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“We Can Transform the Profession by Rethinking How We Might Serve Society”: A Conversation With Ronald Rael

Understanding a discipline from multiple perspectives and intersections is essential for acquiring a deep understanding of it. In architecture, the diversity of approaches to its study enriches our perception by allowing us to appreciate its complexity from different angles. For students and professionals alike, exploring aspects such as history, sources of materials and products, construction processes, implementation of new technologies, and contemporary social challenges is crucial. These aspects intertwine and expand the conventional notion of "architecture," transcending the mere creation of buildings or the definition of spaces.

Ronald Rael, an architect and the Eva Li Memorial Chair in Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, exemplifies this vision through his practice, which spans from research to connecting indigenous and traditional material practices with contemporary technologies and issues. As an activist and designer, Rael's research interests explore additive fabrication, border-wall studies, and earth construction. Co-founder of Rael San Fratello, Emerging Objects, and Forust, his practice shows an approach to architecture that is highly relevant in contemporary times.

Acoustics That Blend Performance with Aesthetics: Why Material Choices Matter

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Throughout history, the undeniable interrelationship between sound and architecture has shaped user's experiences. From auditoriums to offices, cultural centers, and schools, acoustics in architecture can manifest itself in two ways: as a determining element of a structure's shape and as a material. When discussing aesthetics, the latter aspect is particularly relevant, as any material that forms part of a composition aims to have a cohesive design with the rest.

Integrating acoustics through materials presents a significant challenge, as certain attributes such as color, texture, or dimensions may hinder harmonization with the overall design of the space. This can unbalance the experience of the environment, since, although the acoustics are improved, the interior atmosphere is negatively affected. This situation highlights the importance of selecting the right material that can enhance acoustics while maintaining the coherence of the design.

Repurposing Discarded Waste Materials Into a 100%* Recycled Washbasin

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Producing sustainable materials and products demands constant analysis of how we conserve resources and manage waste effectively. This unfolds within a scenario where the environmental impacts of global warming and the climate crisis are becoming increasingly evident. In that context, sustaining the dialogue on waste disposal is fundamental to positively impacting our environment and maximizing circular economy opportunities.

Embracing this perspective and demonstrating a commitment to sustainability through waste reduction and resource conservation, VitrA has created an entire washbasin with 100%* recycled waste materials, including discarded ceramics from its production process. This innovative product has been designed to have a minimal environmental impact and reduce the global warming potential of its production by 30% per product, transforming materials once considered waste into valuable resources.

Making the Case for Plastic-Free Architecture: Innovative Solutions for the Present (and Future)

As you read this, you may notice that you are surrounded by several items made of plastic. This omnipresence is no coincidence; the versatility of plastic has made it suitable for a variety of applications, and was described by its inventor—Leo Baekeland— as “the material of a thousand uses.” However, when it comes to environmental impact, the problem lies in its very qualities: it is so durable, adaptable, and easy to produce (430 million tons per year) that, according to UN data, the equivalent of 2,000 garbage trucks full of plastic are dumped into the oceans, rivers, and lakes every day.

In the built environment, plastic has been incorporated into various materials, products, and construction systems, contributing to an environmental crisis that seriously affects the well-being of millions of living beings. Faced with this problem, one possible direction is to shift away from utilizing it. The search for plastic-free alternatives is marking a path toward a future where architecture is progressively disassociating itself from these polluting materials, promoting sustainable solutions that reduce our dependence on it and contribute to preserving the environment.

The Curtain: A Key Element in the Certification of Sustainable Buildings

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When Wallace S. Broecker first introduced the concept of global warming in the 1970s, society probably didn't anticipate the implications of this phenomenon. Today, more than 50 years later, we have stopped predicting an adverse climate scenario and have begun witnessing it directly. It is now evident that the earth is breaking temperature records year after year, as a result of a disparity in the global response to the issue and a slow-moving reduction in carbon emissions.

To reduce CO₂ emissions in architecture, it is crucial to implement effective strategies that address both the manufacturing of materials and the life cycle of buildings, as well as energy consumption during use. In countries like the US, approximately 45% of energy consumption in the residential sector is allocated to heating and cooling spaces, making it essential to address efficient building design, especially on the façade. To achieve this objective, policies are being implemented that promote a conversion towards a more sustainable model. In this new model, sustainability certifications for buildings provide a framework for measuring and evaluating resource consumption.

How Can Modular Design Be Used to Revolutionize Housing Architecture?

Housing is a diverse architectural typology whose configuration is determined not only by those who design it but also by the use of those who live in it. Therefore, homes are fundamentally adaptable structures that evolve in line with their time and users, undergoing constant changes manifested in the ways of living. The house conceived today will not be the same as the one built tomorrow, so it becomes necessary to maintain a critical and profound approach to the role it plays in the built environment.

