The tasks facing the professions that develop and design the environment are changing. Half a century of peace in Western Europe, demographical developments and the accelerated globalization of migration and capital have broadened architects’ and planners’ scope of operations. The self-image of the European architecture, developed as it was during the postwar building boom, is now being thrown into question. The task today is not just to deliver buildings, but also and to an increasing extent, to conduct and direct the cycles of growth, transformation and recycling of the urban landscape.
In order to be able to direct the cycles of building and use that are part and parcel of our urban landscape, it would be helpful to throw off our obsession with building and to develop a holistic perspective that takes into account the whole space of the urban landscape that includes not only the built but also the un-built areas, not only the physical and architectural but also the digital and media spaces in the urban transformation processes.
It is essential to acquire an understanding of these symbiotic interdependencies in order to be able to help direct the dynamic space of the urban landscape in its continual interlocking transformation processes. The planning of buildings will therefore turn into the design of processes, into the development of systems.
There are several process-oriented architectural approaches in which cycles are taken into account. In this connection, it is not just a question of energy cycles (buildings as energy converters or material flows (material recycling and recycling materials) but also of the lifecycles of whole buildings. Architecture’s focus of attention is shifting away from the completion of new buildings to the treatment of existing substance.
Frequently it is a case of developing intelligent solutions for multiple-shift usage of buildings. Innovative and resourceful designs for combining different uses under a single (old) roof are increasingly in demand, even if the basic fabric is abundantly available, as building conservation is often the critical cost factor.
A new task has been added to that of supplying buildings (hardware) – that of the (software) programming of the building project. Such multiple-shift usage (for different times of day and times of the week) of buildings can be supported by digital technologies. Buildings can be “programmed” with the aid of soft tools. The electronic access controls of constant identification have long since been implemented in many hotels, as well as office buildings and plants. Building security technology is now a growth industry.
Supported by the omnipresence of digital networks, the “deterritorialisation” processes of disengagement from constructed space and spatial fixing are now advancing. Digital technologies and media spaces suck functions out of real architectural-urban spaces. The sale of books over the Internet is driving neighbourhood bookshops out of business. In contrast, however, the larger bookstores are increasingly finding out that the (book) event venue is a good market niche.
Telecommuting, even if it is only a few days a week, has consequences not only for the space available, but also for the structure, the qualities and the choice of site for office buildings. Now more than ever, they ought to offer space for the communicative elements of the daily workday. This modifies the spatial hierarchies and changes the qualities of the built environment. It also reduces the need for built space.
And nonetheless, in dealing also with the problems of “shrinking cities”, media services are regarded as the solution for infrastructure facilities that are not working to full capacity and are therefore no longer sustainable. The implementation of mobile services is thought to be the solution to counteract the thinning of the network of the social infrastructure, and thus to guarantee quality of life for the more immobile parts of the population too, pensioners and the economically disadvantaged in the shrinking regions. These can make simultaneous use of the simplest low-tech (the film projectionist who travels from village to village and the bus that brings the individual passengers to the place of their choice) and state-of-the-art developments in information and communication technology.
At the moment, the interfaces by means of which the inhabitants of the wealthier half of the world can remain permanently online with each other are becoming ever smaller and thereby more mobile, for example, with the aid of radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips that can be implanted in literally anything, from shirts and yoghourt containers to household pets. At the same time, buildings are turning into interfaces. The house is developing into an intelligent networked environment like the car, the connected car that is not just a Microsoft project, but has long since become reality. In today’s ambient intelligence and domotica applications, the so-called digital home, e-home or smart home, digital music, video and television entertainment (digital entertainment) take centre stage, but all the same, the last consumer electronics shows are full of house-prototypes in which the heating, the refrigerators, and special control modules of tele-care and tele-medication for pensioners as well as nursing-aid and care robots communicate wirelessly with the computer or the personal digital assistant (PDA).
In building design, it is certainly necessary to take into account these uses of space in the grip of change and the thus changing building typologies: the larger house that also serves as a home office, the office building, which will be used primarily for regular meetings on fixed dates and therefore has to satisfy communicative and representative requirements above all, the bookshop transformed into an event-venue or the newly arising need for small-scale distribution centres for teleshopping and conference rooms that can be rented by the hour in the midst of residential areas.
But more than this, at issue is understanding buildings as the interfaces of a space rendered dynamic. It is not just a matter of getting involved in the design of the building, but instead of devoting ourselves to the development of systems in the totality of their immobile, mobile and network elements. That means not only designing ‘housings’, but also programming their changing uses and conversions. Such a process-oriented perspective takes into account not only the completion of buildings, but also their cycles, from their daily and weekly cycles and their lifecycles to their recycling.