2050 is far enough off to imagine the urban environment will be very different from today. But, from current trends, we know a few things are likely. Three-quarters of people will live in a city, or 6.75 billion of the projected 9 billion global total. Everyone will have grown up with the Internet, and its successors. And city residents will have access to less natural resources than today, making regeneration and efficiency more of a priority.
Based on this, and extrapolating out some emerging ideas, the engineering and design firm Arup has come up with this mock-up of the building of the future. As you can see, it has its own energy systems ("micro-wind," "solar PV paint," and "algae facade" for producing biofuels). There is an integrated layer for meat, poultry, fish, and vegetable farming; a "building membrane" to convert CO2 to oxygen; heat recovery surfaces; materials that phase change and repair themselves; seamless integration with the rest of the city; and much else.
Arup points to five main attributes: flexibility, sustainability, reactivity, community integration, and smart systems (including automated recycling). The building has a "dynamic network of feedback loops characterized by smart materials, sensors, data exchange, and automated systems that merge together, virtually functioning as a synthetic and highly sensitive nervous system," it says.
Most futuristic of all, the structure is completely modular, and designed to be shifted about (using robots, of course). The building has three layer types, with different life-spans: 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.
The building of the future meets personal needs—"down to an individual’s genetic composition"; gathers information from the environment; and "reacts to contextual clues." Introducing the design, Arup’s Josef Hargrave describes it as "able to make informed and calculated decisions based on their surrounding environment", a "living and breathing" structure "able to support the cities and people of tomorrow.”
Maybe the future isn’t so bad, after all.