Design for the Future

Posted On 2017-04-24

Every architect would love to think of their work outliving their lifetime. We all want to leave a legacy larger than ourselves. The longevity of architecture and engineering is such that, very often, that’s just what we do: we build for tomorrow.

The idea of designing for the future has more than one meaning, though.

We want buildings that last:

  • Because they are well-built;
  • Because they have a style and elegance that doesn’t date;
  • Most of all: because they are built sustainably and don’t impact the environment negatively.

Sound Construction

Buildings that last are built on proven and existing construction principles and architectural norms.

David Albrice, professional reserve analyst at RBH, identifies five stages in the life of a building. In his on the subject, he says, ‘These stages apply to all sectors: commercial, residential, industrial, institutional and municipal.’ He shows that, even though every building is unique, and each is affected by factors such as the building materials used, the quality of construction, and even the physical location, the stages of development are relatively predictable.

These five stages are:

Prenatal – The original design and construction phase. Decisions made here affect the rest of the life of the building, so it’s important to do comprehensive research and make wise choices based on the data, and best practices. The advantage of this stage is that a lot of the work and materials are covered by warranties, which minimises risk for the owners or tenants.

Childhood – From the end of the building’s first year to approximately its sixteenth year, assuming the right procedures have been followed and quality materials used, the building is likely to require little maintenance. However, the maintenance needed is key, as it extends the life of the building and saves a lot of trouble down the line.

Adolescence – The twelve years that fall into the building’s adolescent phase begin to see a steep increase in maintenance needs. Again, these need to be taken seriously and done well if the building is to stand the test of time. In many ways, a building resembles a living organism in its need for ongoing maintenance and care. The better the original construction, the lower the maintenance costs will be. Even so, maintenance should be budgeted for, and building owners need to keep in mind that older buildings, while beautiful and historic, require more maintenance than well-constructed newer buildings.

Adulthood – During the twenty years of a building’s adulthood, asset managers start to weigh the costs of maintenance against the value of an asset. In a recent article, we looked at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Although they are more than a century old, these well-constructed and iconic buildings have stood the test of time thanks to the good use of materials and building best practices, and a commitment to ongoing maintenance as needed. As a result, they have become valuable assets. A building will lose value if it is not maintained, and asset manager need to determine whether the value realisable on the asset is worth the cost of that maintenance when weighed against costs such as moving, sale, and construction of a new space.

Old Age – After the first half century, a building potentially becomes a historical legacy. If the initial work was done properly, the historicity of the space now becomes an added value of the building overall.

The key to success in creating buildings that last is to design a building based on the local conditions and materials, use materials that will last, and ensure proper construction techniques are followed at every step of the process. Shortcuts will not be an ally to developers looking to leave a legacy.

Riding the Style Wave

On the other hand, a building that stands the test of time stylistically is a lot more art than science.  What appeals to one generations aesthetic preferences may well not be as popular in another. When planning the design and construction for the Pixar Headquarters we described previously, Steve Jobs stipulated that ‘the building had to look good 100 years from now’. The reports support the view that his vision was approved.

Some of the most innovative and futuristic architecture of the last twelve months can be seen on architecture showcase Architectural Digest’s industry mouthpiece:

  • The Avant Garde
  • The Modernists

Here are some of our favourites:

Steven Harris Architects combine old and new with classic styling in a space that eschews traditional ideas about walls and their shape and placement.

According to the AD piece, “Harris engages his clients in “a process of constant refinement and dialogue” to create elegant spaces with distinctive character.”

Toshiko Mori uses the space around her creations to inform the work. She uses technological innovations such as aluminium foam cladding to create light constructions that are nevertheless resilient to the elements.

In a similar vein, Olson Kundig’s work seems to blend seamlessly with its backdrop, celebrating the world in which it takes residence.

Pole Pass House

Pole Pass house. Orcas Island, Washington.
Image license: Olson Kundig Architects.
© Copyright 2014 Benjamin Benschneider All Rights Reserved. Usage may be arranged by contacting Benjamin Benschneider Photography. Email: or phone: 206-789-5973.

The pair explain this approach eloquently on the AD website:

‘Architecture is about context—cultural or natural,” says Tom Kundig. Jim Olson adds: “I see landscape, architecture, interiors, and art as one harmonious environment. Indoors and outdoors should flow together.’

Build Kindly

The third aspect of designing for the future brings us to trend number five for 2017 – and in fact for the entire millennium thus far: designing for sustainability. More on that next time.

Design for the Future

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