4 Tips from Flux’s Emerging Architects Jury

Special to BuiltWorlds

The world population is not only growing, it’s shifting, as more and more people migrate to cities. Today, for the first time in human history, the majority of people on the planet — more than three billion of us — live in urban areas.

That’s a staggering number of people living and working in close proximity, and it is projected to double by 2050. This is already true in the U.S., where many of our major cities now have gotten so big that they’ve morphed together into great, big continuous metropolitan areas, like the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Bay Area. It’s also true in many less developed parts of the world, where an agrarian way of life is being replaced by something cosmopolitan.

These larger and denser cities will influence almost every aspect of life, from practical challenges like the way we use resources and dispose of waste, to more societal concerns, like the way we peacefully and pleasantly coexist as we increasingly live and work on top of each other. Underlying all of these challenges is the way we build safe, affordable, comfortable and, ideally, aesthetically pleasing structures for these larger, denser cities.


Designing for a more urban world is a paradigm shift that will require new answers and new questions


Designing for a more urban world is a paradigm shift that will require us to come up with new answers, and also to ask new questions. And that’s why the next generation of architects, designers and builders, who approach the challenge without the burden of preconceived notions, will be so important to building in the 21st Century and beyond. This is also why Flux recently hosted an Emerging Architects Design Competition to hear some fresh perspectives. The contest yielded several decidedly outside the box approaches, from an “ecoschool” that sought to merge function and design by leaving the network of pipes on the outside of the building, to a new way of designing in real time that one judge equated to a full-scale game of Minecraft.

  • Entries were judged by Anand Babu of Sidewalk LabsRaveevarn Choksombatchai of VeeVEva Friedrich of Google; Leon Rost of BIG; and Ken Sanders of GenslerFor more, click here

The Minecraft reference is actually quite relevant because it suggests a way of building in which we can design individual buildings with the entire community cityscape in mind, something that is now actually possible to do, thanks to technologies like Google Earth (see below).

Our judges were so inspired by the designs we received for the competition. Here are four reasons why they believe a new generation of designers will help us solve the challenges of a denser planet:

1. They will make the most of technology. While it is true that in the year 2016, we are all using some technology to design buildings, the reality is that the industry as a whole has not yet made the most of breakthroughs like Big Data, Open Data, modular construction, performance simulation and VR. Today, most digital design technology is still very fragmented and, because different applications often do not work together seamlessly, adopting advanced technology may be seen as a chore rather than a useful tool. As these technologies become more integrated and widely adopted, they will put more information and more sophisticated tools at our disposal;

2. They will collaborate. Effective use of technology enables collaboration, which will be essential to designing and building for dense urban areas. And, since technology can automate many of the tasks that now must be done by hand, it frees architects to address larger concerns and consider their buildings as part of a larger community;

3. They will consider the big picture. The ability to design with the surrounding community in mind is one of the benefits of both technology and collaboration. Compare the traditional architectural model that features a new structure fit into a static surrounding of trees and streets, with the dynamic imagery available from Google Earth and other regularly updated data sets. Building design that is informed by an ever-changing landscape is more likely to yield structures that fit well into their environment;

4. They will design with regard to customs, cultures, and tastes. We’ve all seen unfortunate buildings that were designed with function in mind — often with the goal of accommodating a large number of people — but failed to address comfort or perhaps even safety, never mind aesthetics. As one of our judges noted, truly effective building design addresses not only function and scale but also cultural trends, and social behaviors, aesthetic judgments and even belief systems. This will become both more challenging and more important when designing the buildings of the future, where more people from disparate backgrounds will come together in a single close-knit community, perhaps under the same roof. The best solutions will require thinking far outside of our traditional notion of four-walled buildings.

While building design has evolved over the years, the changes for the most part have been incremental rather than sweeping. That means we’re long overdue to bring building and design practices up to date with the way we live and work, and the places we congregate in the 21st Century. The good news is that we have a variety of tools, many supported by advanced technology, to help us do so. While technology will be a big part of the solution of designing for a denser planet, fresh perspectives will also be critical.

The concepts that came through our Emerging Architects competition this year provided a glimpse of what we can accomplish when we’re willing to break with tradition, and seek new and better ways to create buildings that don’t just house us, but truly support us.

Based in San Francisco, the author is a veteran software engineer and co-founder of Flux.io, which she helped to launch in June 2012. Prior to that, Carlile worked at both Google[X] and Avid Technology.

She can be reached via e-mail at this address.