The Future of Architecture & Design: A&D leaders imagine the built environment in 2042 - Aug/Sep 2017

By Beth Miller

For our 25th anniversary issue, we invited a handful of thought leaders in the A&D community to share their ideas on what the commercial landscape will look like in 2042, asking them to approach the assignment from any perspective that appealed to them, be it aspirational-what they hope to see-or derived from specific insights they might have on interior development of the built environment.

According to our contributors, technological advancements and how they will impact the workspace, redefine roles and reshape us as a society lead the futuristic charge. Scientific developments follow next, with the introduction of floorcovering that can regrow itself, is genetically modified to clean itself and has the ability to morph into different flooring types on command. The integration of humans and computers, the stuff found only in sci-fi movies, could be a reality in 2042. Read on to see where these design leaders imagine the future of A&D.

The Big Picture
Cheryl Durst: executive vice president & CEO, International Interior Design Association

Today, commercial interior design is responding to the blurring of work and life, the focus on wellness in the workplace, and the role of the workplace as a social hub for a generation that grew up connecting with peers over text messages and from behind computer screens. How we design the places where work happens is fundamentally connected to these themes, and how they continue to evolve will guide our industry for decades to come.

As a futurist, I expect technology integration to continue apace as the experience of working becomes immersive and our careers and personal lives blend seamlessly-in other words, in 2042, we’ll no longer talk about work/life balance. The very nature of what we do and the role companies play in our lives will shift. And despite advances that make remote work possible, place will always be paramount. In 2042, companies will be the driving force behind the definition of place. Already, they increasingly play a dynamic role in communities, creating the social spaces where employees and residents gather to connect with one another, providing the resources to build city infrastructure and support education that prepares the local population for careers in specific industries. Schools, in turn, will provide a pipeline of employees to the local companies that have invested in the community.

Traditional jobs will continue to disappear as work becomes more collaborative-not only among humans but also between humans and machines with artificial intelligence. The work we do will become more fluid. Rather than being assigned to a department, people will align in teams that form based on strategic organizational goals and disperse when projects have been completed. Employees will no longer retire, but as they age, they will be phased into new roles based on life stage where, for example, they may oversee the upbringing of the next generation of worker.

In 2042, commercial interior designers will support the fluid nature of their careers and the blending of work and life by creating work places that put a premium on residentially-inspired communal spaces-a trend we are already familiar with-but also adapt to employees who may have different privacy preferences, work styles, and health, wellness and social needs. The built environment and the furnishings within it will constantly monitor and respond to both the physical and emotional needs of each employee. Too hot? Too cold? Too much direct sunlight? Is it time to stand up? Do you need to walk around? Designers will be tasked with ensuring that the workplace adapts to the employee, rather than the employee adapting to the workplace. Humanity must be at the forefront of the future, and design will be the safeguard and the intervention that ensures that the built environment is people-focused.

Going STRong
Shashi Caan: founder, The Shashi Caan Collective

The year is 2042. Church bells toll-a welcome call to attention that announces a necessary break, my mid-afternoon pause from work. Work is an old-fashioned term. It represents an activity that evokes toil and exertion that only my generation remembers and still uses. Today, work-an occupation-is about leadership. It’s inherently about management and empathetic decision-making. It is not repetitive or robotic computation or the mechanical or heavy lifting effort that characterized earlier periods. As a full-time expert, I am an elder. I maintain a general relations-focused balance that was historically called sound judgment or common sense. My work is to provide a holistic overview for all levels of professional design, decision-making and creative intelligence across multiple information silos.

This job distinction has evolved over the last two decades with the Second Technological Revolution, on-going (STRong), which continues to entirely transform our physical and virtual universe. Life expectancy, workplace demographics, global and interplanar reach, and all related processes and boundaries have expanded exponentially. This gave us a new type of participant, called the new human unit or nHU. The nHU is an artificial intelligent unit participating in the workforce with capabilities ranging from super intelligence to mechanical skills. These units, once deemed science fiction, almost mythological and apocalyptical, have become their own societal layer. Life is fast and lived longer but divided in eons and nano-seconds. For me it is relaxed, other-worldly and almost an out-of-body experience.

