I think that focus areas within the profession in 2019 will largely continue the themes that have been developing in recent years. However, I think we will now slowly start to see the fruits of our labour emerge in actual built projects. For instance, we have been researching the ‘new work’ concept for a number of years and in 2015 we completed the design for the new HQ for Booking.com in Amsterdam, an urban campus which is now well underway in construction. I believe this project, when completed, will be one of the first large scale office developments that truly exemplifies the future of work. We are also working on projects in the educational sector that will soon fulfill the same role for the future of educational establishments. However, the interesting thing about the projects that we are designing and building today is that they are holistically incorporating so many different essential facets: all of the themes I mentioned above have become an integrated part of the design process, such as sustainability, circularity, user-centric design strategies, tech integration – and all of this is based on the knowledge that we have accumulated in order to enable future-proof design and construction.
There is however another area of research and design that we are currently developing at UNStudio that I think will become more important within the field in the near future: the research and development of new products. Recently, in collaboration with Monopol Colors from Switzerland, we launched a new ultra-durable paint called ‘The Coolest White’. This new paint protects buildings and urban structures from excessive solar radiation and can also extend the lifespan of buildings, as it provides remarkable protection against corrosion. And last year at UNSense we also launched a completely new kind of integrated PV facade cladding system (Solar Visuals) that enables bespoke designs, whilst making it possible for every facade of a building to harvest solar energy. I believe that this kind of purposeful product design is an area that architects can and should contribute their knowledge to.
But what I really hope for is that in 2019 we will see more municipalities and developers who are willing to realise experimental projects like the Brainport Smart District. I believe that such projects are the best way to accelerate progress and that it is through these developments that we can truly learn what works and what doesn’t work. Projects such as this enable a wide variety or experts to work together in a real-life test environment and thereby, together, to learn by doing.
Last year we witnessed a significant shift in architecture and urban design towards finding solutions that can solve pressing issues related to the future of the built environment. These included a reinvigorated and more holistic approach to sustainability, circularity and resilience. But there was also considerable interest in the future in a more optimistic sense: in observing changing trends related to how we live, work, learn, move and spend our leisure time and how to design for these typologies with the future in mind. Happily, a top down approach within the profession was also largely replaced by a focus on the end users and their needs. At the same time, a wider variety of experts from previously unconsulted fields became an integrated and essential part of our teams, while how to improve the built environment through the incorporation of new technologies and data became a very pressing and real question. I was also very pleased to see that health – a topic that I have been very focused on for a number of years now – became a widespread concern within the profession.
Our new work at UNStudio in 2018 largely reflected these shifts. We designed a number of visions and studies, including the design for a new cable car system for Amsterdam, a vision for the design of the Hyperloop stations of the future, a vision for a Socio-Technical City (located on a test site in The Hague) and an extremely flexible urban plan for ‘Brainport Smart District’: a truly unique and future focused experimental new housing and business district in Helmond (the Netherlands) that is planned for completion by 2030.
But equally exciting for us was that we took the challenge of tech integration very seriously. However, we quickly realised that the traditional make-up of an architectural practice does not enable architects to truly apply their knowledge in this field, as they don’t have the expertise required to develop new technologies. So, l took the bull by the horns last year and set up a sister company; and arch-tech start-up called UNSense. UNSense is primarily focused on finding and developing user-centric tech solutions for the built environment, but it also benefits from the design knowledge and experience that we have built up at UNStudio over the past 30 years.