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Design Intervention: How Technology Is Changing Architecture

As technological developments and growing environmental awareness continue to shape the housing market, Melissa Emerson investigates the innovative projects and 21st century homes getting ahead in architecture’s challenging new era

Curve appeal

3D printing has been labelled the next industrial revolution, with applications in industries including space, motor racing and medicine. As the technology becomes more affordable, some designers are turning to larger-scale projects, namely housing, and questioning its potential to help build enough new homes for growing populations and those in the developing world. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, the government recently announced proposals for 25 per cent of buildings in Dubai to incorporate 3D printing technology by 2030.

This is where firms like Branch Technology step in. Its patented Cellular Fabrication™ is not constrained by the layer-by-layer build process of traditional 3D printing, and its Freeform Home Design Challenge gives winning architects the chance to have their designs built. Entries must be for a 600-800 sq ft freestanding home on one level, comprising a kitchen, bathroom, living area and bedroom.

Fitzrovia-based design consultancy WATG’s curved proposal was the 2016 winner and test sections are now in production, with the hope of beginning the full printing process later this year

Water world

Whether it’s cinemas, concierges or state-of-the-art gyms, today’s developers are upping the ante when it comes to amenities for luxury residences. At its new Embassy Gardens development in the Nine Elms regeneration area linking Vauxhall and Battersea, Ballymore and its partner Ecoworld have pushed the boat out even further with a transparent Sky Pool. 

Straddling two ten-storey buildings, the 35-metre high pool – designed by Arup Associates and HAL, in partnership with aquarium designers Reynolds – will offer views as far as the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament and 14 metres of the 25-metre length will be fully suspended between the two buildings.

Over on the other side of the pond, Canadian company Modpools is creating a splash with its upcycled shipping container pools and Jacuzzis. Its designs feature windows cut into the side to add a contemporary twist, while clever technology enables users to control the temperature, jets and lighting via a smartphone app. If only it could control the weather, too. 

Man vs machine  

The lines between architecture, art and design are becoming increasingly blurred, as sophisticated technology enables the most ambitious projects to get off the ground. 

Over in Venice, California, architect Mario Romano’s Wave House isn’t your average abode. The five-bedroom home has a painted aluminium shell that appears to flow over two storeys in one fluid movement, although it is in fact made up of more than 300 custom-cut pieces. The course of the curves was largely plotted by software like that used in the design of cars and yachts, before computer numerical control (CNC) machinery was used to cut the pieces. 

Could this signal the end of construction as we know it? Open-source architecture projects such as UK-based WikiHouse think so. Its team of architects, designers and engineers are developing sustainable technology set to become the bricks and mortar of the future, meaning people can design, download and print their own CNC home at the touch of a button. Watch this space. 

Urban jungle

These images may be computer-generated, but jungle-like tower blocks are fast becoming a reality in Pukou District, Nanjing, China. 

The towers are the brainchild of Milan-based practice Stefano Boeri Architetti, conceived as a way of minimising the negative impact of urban sprawl by giving back to nature. Once completed, they will stand at 200 metres and 108 metres tall respectively, and 6,000 sq m of the surface area will be covered in 1,100 trees and 2,500 cascading plants and shrubs.

Horticultural high-rise buildings aren’t yet a common sight on the capital’s skyline, although a map commissioned by the London Assembly has identified more than 700 green roofs across London. At ground level, landmark buildings such as the Walkie Talkie and The Athenaeum hotel have already embraced living walls – and with outside space commanding such a premium, the appeal of the vertical garden looks set to keep growing.