We are witnessing how the boundaries between urban and rural environments are fading, as a result of a greater awareness of the fact that primary resources are limited, the shortages in supply chains, and the growth of investment budgets. These are the premises for the year 2022 that will influence the architecture of the built spaces in the medium and long term, as per the research carried out by Studio ae.
According to Elena Ștefănescu, architect and co-founder of Studio ae - architecture & evolution, "A sustainable future depends on the society’s ability, and that of the architects to take the necessary measures today. It is important to focus on the long-term quality of the spaces and to assign the necessary resources. As the co-founder of Studio ae - architecture & evolution also points out, “therefore, the architects' efforts to deal with climate change become stringent during all phases, from design to execution and maintenance."
People want increasingly safer, cleaner, and greener environments, both in cities, in the suburbs, and the countryside. Suburban and rural communities offer proximity to nature, more spacious land, housing, and greener landscapes, therefore attracting families from the metropolitan area. This remains especially valid, given the fact that the number of employees who wish to work from home or currently work from home is still high. Thus, available space, nature, and sustainable communities are increasingly more important for the decision to build or choose a home in a certain area.
In the last two years, I have noticed a significant movement of investments from Bucharest towards the Ilfov area, where Studio ae is currently working on several residential projects. Practically, a new residential "ring" is currently being built and developed around Bucharest. Projects are currently under development in Corbeanca, Snagov, Otopeni, Brănești, Cernica, Domnești, and Berceni. However, the development of road infrastructure, including sidewalks, and the availability to connect to utilities is also very important. Also, to achieve the goal of providing quality housing options, one must take into account the need for schools, parks, and public spaces, as well as recreational and commercial functions.
Moreover, the landscape of many villages and communes around the big cities will become an industrial one, given the fact that the large logistics centers built in these areas are changing the visible and invisible structure of the community. It is estimated that, by the end of 2022, 1 million sqm will be developed for the logistics centers projects, based around large cities such as Bucharest, Cluj, Timișoara, Oradea, and Sibiu.
Essentially, the terms used more and more often that have partially overlapping definitions, such as sustainable buildings, durable, passive, low energy, ecological, green, NZEB, etc., summarize society's concern for the protection of the environment and the way we build and live.
"Green" or "sustainable" architecture has also evolved in Romania in recent years. Sustainable architecture aims to create healthy and bright houses, tailored to the needs of their users, houses that remain flexible over time and also contribute to the quality of public spaces. The main aspect is the long-term reduction of the negative impact of the built mass on the environment.
The architects’ efforts to cope with climate change become pressing as early as the design phase and continue throughout the execution and maintenance stages. For example, wood is a sustainable building material, which has many health benefits and also promotes the concept of well-being. Wood has been and continues to be an extremely popular ecological building material because it is considered renewable, having been used for thousands of years.
Currently, Studio ae is working on the design phase of several buildings that aim to obtain a passive house standard certification, and that will be built on a timber frame or Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) structure.
At the beginning of 2021, when the Nearly Zero Energy Building standard, NzEB, came into force, architects and engineers were the ones who mainly debated this topic. Following the price increase for construction materials, first wood and metal, followed by energy price increases, this is now a central theme throughout society. The price increases generated an increase in investment budgets in 2021, sometimes by 20-25%, depending on the stage of the construction works. The higher electricity costs increase the building’s operating costs over time.
Maintenance costs will be influenced by these successive price increases, including in the case of retail buildings.
There is a growing awareness that primary resources, including land and water, are limited, and this influences how we choose to build. We noticed a growing preference for the use of quality materials for thermal and sound insulation, heat recovery systems, photovoltaic panels, respectively solar panels, or heat pumps. Their use will result in savings and long-term benefits for the environment, as well as contribute to the user’s overall satisfaction.
This need has intensified starting in 2020 within the context of the pandemic restrictions and the requirements to stay indoors for as long as possible. The connection with nature is achieved through large windows, and the use of as much natural light as possible, by setting up external and internal gardens, patio-type courtyards, terrarium-type greenhouses, or vegetable walls. In those cases, in which these solutions are not possible, this effect can also be achieved by growing plants and shrubs in pots.
Natural materials and textures are increasingly popular for interior finishes and decorations, primarily in light, "earthy" and "natural" tones.
