirely new frontier to be explored and a new understanding of the roles our physical structures play as key “actors” in the creation of smarter more resilient cities.
We can imagine smart buildings from a new approach thanks to the development of new materials that can advance our fight against such threats as pollution, water waste and climate change to name a few. For example, buildings are becoming capable of adapting their own “anatomy” to optimize the human experience within the structure while also minimizing the consumption of energy and other resources. Some buildings already include sensors that turn ventilation systems on and off, but the next evolution is for these structures to also detect changes in temperatures and adapt themselves to avoid producing negative externalities like heating the outside air while cooling the interior.
In Barcelona, a city defined by its modernist architecture created by dreamers and visionaries like Antoni Gaudí and Puig I Cadafalch, new approaches to building materials and skins have already become symbols of one of the world’s Smartest Cities. Barcelona has begun to explore the new frontier of Smart Building evolution giving life, movement and senses to buildings. It is already understood that the resilience generated by this effort will shape the future of the city, and serve as an inspiration for cities and nations to aspire to. The genesis of this building evolution can be found in the creative genius that is emerging from institutions and centers like the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia where architects, with the collaboration of biologists, chemists and technologists are giving birth to the next evolution of smarter, “living” buildings that are far more than the simple inert objects that they are viewed as today.