Architects as Problem-Solvers

Architects solve myriad problems.

Sure, every individual structure requires solving a myriad of problems. But there are many global problems that architects are working to resolve as well. 
Architecture is ultimately about ideas: ideas not only about beauty, but about society, people, the planet, materials, politics, how we should or could live, etc.

Housing Solutions

As the world’s population increases, so does its poor, who often do not have the financial resources for, or access to, adequate housing. Architects and planners often collaborate on schemes to provide good housing for all income levels— finding ways to finance and renovate older structures and abandoned factories, or using new factory-built units for affordable apartments in developments large and small.

Another issue is the aging population. In many countries, architects are modifying traditional housing types to allow people to age in place, and to accommodate the growing trend of multi-generational living, where parents, grandparents and children share the same dwelling. Features such as flexible spaces that can be easily divided and/or converted to various uses, laundry rooms on each floor, and first-floor master suites are some ways architectural designs are responding to the needs of a range of age groups.

What about when disaster strikes? Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, typhoons can destroy property and leave people homeless. An easily deployable quick fix is needed to house hundreds or thousands of people in the wake of the storm. Architects are designing solutions. Here are just a few examples.

PreFab Houses

California firms envision a low-cost housing unit made of prefab, modular elements that can be assembled in many designs.
California firms envision a low-cost housing unit made of prefab, modular elements that can be assembled in many designs.
Minnesota architects have created a prototype — hexagonal pods made out of structural insulated panels (SIPS) that can be easily shipped to a disaster site for temporary housing.
This award-winning collapsible tower was designed to be delivered to the disaster site via helicopter.
In designing for increasing temperatures, vegetation is your friend. Here The California Academy of Science’s 2.5-acre green roof is covered with nearly 2 million plants native to the area.
After a 6.1 magnitude earthquake, students from the Chinese University of Hong Kong designed an anti-seismic and sustainable home for Guangming villagers, Zaotong, China, using the ancient building technique of rammed earth instead of costly concrete. The students’ design won the World Building of the Year award at the World Architecture Festival 2017.
You’ll also find that architects have a history of volunteering to assist neighborhoods that have sufferedfrom tornados, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. Habitat for Humanity is a popular choice for architects who can lend their smarts to designing and building cost-effective, energy-efficient, and sustainable new housing for storm-ravaged areas.

Sustainable Solutions

With the move to greener, more sustainable buildings it’s not just the mechanical systems that make the difference.
Daylight, wall thickness, orientation of the building, and window placement are just a few ways design can contribute to indoor comfort without the need to up the air-conditioning or the heat. Using a combination of materials, landscaping, and resource conservation systems, architects are designing buildings that use less energy, create less waste, and use less of our natural resources. When some 55 percent of carbon emissions come from products and materials used in buildings, architects can also make a big contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by identifying and specifying “green.” Those choices are recognized by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)…and a LEED-certified building is what architects aim for.

Food Production Solutions

Many cities are thinking about bringing agriculture into cities.
With our urban spaces becoming increasingly crowded, the rush is on to make food safe, more readily available, and more economical for millions of city dwellers—that is, to make cities centers of food production. Vertical farming (where vegetation is grown on various levels of a building), farms on the roof, and indoor hydroponic farms are all part of that solution. But there’s more: check out Sweden’s World Food Building which, when completed, will be part office building, part wonder farm—a high-production entity fueled to the extent possible by waste products.
The Plantagon greenhouse brings vertical agriculture of vegetables.
A detail of a floor within the Plantagon greenhouse.

Extreme Weather Solutions

Architects have always had to take climatic considerations into account in building for extreme locations.
Architects have always had to take climatic considerations into account in building for desert locations and colder areas, rainy locations, and coastal environments—and some architects specialize in designing for the most extreme and remotest places on the planet. But climate change has thrown a curveball: more extreme—and volatile—weather for all of us. It’s already begun: major floods and earthquakes, below zero temperatures, super hot summers, killer wildfires. In the coming years, architects along with engineers and planners will be grappling with how to design resilient buildings and cities. Think new spins on flood-proof housing (floatable houses?)…schools that kids can actually get to in 40 below temperatures…decreasing the spread of fires within and between structures…and many more strategies to protect us from natural disasters.
Britain’s Halley VI, designed by Broughton Architects, sits on hydraulic stilts and on skis. 
Credit. Antony Dubber
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