Minimalist architecture is an increasingly popular architectural trend in Romania as well. This style of architectural design that emerged more than 100 years ago continues to be a valid response to a society increasingly assaulted by information.
Simplicity balances the complexity of everyday life. Minimalism stands out especially in terms of the construction materials, offering simple, calm perspectives that do not burden our eyes. Natural light plays an essential role. The focus will move away from small, undersized spaces in classic apartment buildings to spaces that are more flexible over time and are adapted to current needs.
In 2022, we will complete the remodeling of our own home. From the very beginning, one of the ideas of the concept was to have no visible joints for the finishes. Therefore, we chose microcement as the main finish for both the floor and the walls, where necessary.
Furthermore, the boundaries between different styles are also diluted, thus becoming more adaptable to one's personal style. Interior design is less frequently about what is "trending" and more an expression of personal style and how one chooses to live in the privacy of his own home.
Individuality and flexibility move away from the concept of the universal man as it was perceived 100 years ago in the sense that this concept started from the premise that we all have the same needs. Diversity is a word that defines also defines the present and the future of architecture.
The interior space will acquire the imprint of the family that inhabits it through the many details that make up family life: hobbies, children's toys, books, different travel souvenirs, paintings, electrical appliances, plants, gifted items, etc.
Our houses have adapted for complementary functions in the context of the coronavirus pandemic: they have also become a space for work and socialization, at the same time serving as a space for exercise and relaxation. It can be said that an architectural concern that has emerged in recent years is centered around adapting the work-from-home lifestyle, which is experiencing rapid momentum. Spatial and sound insulation, as well as other privacy-enhancing architectural and interior design features, are carefully thought out and customized for maximum efficiency.
Developments with a single function, whether residential, commercial, or office-related, will evolve towards a mixed, multifunctional purpose. These intertwine and complement public spaces, parks, squares, and relaxation areas. The neighborhood of the future tends to be the "15-minute city" where everything is accessible and found in proximity. In this type of city, Time is also a limited resource.
In a world increasingly more dependent on remote work, multifunctional spaces and the right acoustics for ZOOM/TEAMS meetings are also becoming significant features of comfort and well-being.
We are witnessing the creation of a new universe, the virtual one. If we refer to sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s definition of space as the result of the interaction between people, the virtual environment is also a meeting place, but also a place for architecture. The pandemic has accentuated the development of an interconnected society, The rise of the Network Society, a phenomenon anticipated by Manuel Castells since the 90s.
It is quite clear that we are witnessing the birth of a new world. The first buildings in this new universe have already been published.
Therein, the challenges are multiple: who will build this Metaverse? What will it look like? Will it have boundaries, or will it be infinite? Will this universe be a place without limitations for architects, and imagination will be able to create unprecedented forms, or will it reproduce the real world? Will utopian cities be created, as during the Renaissance?
For architects and engineers, interactive design visualization reduces physical distance and creates new opportunities. More and more specialists understand that the fast-moving world of augmented reality (XR) tends to become the new work environment in architecture and construction. The use of VR and XR technologies complements traditional workflows and streamlines the management of complex projects. Furthermore, it also represents a way of communication that is easier to understand by the whole team, including the final beneficiary. Testing and iterations become simpler, presentations become more impressive, and approvals are faster.
An open question for the new year and the future is "How will we use technology not only to build on Earth but especially to build in the virtual environment?"
Technologies designed to help us control and make the most out of our living space are becoming more sophisticated. For example, more and more buildings have built-in sensors that regulate heating or reduce electricity and heat consumption depending on how many occupants are present within it. Mobile apps help us connect with a building: we can call the elevator without touching any buttons, and we can adjust the temperature, the light, etc. This is the first layer of information. Based on the data obtained from the use of the building, objective design decisions can be optimized and made in the case of that respective building, or the case of future buildings with a similar function.
Climate change has put more pressure on increasing the performance of the existing and future built environment. As architects, with the help of technology, it becomes necessary to imagine and design the smart buildings and cities of the future in a better way, to monitor and evaluate their to help anticipate and prevent environmental problems.
The fields of architecture and construction have the task to create smarter, more efficient buildings constructed in a way that will reduce the impact on the environment, and reduce the consequences of natural phenomena (earthquakes, floods, temperature variations, etc.) and the effects of climate change. Lastly, the goal is to create a state of well-being for the individuals who use them.