Is This What Urban Buildings Will Look Like In 2050?

With internal farms, walls that convert CO2 to oxygen, and even the ability to personalize itself based on your DNA, this concept for the building of the future is a sight to behold.

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.

Click to enlarge.

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.

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  • Sparky M

    Cute pipe dream. The real future is considerably darker and more dystopian. An already overpopulated planet set to double its population in the next 40 years. Peak oil is almost here, fresh water is running out, same with top soil, democracies are disappearing along with the middle class - as most move into the poor side of the equation and corporate rule becomes more obvious and prevalent every day. We'll be seeing WWIII by 2050 or soon after. It's pretty much all over but the crying at this point.

  • Grcarch

    Surely, this is an Arup joke; it certainly isn't architecture.  If a serious idea, it relies way more heavily on technology than necessary in comparison to simply designing our cities for greater sustainability.  The tools exist; all that is needed is greater density and far less sprawl.  Of course, if this turns out to be politically unattainable, then the techie patches may be the only resort.  Arggghhhh!  Yes - Arghhitecture.

  • vetxcl

    What if future buildings were not built up, but down? Then they'd rely more on constant temperatures. Some functions would be above ground, of course, like the air source. Energy generation needn't be from above ground at all, due to geothermal sources, (no, not building next to a geyser nor a volcano.) And water sources could be from underground aquifers.

  • vetxcl

    This article , along with it's design team relies too heavily on humans in control having the common good as the highest priority.

    Yes, it's beautiful in it's utility and sustainability, but …

  • vetxcl

    No, not if Scott Walker has any influence. Too much use of public transportation for him to abide and not enough petro-chemicals used.

  • Reva Madison

    I have always wondered, as a non-engineer, how much wall space is lost from all these curved walls?  Gut reaction is that a square of the same outer dimension has more square footage than a building with curves.  Just look at a 50 ft on the side building, with a circle circumscribed inside it.  The circle sure has less square footage, meaning to get the same volume, you need a larger circle, with the square inside it.

  • vetxcl

    Consider the Roman invention of the arc. It supports more weight. Wouldn't then an arc turned sideways also provide structural integrity for less weight?

  • Michael Sparti

    I'm a ret doc, and MH counselor now. I agree it is probably in need today, If we think it, WHY not do it, also 10 stories seems good with a lot underground, as more efficient in extreme climates I've lived in Detroit, and Palm Springs. Either heat or refrigeration, unless we develop 'FREE' energy! ROTFLMAO, power companies will not allow and Govts. would have nothing to TAX! Dr. Mike

  • Howard

    I believe the building of the future will NOT be high rise. It will be very similar to what has been described but may only be 10 stories high but several blocks long. This will allow its occupants whether they live there, work there, or visit there a sense o perspective which is unattainable in a high rise. Urban parks will surround these buildings allowing more of a human scale although they are quite large. Howard ecker

  • Reva Madison

     What about fire safety?  A large building, with many apartments, stores, play areas catches on fire, and there is no air space between it and the next apartment.   Im still of the opinon that we need to stop building the big cities bigger.  Spread em out.  There are many millions of acres out there, that is not suitable for farms or ranches, but have the space for houses, shops, factories, even parks, without jamming humankind into a mass of humanity.  

  • exoraluna

    Well, to the detractors, we DO have to start somewhere. Why not start production on proto types, put the wheels  of the future in motion. Why sit and talk? Changes will surely be made as we advance into the future. I'm loving the discussion of the future and developments.

  • John Walles

    Ben, you are smoking the pot grown in the building.  Every major city has infrastructure already in place.  Are we going to tear all of that out?  The previous Jetson's comment is very appropriate.  We are terrible at forecasting35 years in the future.  What I would suggest would be some elements of what the "building of the future" can be integrated into current structures and that might happen by 2050.  The same people Projecting this Future would be the first ones protesting all of the destruction of "Historical" buildings to get there.   

  • Bob Jacobson

    I suspect the more typical home of the future, at least in North America, will be the refurbished freight container a la Snow Crash or for the least well off among us, a cardboard box.  With WiFi.

    Unless something dramatic is done to halt the skid in declining real wages, all of this creative banter is meaningless.  It wouldn't matter much to ARUP, which works mainly for giant corporations like itself and government agencies.  There's always room at the top to play.

  • iainOfTheNorthDownSouth

    No, because Governments are more concerned with killing each today, rather than worrying about tomorrow. Look at where we thought we would be today in the late 80's. Bladerunner for example, with a vison of the near future. Nothings changed. War spurs technological advancement. Some great ideas above, but try 3050.

  • Mike-nont

    Some very innovative ideas---all conveniently packaged in one unit.  Could be a nice toy at home near a financial district.

    This is techno-triumphalism at its worst. It dodges the real issues of demographic explosion, environmental sustainability and drastically increasing socioeconomic inequality. We know Arup has expertise in towers, and we can bet Cisco will supply the vast array of Brave-New-World sensors (and the robots?).

    Actually, just taking the form of a tower disqualifies this idea on a basic level of sustainability. Building towers is incredibly expensive and involves enormous embodied energy.

    The 'vertical agriculture' component of this project is dubious. I see 6-7 stories dedicated to food production.  Consider, as a scale example, that to supply food for all of London one would need 2,000 30-story towers (100m square).

  • Daniel LaLiberte

     "Dodges"?  You raise good questions, but they are not particularly relevant in a piece about the technology, except for the environmental sustainability question, which is very directly addressed here, and you respond to it.  Socioeconomic equality is not incompatible with such a design, provided ownership or management of the means of production is shared with those who are affected by it. 

    There is an assumption that denser cities (compared to rural areas) can be more sustainable, provided they produce their own food and energy.  Towers have a smaller land area footprint by filling the area above the land, though shadows of towers must be factored in as well.  I believe the expense is not so extreme with such smaller scale towers, and the modular design with pre-fabricated units will further reduce the cost.

    How many 30-story towers does London have now?  How many are projected to be built by 2050 anyway that might as well be done with similar green designs?

  • vetxcl

    Before you conjecture what the above building is for, try looking at what life form will be inhabiting it. And since it's urban, that means there will be many such life forms, humans,  in the immediate area.

  • vetxcl

    Perhaps , in the future people will realize there's no benefit in overpopulating the planet and create some system of maintaining better equilibrium with the planet's resources. Yeah, right.

    Or, with the continued use of pesticides, chemical additives, industrialized agriculture and corporations looking to reduce regulations that limit harmful practices; no one will be able to procreate without the use of artificial insemination; which could be coopted by a government, 'for the good of all' and to 'fairly distribute the service', thereby creating a means to limit population. Just a wild conjecture. Hopefully, it won't come to that.

    Or, maybe people will continue to procreate until there is a population collapse, (not enough food production,) along with some rapidly spreading fatal disease, spun off from the overuse of antibiotics or research to produce a cure to another illness.

    With limited population, there won't be as great a need to create work.

  • Jeff Goble

    human beings are constantly finding ways to be more productive, i.e., work less. If we can produce all the goods and services we need with robots, why do we need human labor? If the allocation of capital is automated towards the ends of human consumption, who should care if humans work? Exchange will still be necessary, because goods will depreciate and populations will change. Therefore, money will still be necessary. But humans might have to work much less to get the same or more. Hopefully we find a way to resolve conflicts without war, and hopefully we return to anarchy. Humanity is most productive and peaceful when there isn't central leadership dictating law. Everyone has much more incentive to be productive, peaceful, resourceful, and respectful of contracts when there are no mafias and governments.