The STRong has effected a dramatic change-one that works in systems. It has shaped humanly unimaginable structures in multiple realities ranging from zero-dimensions to xD.

Our private conversation amongst us, the elders, concerns the rapid loss of humanity and the need for human decency within a more contemporary value system. With the dissolution of boundaries between the real and the immersive virtual, and the human and the robotic, we are never sure what information we are dealing with. Gut instinct and intuitive discernment have become more important than ever. We also worry about the loss of our perceived essential human-centered knowledge. Age-old questions about the appropriateness of technological/robotic versus hand/eye-coordinated processes have remained critical. How can creating and shaping the future of industry, culture, society and environment remain paramount?

Fortunately for my generation of elders, given our pre-virtual and pre-STRong experience, our understanding of human nature-however primitive and rudimentarily scientific-combined with wisdom of a relatively long life is, today, a critical workplace commodity.

We do not feel like elders. I increasingly reflect back on time. Perhaps this is exactly what these pause segments are for? Looking backward to look forward to this segment for body stretch and mental respite, I cherish these intervals of me-time symbolized and announced by church bells.

Living is seamless and not contained in any silos or distinctions. I ponder these vast improvements while de-connecting from my think-sense-reality controls as I leave my work-zone lounger. Donning my anti-microbial and anti-aging nano-bodysuit, I move to the tenth-floor orchard. Part real and physical-amidst mango groves and fragrant lilac and jasmine blossoms-with the mind dialed to the highest capacity of output, I step on to the Uni-tread. Slipping on my mover-band and inserting my eye-ear focals, the machine goes into action, putting me in motion. The body enjoys being moved and worked in physical ways. My favorite part is the immersion in any destination I can imagine. Today, a strenuous Everest hike feels invigorating.

In this imagined high-altitude environment with its clean air and breathtaking views, it is easy to enter a reflective state. I think back to the days when an analogue imagination was required for creative pursuit. I love current-day aided and enhanced imagination. At my age, I am not older but an elder, with new worlds that uplift, delight and inspire. While change requires some loss, I am grateful to be living such a rich, active, passionate and fulfilling life in 2042. Perhaps I am of the luckiest generation of designers, since we still have the best of all worlds-the age of physical and industrial, as well as a world I once experienced only in sci-fi.

Future Meets Past
Primo Orpilla: co-founder of Studio O+A

Let’s be optimistic and assume that by 2042 we will be on top of our worst problems and enjoying a period of prosperity. Climate change will still be a challenge, but we’ll be managing the consequences through highly efficient energy use, sustainable consumption and plain old ingenuity. A recent article in the New York Times explains how urban planners and hydrologists in the Netherlands are already developing strategies for coping with rising sea levels and exporting their findings to coastal communities around the world. The main thrust of their research is that we won’t be able to hold back the water, so we might as well accept it and direct it through a series of canals and reservoirs. That means seaside cities like San Francisco and New York and Miami-especially Miami!-will have their own lakes and Venetian zones where boats are as common as sidewalks and the urban infrastructure floats.

So let’s start there. Our new workplace in San Francisco 2042 is a converted warehouse originally built in 1942-because repurposing existing architecture is environmentally the right thing to do-and situated in the city’s new waterfront canal district. The location brings with it site-specific amenities-a staff swimming pool, a hydroponic garden, a floating deck where employees can have lunch on the water or work outside in the sun. Workplace amenities are as important to attracting top talent in 2042 as they were in 2017, and one of the key draws to our waterfront office is its 1942 brick-­and-timber infrastructure. With the continued acceleration of technological change, the most coveted workplaces of the future will be those with a tangible connection to the past.

Of course, inside, everything is state of the art. Last year O+A designed a new space for Microsoft’s Envisioning Center in Redmond, Washington. The Envisioning Center is Microsoft’s futurist lab, the place where product prototypes are developed and tested. A lot of what we saw there is proprietary, but let’s just say there are wonders on the way. The underlying theme of future workplace design is ease of communication and ease of access to information. We’re already storing files in the cloud but by 2042 much of the office hardware may also be up there. Instead of an office printer with toxic toner and a metal and plastic body, how about a virtual printer in the cloud that sends print messages to a small cube of photo­sensitive paper? No costly waste to dispose of. No need for a print room. When you’re done with the printer, it just goes away.

