By 2050, urban buildings that breathe and adapt

By 2050, urban buildings that breathe and adapt

What will a skyscraper built in 2050 look like? How will it function?

Rather than being static as they are today, in the future buildings will produce food, energy and resources, according to a new report by engineering firm Arup, which designed the iconic Sydney Opera House and is building a zero-carbon city in Dongtan, China.

They will be "living buildings" whose intelligent systems adjust to the needs of inhabitants, respond automatically to variations in weather, are reconfigured by robots and produce more resources than they consume.

"The urban building of the future essentially functions as a living organism in its own right  reacting to the local environment and engaging with the users within," writes Josef Hargrave, a consultant with Arup's Foresight + Innovation division.

Of course, the building of the future is powered by renewable energy  in this case from external walls coated with photovoltaic paint, microwind turbines and an algae facade to produce biofuels. A nanoparticle membrane captures carbon and converts it to oxygen.

Vertical farms, which we're already seeing built, will be standard ways to produce meat, poultry, fish and vegetables.

Brain-like "intelligent building systems" will make "calculated" decisions about how to optimize resources by constantly tracking data on energy consumption, weather and the needs of residents.

Many of the concepts are already becoming familiar, such as integrated microsystems that generate on-site energy; water collection and recycling systems; heat recovery surfaces; building membranes that can convert carbon dioxide into oxygen; and even urban food production modules where residents can get meat, poultry, fish and vegetables.

Other ideas are far more futuristic. Buildings will be far more modular, created out of components that can be easily upgraded or rearranged over time  and even assembled by robots. Depending on what's needed, robots could swap in or out components that provide food, such as animal, fish or vegetable farms. Robots would also be able to "work seamlessly together to install, detect, repair and upgrade components of the building system," says the report.

The materials will also be capable of self-repair and maintenance.

This template for the building of the future, the report says, will be accomplished through a multilayered approach: a permanent layer at the bottom, a 10- to 20-year layer (which includes the facade and primary fit-out walls, finishes or on-floor mechanical plant) and a third layer that can incorporate rapid changes, such as new IT equipment.

"In the ecological age, buildings do not simply create spaces, they craft environments," writes Hargrave. "They function as part of an urban ecosystem, promote more environmentally conscious and efficient resource management, and actively contribute to the unique needs of the individual user, as well as the wider requirements of the city."

Partial illustration of Arup's building of the future provided by the company.

This story is reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business.