In this sense, modular architecture has consistently presented itself as a dynamic design strategy that has revolutionized housing, developing versatile solutions for sustainable spaces and construction practices. Thus, modular housing has been fertile ground for exploring and deepening ways of inhabiting space and addressing human needs. From the prefabricated catalog houses of the 19th century to the post-World War II housing boom, its evolution reflects both past proposals and the exploration of new concepts for the future.

Introspection, Elevation, Covering-Up: Radical Architectural Operations for Adverse Climates

The flexibility of architecture allows it to continuously change and adjust its form in response to technological progress, social and artistic trends, and the collective experiences we undergo. Large-scale global events, such as the transatlantic migrations of the 19th century, the impact of tuberculosis on design, and most recently, the effects of the last major global health crisis (COVID-19), have all played significant roles in shaping the evolution of architecture.

In the context of the climate crisis, the role of architecture and urbanism has been extensively debated, as it represents one of the greatest challenges of this century. It is undeniable that while there are active efforts through policies and innovation to prevent reaching a point of no return, architecture is already adapting to the changes and extreme conditions caused by it. Rather than thinking of a distant or dystopian future scenario, the gradual changes in climatic conditions have been drivers for modifying, through architectural operations, how we conceive contemporary buildings.

Movable Walls: The Transformative Effect of Retractable and Folding Partitions

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Flexibility has become a distinctive feature of contemporary interiors, driven by factors like the evolution of architectural programs and the progressive reduction of interior spaces, among others. This transition has shifted interiors from static to dynamic, aiming to achieve a state-of-the-art balance in space configuration. This sentiment is well encapsulated by Ricardo Bofill's statement that "architecture is the art of structuring space."

Considering the intricacies of interiors, it is essential to foster versatile spaces, aided by elements such as multipurpose design and flexible furniture. However, a challenge arises: while these strategies redefine the boundaries and dynamic essence of interiors, aspects like acoustics are often overlooked, which has become crucial in environments such as offices, conference rooms, schools, auditoriums, etc. Therefore, improving acoustics becomes essential to create functional multipurpose interiors. In that sense, Skyfold’s operable walls are an interesting alternative, as their solutions can serve as both soundproofing barriers and design pieces.

Does Size Really Matter? Debunking the Obsession with Super Tall Buildings

The future Saudi tower designed by Foster + Partners is expected to reach a staggering height of two kilometers. This multibillion-dollar project, towering twice as high as the current record holder, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, will dominate the skyline of Riyadh, accommodating offices, residences, and entertainment spaces. It forms part of a development program led by Saudi Arabia, driven by the vision of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to establish the country's presence through ambitious, large-scale projects. While these super-tall towers symbolize visibility and global recognition, they face criticism for their extravagant construction costs and environmental impact.

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MVRDV Announces New Residential Complex for Tencent’s Campus in Shenzhen, China

MVRDV has revealed a large-scale residential complex to take shape as part of a new smart city campus built by technology company Tencent in Qianhai Bay, Shenzhen, China. MVRDV’s intervention, named Tencent P5, is comprised of 11 apartment towers arranged around four courtyards. The project also includes amenities such as an adjacent kindergarten, to offer all the necessary facilities for the company’s employees. Construction began in early 2022 and is scheduled for completion in 2024.

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How AI Can Help Us End Design Education Anachronisms

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

The rise of generative AI has given every design educator sufficient reason to reconsider both what to teach and how to teach it. Training an architect is a long process, and mapping it onto an uncertain future is a daunting task. Researchers at OpenAI, DeepMind, Meta, and similar companies seem constantly surprised by the rapid development and sometimes unforeseen capabilities of their AI creations. If even the creators don’t know how fast the future will arrive, it would be hubristic for any of us to claim that AI will do X or AI won’t be able to do Y in the next decade, which is about how long it takes to really train an architect.

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ICON Unveils Groundbreaking Construction Innovations at SXSW: Revolutionizing Building with Robotics, AI, and Sustainable Materials

Pioneering advanced construction and large-scale 3D Printing, ICON was selected as ArchDaily’s Best New Practices of 2021 due to its boundary-breaking technology that is advancing capability in the built environment. The Texas-based startup has just unveiled various toolkits and products to modernize construction processes further. Dubbed “Domus Ex Machina,” the event showcased a range of innovations, such as an AI Architect created for home design and construction, a digital library containing over 60 pre-designed home plans, a new eco-friendly building material, and a robotic printed facilitating multi-story construction. Together, these developments aim to offer a quicker, more environmentally friendly way to build high-quality, affordable housing globally.

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