Or how about walls that double as communication devices? Right now most O+A workplaces have writeable walls. That trend will continue, because we all love to jot ideas down as they occur, but what if what we write on the wall can immediately appear on an associates’ wall in another part of the world? What if we can store images there or use that same wall for video conferencing?

The purpose of technology is to free people to be creative, to work where they please in the way they find most comfortable. So our 2042 office in San Francisco will look even more like a hotel lobby or an urban café than offices do today. And watch for elaborate metal and woodworking shops, painting and sculpture studios, music rooms-because the longer you work in the virtual world, the more you crave getting your hands on something real.

And the flooring? I’m guessing that by 2042 we won’t be putting down hardwood or tile. We’ll be bioengineering the floor, growing it live from sustainable materials. By 2042, the floor in a waterside workplace will be a living organism that can clean and repair itself-in case someone drops an old printer while hauling it off to the dump.

Ken Wilson: principal & design director of interiors, Perkins+Will DC

To begin to envision the corporate office of 2042, you need to start with the aspects that are not likely to change. We will still drink coffee, ride in cars and use computers, but they will all be different. While improving technology will continue to make it even easier to work and connect with colleagues anywhere on the globe, the workplace will still be important for face-to-face interaction. Business travel will become easier and quicker with systems like Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, which would connect Washington, D.C. and New York City in 29 minutes, or sub-orbital supersonic flights connecting New York to London in a couple of hours, making day trips possible.

The workplace will continue to serve the important function of being the embodiment of corporate identity. Employees will live different lifestyles to suit their individual tastes, but the need to belong to a greater purpose will not go away. Although the pendulum is currently swinging toward a sharing economy, in the future, people will return to pride in ownership of at least some personal space.

The workplace will be clean, healthy and active, and will support your maximum cognitive potential. It will strive to be a place where people want to be. You will have advanced circadian lighting to ensure your inner and outer rhythms are aligned so that you sleep better. The air you breathe will have lower levels of CO2, allowing you to think better-coming up with more creative solutions in less time. Your thinking will be further enhanced by being more connected to nature and natural things. Fire, water, and living plants will not be removed in lieu of sterile white as in the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey version of the future, but rather these natural features will be embraced, if not required. It will be universally recognized that we come from nature and being in nature makes us better and healthier human beings; the significant research that is starting to happen in this area will expand. I look back at the early 1980s and wonder how I ever functioned in an architect studio where I had no views of the outside and a third of the people smoked cigarettes at their desks all day long. People in 2042 will wonder how we got anything done in the typical workplace of today, with CO2 levels often well above 1,000 ppm in conference rooms and nothing natural in sight. Additionally, the need to bring nature indoors will be partially driven by the changing climate. As the world warms, it will be less and less pleasant outside in certain areas of the country, driving people to spend even more time inside.

Health and wellness in the workplace will mean that people will live longer and that age demographics will become even more multigenerational. People will take more time off as it becomes universally recognized that people who get a break from work come back more engaged, more productive and more loyal. With a little more time off, older workers won’t feel the need to retire as early.

You can’t contemplate the future without considering how technology will affect the way we work. It will be thinner, lighter, faster. Batteries will last longer; video conferencing will be more realistic; and there will be no cords. We will likely have chips implanted in our bodies that not only identify us-meaning no more keys or driver’s licenses-but also completely eliminate the need for cash. Communication encryption will be so advanced that malicious hacking will be a thing of the past. We will be able to communicate by voice without carrying around a device. If we need to see something visual there will be folding portable screens and more fixed visual displays that we can connect to in every place we want to be.

Rush hour is not likely to go away, and we probably still won’t have flying cars, but at least we will be able to avoid the stress of driving to and from work with self-driving cars. Cars will become extensions of our offices, letting us be productive or even take a nap. Because we can work and ride, we might even be able to come to the office a little later and leave a little earlier. That would be a good thing.

