Optimism and Determination in Metropolis‘s 2021 Technology Issue

From blockchain and 3-D printing to surreal rendering, technology is changing how architects and designers design, build, and specify. The January/February 2021 issue of Metropolis dives into groundbreaking developments at every scale.
Icon Vulcan 3dprinter Printing In Progress 2019 Photocredit Reganmortonphotography

Structural components of a building being 3D-printed by ICON‘s Vulcan printer. The automated process stacks layers of concrete to conform to a digital file. Courtesy Regan Morton Photography

There’s a perennial problem with sustainable architecture and design: complexity. “Consider the number of products that go into a project,” says Kirsten Ritchie, a consulting project director and principal at Gensler. “Take those tens of thousands of SKUs and multiply them by an average of 30 attributes for each product. In the end, you’ve got 300,000 items that you’re trying to track for the overall performance and accountability of your project.” Her solution? Blockchain. Applied to the task of selecting products, materials, and processes that cause the least damage to the environment, this trendy technology could be the key to market transformation.

This is the kind of visionary thinking we need as we reckon with the trauma of 2020 and embark on a decade that will be critical to the future of humanity. This first issue of Metropolis in 2021, themed around Technology for A&D, is dedicated to the solutions that will help build an exciting, equitable, healthy, and sustainable tomorrow.

Ritchie is one of five leaders at A&D firms who explain how blockchain, cloud computing, machine learning, spatial computing, and VR/AR/MR could transform design practice (5 Technologies Shaping the Future of Design). Given the speed at which these technologies have already infused so many aspects of our lives, the changes they describe are likely just around the corner.

Revolutions in construction technologies, meanwhile, usually come once in a generation—the curtain wall and the skyscraper were the great ones of the 20th century—but today we are lucky enough to witness two simultaneously. For Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, Michael Green Architecture takes mass-timber construction to the next level with an innovative shear-wall system that can move in an earthquake and self-center back into place (Michael Green Architecture Designs a Mass-Timber Research Complex). Meanwhile, from Austin, Texas, to Suzhou, China, 3D printing has moved from an experimental technology to a reliable way of building quickly and cheaply (3D-Printing Is Speeding Up the Automation of Construction).

More exciting than the technologies themselves are their applications: accessory dwelling units, affordable housing, and lower-carbon commercial buildings. Disruption for the sake of disruption is no longer a sufficient goal. During a global pandemic at a time of incredible socioeconomic inequity, and as we face a climate crisis, any step forward for the A&D professions must be grounded in responsibility to people and planet.

At Metropolis we’re entering 2021 with a host of new initiatives based in optimism and determination for a resilient future. With this issue, we introduce our Transparency column (Duvaltex Sorts Out the Nitty-Gritty of Recycling Ocean Plastic with a New Textile Release) to help you navigate the complexity of new product releases. At metropolismag.com/interiorspledge you can sign up for updates as we develop a sustainability framework for interior designers that is rooted in decarbonization. And in our next issue we will showcase our inaugural Metropolis Future 100: the architecture and interior design graduates who we believe represent the highest hope for their professions. Happy 2021!

You may also enjoy “5 Technologies Shaping the Future of Design

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Categories: Technology