Megacities are our future: There are more than 20 megacities in the world today and by 2025 there will be around 30 of them. They are home to more than 10 million people and sprawl for hundreds of kilometers. Their projected rapid expansion by the middle of this century will drive our economies and shape our lives. But they are not carefully designed superstructures; instead, they are aggregations of building developments that spread like weeds over already stressed infrastructures. Megacities offer the greatest opportunities and challenges for humankind in the 21st century as they exist at the interface where urban systems meet technology to support human development.
With the appropriate infrastructures supporting them, combined technologies can form qualitatively new kinds of engagement between buildings and the megacity environment. An exploratory project between Astudio architects and AVATAR examines the potential for upgrading the environmental performance of entire buildings in situ. The structural bones of buildings are kept in place and pruned as fit for purpose frameworks, without having to displace existing inhabitants, which are then re-wrapped with living facades. These are the next generation of functional vertical gardens that are colonized by microorganisms and life-like chemistries that assist with the lifecycles of buildings being able to process waste and make biofuels using local resources.
Architecture does not need to be limited by inert surfaces, which create a barrier between people and the environment but could directly engage the surroundings through active interfaces which act as vast synthetic soils. These might be maintained under surveillance by smart microfluidics monitoring systems and robotic gardeners. A taste of these dynamic geotextiles can be experienced in the architectural installation Hylozoic Ground, a finalist for the Katerva Award insustainability. This jungle-like technology is a prototype for living building surfaces that combine cybernetics with smart chemistry. The immersive, evolving technology offers a responsive framework for a new kind of architectural experience that senses people and the environment and whose principles may be applied in other contexts, such as gardens. Hylozoic Ground could even offer its inhabitants positive emotional experiences similar to being close to nature.
The grand vision of achieving positive human development in the 21st century will require effective coordination between disciplines, institutions, cultures, and geographical regions. The pressing concerns that affect us all are many and varied—and would require humanity to perform at its very best to secure a long-term partnership with this unstable earth that is our home.
What are the challenges to developing and implementing a global vision of positive human development?
How can developed countries best transfer knowledge to the Global South?
How can combined technologies in cities help address significant social inequalities?