The Future of Architecture and Design

This is from the Institute for the Future

By Mark Bryan, Director of Innovation + Research

When the pandemic hit, the architecture and design profession felt a twinge of collective anxiety over what this inflection point would mean for our industry. Workplaces and stores were going dark, homes became protective silos, and the places we gathered to play and socialize stood empty. The scope of this public health crisis had clear indications for the future of how people would experience public and private spaces. At M+A Architects, we put our foresight process to work to understand what the future looked like in the next ten years for architecture and design. From our practice we curated four future forecasts for our profession.

  1. The first forecast centered around architects and designers becoming Resiliency Developers. In the wake of the pandemic, public trust in space will need to be rebuilt. Buildings will become more adaptable and listed on public domains for users to see crucial information and relevant updates before choosing to enter. These buildings will be deemed resilient or pandemic-prepared, in some cases needing to go through extensive retrofitting, and will also center around fostering personal resilience for all who enter. Spaces like M+A’s Respite Room prototype will be in higher demand and infused into both public and private spaces.
  2. In another forecast, we saw architects and designers becoming Sensorial Enablers. In this future, design is more inclusive, and haptic sensations become a priority for connecting people with space and each other. Spaces that prioritize sensory experience will become part of daily rituals, and companies will use  them to interact with remote workers. Accessibility has moved beyond just physical concerns and into neurodiversity, creating new guidelines and best practices. In the short term, architects and designers will work to define safe haptic experiences as we navigate back from the current sentiment that only “touchless” is safe.
  1. In the next ten years, we see architecture changing to require buildings to become Ecological Producers for the communities they inhabit. Self-sustaining buildings will be enforced through code and local jurisdictions, becoming structures that can be off-grid, self-healing, and prepared for climate disaster. Materials inside the building will also need to be reusable, even after they have broken down. Current signals point toward a movement of ranking buildings and spaces based on their carbon footprint label, which will become just as important as their location.
  1. The fourth forecast sees employees and jobs for architecture and design firms becoming a Mobilized Workforce. As liquid territories—as well as the workforce—ebb and flow between cities, suburbs, and rural areas, firms will move to more hub- and gig-based working. This will allow firms to have subscription-based services that meet the clients’ demands and timelines while ensuring minimum disruption of work. Looking to 2022 or even 2023, we see the beginning of this future state starting to take form in the shape of gig-firm neighborhood pop-ups where clients can come to find quick solutions for retrofitting their homes with a dedicated office for remote work.

To find these futures, we looked at the signals and drivers we gathered from before the pandemic, which included signals like the rise of “third spaces,” which were becoming creative zones or centers geared toward helping achieve greater creativity, wellness, respite, resiliency, or to learn design thinking faster. Another signal we saw were the many conversations, articles, and papers that revolved around improving accessibility. We at M+A, along with many other firms, had begun to cite ways the built environment could be more inclusive of all physical abilities and for people on the neurodiverse spectrum. During the pandemic, signals were emerging on how there was a lack of resiliency and few coping mechanisms to deal with stress. This echoed the World Health Organization’s announcement that by 2030, mental health disorders will be one of the leading causes of poor health. Millennials and Gen Z have been cited as being a more nomadic cohort, all of which changed during the pandemic, but their new mobility for reasons of pleasure and adventure was transformed to be how they could work anywhere while WFH was finally being allowed in many more major companies. In 2019, Seattle began to retrofit community centers with new air filtration systems so people had somewhere to go when wildfire smoke affected air quality. These and other signals pointed toward an architectural practice that was more holistic, connective, and focused as we moved from exclusion to inclusion, naivety to intention, and speed to purpose.

Based on the clusters of signals and drivers we found, we used the Reveal Unexpected Possibilities tool (from the IFTF Foresight Essentials Toolkit) to draft mini short-term forecasts. These forecasts created pathways that became the foundation that we used to build our four long-term forecasts mentioned above. With our futures established, we selected the fourth forecast, about a Mobilized Workforce future, to work through several consequence maps that led to insights, which we have funneled into separate action maps to help build our strategy for how we can achieve this future for our company.

While most of our forecasts were based in the more hopeful zeitgeist, many of these future states require an overhaul in how firms currently function– moving past the whole project to individual space, and defining what the new principles are to create a building that is resilient, safe, positive, and fluid. Many of these ideas exist today, but the codification of them is what will make these futures a reality. Currently we have moved into researching how we can become Sensorial Enablers by understanding what design can do to help those on the neurodiverse spectrum and working to ensure they have safe spaces within the workplace.

If you would like to learn more about how we are translating this into practice, please feel free to email me, the Director of Innovation + Research for M+A Architects and an alumni of IFTF’s Foresight Essentials.

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