Emerging Trends in Architecture
Recently, Sinhgad College of Architecture hosted a National Conference on ‘Emerging Trends in Architecture’. It was argued by many that this is a repetitive theme and a bit too general. Conferences need focus, the critics said, not a motley of all kinds of topics bundled together. To some extend this is true, as discussion on current trends happens to be a perpetual theme at any given point of time. It is now 20 years since the BBC serial ‘Architecture at Crossroads’, but Architecture has always been at cross-roads since the Industrial Revolution, and even after 200 years of discussion on all the ‘isms’ and debates, we have not so far come out with a lasting definition or purpose of architecture which is universally acceptable.
Trends in architecture reflect the milieu of the society it caters to. In any field of human endeavor, creativity follows the innovations in all relevant fields to find solutions for the problems of the day. The Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton, Eiffel Tower by Gustav Eiffel and bridges by Robert Maillart epitomized the capability of concrete and steel for creative form, opening up the scope of architectural design beyond the classical revivalistic styles. In fact it was the creativity of these engineers which transpired some soul searching for the architectural fraternity, leading to the birth of modern architecture.
Today, we have witnessed all the phases of modern architecture, from the negation of ornament leading to the abstract, rectangular glass box architecture all over the world, to the conscious inclusion of icons and ornamentation to architecture in the name of contextualizing the form. But this contextualization of architecture by invoking the historical forms and ornaments had to come to an end when the supply of historical monuments gave out. De-constructivism was a reaction to all such attempts of historical revival, and it evolved a grammer of complex curvilinear and abstract forms, which have no connection with history, culture or for that matter anything that happened in the name of architecture for all these years.
Environmental issues were sidelined in the architectural design all through these modern movements, and though architects like F. L. Wright did evolve theories like organic architecture, environmental compatibility was never the priority of any of these ‘isms’. Major clientele of the Architecture had always been big business and the government, and that is how the humanistic agenda of the modern movement was hijacked to serve the monuments of 20th century like the World Trade Centre in New York and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
Most of these monuments have one thing in common. The blatant and mind-boggling consumption of energy, making you wonder how the human society survived all these 50,000 years of its existence without electricity. When Sears Tower in Chicago was built in the 70’s, it was the tallest building at the time, built in the form of nine square tubes, curtailed stagewise as it rose to its 110 floor height. It was proudly announced at the time to have had electrical wiring of about 80,000 km. long; enough to wrap around the earth twice.
All this extravagance has not gone unnoticed. Contemporary to the rise of de-constructivism, there is another global movement, which encompasses not only architecture but all the fields of human endeavor, and that is eco-sensitivity - the awareness that the human activities have made a mess with the natural resources for the last 250 years of industrial revolution and that unless we do something about it now, it will lead to the destruction of the eco-system and eventual destruction of all life on earth.
It is this realization that has guided a majority of green movements all over the world. Much before it became a movement in architecture, the green movement was a minority movement led by the environmentalists, and later by social activists. But it was only when the global warming became a reality and effects of pollution like the acid rain started literally hitting people on the head, that everybody took notice, including the politicians, and environment has now become a major political agenda all the world over.
The environmental priorities have surpassed all the other priorities of the world in 21st century. Al Gore talking about the environment may not be surprising, but the priority of the USA under Obama is also about energy independence by use of all non-conventional and renewable resources. California has already declared it would be a zero-carbon state by 2020, and by itself this is a major paradigm shift in one of the biggest consumerist economies of the world.
The UN Agenda for Sustainability, called Agenda 21 is now the agenda for the 21st century. It is not one more philosophy or ‘ism’ of architecture, it is an agenda for survival of the human race, and architecture has to follow suit if we consider ourselves as responsible professionals. LEED & GRIHA certification and compliance to ECBC is not an option now but a mandatory requirement – and it deals with not only the architectural design but includes all aspects of impact of the new development on the eco-system – starting from soil, water supply and drainage & solid waste disposal systems, recycling of water and so on.
Any manufactured product and the process of its manufacturing today needs to confirm to these requirements. As for energy consumption, use of coal and fossil fuel for generation of electricity has now come under scrutiny for its impact on ecology, and the search is on for renewable sources of energy on one hand, and reduction in the use of energy on the other hand.
The architectural fraternity needs to respond to this global aspiration by trying to find ways and means to reduce energy expenditure in buildings, both by using low-embodied energy building materials, and search for solar-passive architectural design solutions to use least energy for the building in use, while making it comfortable for the occupants.
Incidentally, Climate compatible buildings is not a new idea. Vernacular architecture all the world over has demonstrated that it is possible to make a comfortable shelter in any climate with the use of local materials and appropriate built-form. In fact majority of architects in the third world countries have taken cue from this, interpreting the tenets of the modern movement in their own context, making architecture that is compatible not only to their own climates, but also to their culture, lifestyle & resources. The works of stalwarts like Hassan Fathy, Geoffrey Bawa, Charles Correa, Laurie Baker et al, are a testimony to this fact.
The technological innovations in the building industry for the past decade or so, have therefore concentrated on these issues. We have now softwares (developed in the USA, of course!) which can calculate the heating/cooling load of the buildings on the basis of a BIM model and climate data, and suggest an appropriate climate responsive built form and materials. A whole new set of building materials for cladding to manage solar heat gain have evolved, right from specialized glass to ceramics to composites, and microprocessor based control of building facades to regulate the solar light & heat gain. Ken Yeang has demonstrated that vertical landscape not only makes the building climatically comfortable, but also makes it more humane in terms of the psychological impact of natural surroundings in an otherwise concrete jungle of our cities.
The search for architecture in harmony with the ecology is thus the emerging trend today. It was therefore no surprise that the majority of papers we received for the conference were dealing with sustainable approaches in the various aspects of building design and construction, not to mention climate-compatibility and ecological issues related to building services. Whether or not all this brain-storming leads to some changes in the architectural education remains to be seen.