Jorge Drexler sings, in one of his songs, that “we always look at the river, contemplating the other riverbank”. Beyond understanding everything that was done, looking back at the past year can serve to get some clues about the future. This 2021, we published more than 160 articles in the Materials & Products section, covering a wide range of topics. From complex concepts such as 4D printing or very little processed materials such as hempcrete and bamboo, drawing a retrospective of the covered themes and understanding what interested our readers the most is an interesting exercise to foreshadow some trends in the future of the construction field. Looking at our most viewed articles, three large themes are evident: 3D printing, pre-fabrication, and interior renovation. Below, we present a compilation of each topic, reflecting on what we can dare to say about the trends in the construction industry that should consolidate in 2022.
3D Printing should be massified towards housing and new typologies
One of the many urban challenges that the pandemic has shed light on is the ongoing housing crisis. By the end of 2021, the tendency has been clear: housing prices across the globe have dramatically increased and vulnerable living conditions have exacerbated – with climate change also being a constant threat. Hence, in these challenging times of uncertainty, architects have had to explore new methods, materials, and technologies for more sustainable, cost-effective residential projects that don’t have to sacrifice design. Among them, 3D printing, a construction technique that once seemed like a distant dream, is now a concrete reality that shows great promise in the road towards efficient housing solutions and new typologies.
Besides being used for complex, extravagant buildings – such as prototypes for Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia – the technology has continuously been tested in the housing sector. In fact, just this year, many 3D-printed residential projects have successfully come to life using diverse materials. For example, Italy hosted the first ever construction printed in raw earth; a circular housing prototype whose entire structure and cladding was built in 200 hours with multiple printers working simultaneously. On the other hand, tenants of the first 3D-printed concrete home in the Netherlands were handed their keys on April 30 as part of a five house project that fully complied with all construction requirements.
With these (and countless others) successful applications in mind, the digital visualization of every component through innovations like BIM and renders has been key in advancing the printing process. By accurately modeling construction systems, with all their dimensions and layers, it is possible to maximize the understanding of how materials fit and work – and consequently aim for a better, more creative architecture. By combining these representation methods with 3D printing, future design possibilities for housing become endless, even in changing climatic conditions. For instance, this year architects developed a low-tech habitat proposal for extreme climates conformed by self-sufficient prefabricated bio-cabins, which could potentially be printed as the technique continues to grow exponentially.
Due to its design flexibility, optimization of the building process, and proven viability, it is clear that 3D construction printing is here to stay as we approach 2022. Therefore, its next step should be its massification as a sustainable and affordable housing solution; one that must be capable of unleashing architects’ creativity, move towards new typologies, and adapt to new ways of living in a rapidly changing world.
Prefabrication should start to lead the construction industry
The contemporary problems that have driven the development of 3D Printing in all kinds of scales, have a clear objective: to accelerate and simplify construction processes. This seems to be the great current challenge, and hand in hand with these new technologies, prefabrication appears as an effective and intelligent way to follow. Pre-engineered and mass-produced components and systems are transferred from a factory to their final location, with field operations primarily focused on assembly. And although there have been important approaches to prefabrication since the 16th century, now it could finally take the lead in the construction industry, surpassing traditional on-site manufacturing systems.
Prefabrication not only increases speed, but also allows “building without builders”, reducing the complexity of the entire process and generating mainly material, monetary and energy savings. Some architects, like the Portuguese from SUMMARY, even dare to announce that traditional construction is doomed to disappear: “with demographic growth, there are more and more people who need houses to live in and fewer and fewer people are trained or available to build them. [...] Prefabrication, as an industrialized method, will be the only solution and, little by little, it will become the exception to the rule ”. Prefab could make building and home ownership more affordable, and good architectural design shouldn't be lost in the process.
In fact, prefabrication causes a paradigm shift that revolutionizes the way we think about projects from their conception. Now, efficiency can be the starting point of buildings, forcing us first to understand the construction systems and then to devise the form and functions of the space. Design quality is not lost, only processes are reversed. We can see this in the large number of projects of this kind that are published on our site every day.
Forecasts announce that, over the next few years, prefabrication and modular construction should attract an unprecedented increase in interest and investment, and that our role will then be to delve into available solutions, understand new technologies, and prepare for a future where architecture will be based on the intelligent assembly of high-performance solutions – and not only in 2D but even in three and four dimensions.
Interior design and renovations could be the main source of work for architects
Two other topics that caught the attention of our readers during 2021 were interiors and home renovations. Even without serious research on the issue, we can assume that this is still due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in our lives. If we spend more and more time in our homes, whether by choice or not, it is evident that we will give more importance to the spaces we live in – and that, in this pandemic period, we also have to include activities such as work, study, sports, leisure, and many others.
In September, we published an article asking whether the specialty of the architects of the future should be renovating existing buildings. Considering the huge stock of existing buildings in the world and all the concerns about the use of raw materials, renovations have increasingly figured among the projects published in ArchDaily. Articles that involve this theme, such as ways to hide kitchens through woodwork, take advantage of high ceilings, how to bring more organic materials (such as bricks) – all with an interesting aesthetic and texture for interiors – received many clicks during this year.
The confinement was especially hard for those who could not have contact with nature. With this in mind, one of the articles that gained notoriety addressed several strategies to bring vegetation to the interior. But, many readers envisioned it a step further. The translucent structures of the greenhouses were in vogue with the recognition of the French duo Lacaton & Vassal with the Pritzker Prize. The dream of living in the midst of nature, being able to grow plants and even food through a microclimate created by greenhouses was something that caught the attention of our readers. With the popularization of remote work and the possibility that many people do not necessarily need to be close to work, the desire of many to practice an urban exodus was awakened. A collection of 10 small cabins evidenced this desire, amplified by the fact that they are simple in their designs and very quick and efficient to assemble.
However, clearly a theme that permeates all the others and has worried architects around the globe is the climate crisis. The article Cooling the Interiors Will Be the Architectural Challenge of the Future lit an alarm for our readers, demonstrating that the biggest concerns of designers may be if the world follows the path of carbon emissions and the consequent rise in temperatures. Through examples of passive and active strategies to improve the thermal comfort of interiors, the article presents some possibilities to mitigate this scenario, although we hope for certain paradigm shifts that also concern the construction industry itself and its future.
This article is part of the ArchDaily Topic: Year in Review. Every month we explore a topic in-depth through articles, interviews, news, and projects. Learn more about our monthly topics. As always, at ArchDaily we welcome the contributions of our readers; if you want to submit an article or project, contact us.