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Adaptability and resilience in our cities

23rd February 2022

Although climate change has been a concern for many decades, recent events are escalating the need for us to focus more on creating resilient cities which deliver a greater urban contribution to the environment as a whole. 

The desire to use more sustainable building materials and the advancement of technology to monitor how much energy we use has allowed us to better address our new agenda for more sustainable architecture. 

However, there is still work to be done to future-proof our building designs so they can adapt and evolve into a variety of uses over time. The longer a building remains in use, the more sustainable it is. The more flexible spaces are and the greater mix of uses they offer will make these developments more sustainable. 

As we emerge from the pandemic, there has been much discussion around how cities will adapt to shape the new workplace environment. Are we going to be working more from home, will we go back in the office, or will there be a ‘third place’?  Retail assets can evolve and facilitate new typologies of working platforms. The coffee shop workspace, for example, has already started to become the third place for many small businesses.

The challenge going forward is ensuring our buildings are resilient enough to accommodate changes in how we wish to use them. Those designed to be flexible are in the best position. Like people, our buildings are evolving but social customs are changing faster than developments are being built. On completion, most buildings cannot harness the best technology of the day, because that technology did not exist when they were being designed.

The only solution to this problem is to future-proof the building with the most flexible layouts. This allows it to accommodate multiple uses over its lifespan, in turn increasing the lifespan of the built form. 

It is encouraging to see these ideas explored by the real estate industry and the collaboration of developers, city governments and designers. Our transformation of a 100-year-old Capital Steel Factory in Beijing, which preserves the site’s industrial remains as part of a future gateway to the Winter Olympics, is just one example. This 3-Star Green Building initiative is creating a new ecosystem that aims to preserve heritage and reduce carbon wastage.

The notion of architectural adaption is an important process that encourages buildings to be designed to adapt to their habitat. This trait is important for the survival and longevity of the built form, an essential sustainable criterion for our cities of tomorrow.

David Buffonge is co-founder & executive director at architect Lead8

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