Ultimate Connectivity
Viveca Bissonnette: founder & design principal, Hollander Design Group

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will change how we design and relate to space. Computer-aided design and the tools that we use to describe, design or evaluate design prior to actually building a project for our clients have changed in the last 25 years. Virtual reality and augmented reality will be an extension of that. Technology has changed how we work today; we can now work out of our pockets, simply using our phone, which was unthinkable 25 years ago. Currently, design tool limitations are preventing a lot of companies from reaching total work flexibility. VR and AR will play a part in how people work and connect with each other by providing additional tools that will connect us with individuals as if we were in the same place, allowing ultimate flexibility for individuals to work wherever is best for them. I don’t think the workplace will go away, but I think it will look very different because it is no longer imperative that we are all in one place at one time.

Ultimate flexibility-the ability to choose how, when and where work happens-will become a reality, drastically redefining the office environment. The office footprint will likely change, as will workplace infrastructure. Currently, we use our office to connect with clients and, at the same time, they choose to enter our office rather than meeting via telephone or video conference simply because we need that human interaction. If you look at how we connect with others when not in the office, it’s through technology. But technology has not reached a place where it is equal to being in the same room face-to-face with someone. VR and AR will help us get closer to the feeling of being with people.

Can you imagine if we didn’t have to plug things in? If you look at how we’ve advanced as a society over the last 50 to 100 years, it has been technology- and science-based. Wireless power is the direction we are going. It is inevitable, and it will revolutionize our lives the way that cell phones did. As technology has advanced, the infrastructure that we have to coordinate as designers has only become more complex. With wireless power, you eliminate the need for that level of coordination. We are tied in place because of power. I sit at my desk and work at my computer because it is plugged in. I can take my laptop and move and work elsewhere and that gives me some mobility, but eventually, my laptop is going to run out of power. Then, I have to tether myself somewhere. The idea of being completely tetherless is the next big jump.

A Human Focus
Collin Burry: design director & principal, Gensler

I think people will be working everywhere-in their car, on their way to wherever they’re going. Will the office still exist in 2042 as we know it today? My guess is yes, but it’s going to have a really different function. It’s going to be more of a community location, creating a common sense of purpose, versus a place where you do transactional work. People are struggling with the work/life balance. We work way too hard, but as we continue to strive to locate a work/life balance, how and where we work and live will radically change. Offices will become smaller, more efficient locales that enable people to feel a greater sense of a work/life balance.

The design industry is going to change radically by 2042. Computers are going to be doing 80% of what we are doing today because so much of it, like space planning and construction documents, could easily be performed by artificial intelligence. This would leave us with the things the computer can’t do, which is the creative aspect of design-the conceptual thinking-advancing new ways of working, advancing design in general. I think creativity and right-brained thinking will become more valuable than ever. We are already starting to see that a little bit where we’ve finally been given our due and people are starting to respect and understand interior design, especially commercial interiors, for what they can contribute. That is only going to advance; only those who truly have conceptual and creative natural talent will thrive.

We are not that far off from 3D printing at will. Rather than designing and making a chair in Italy and shipping it halfway across the world to India, the chair will be designed in Italy and a robot or 3D printer will create it in India. Gensler did the first 3D printed office building last year. Imagine 3D printing your office, and all of the finishes are integral-the finished materials, including the floorcovering-and ultimately being able to recycle it at the end of its useful life.

In terms of where technology is going to take us, we are facing the possibility of a Minority Report world. We are almost there now. Just the way we share information and how that’s viewed. We are literally not going to be tethered anymore. You can bring up the technology wherever you are and on an as-needed basis. We will no longer need to travel to an actual location to perform the task at hand.

When it comes to technology advancement, we still need to put the parameters on how far we want to take it. I think eventually our physical beings will merge with computers. You are already starting to see this; there are several companies that are putting microchips in their employees. Advancements in computer technology will only make us smarter and, in the long term, will only serve to help society.

Immersive Care
Donald Cremers: vice president & senior project interior designer, HOK San Francisco

How and where healthcare will be delivered will continue to evolve so that people’s interaction with their provider will not only be in the traditional healthcare facilities that we design, but also in public places like retail hubs and community centers and, most importantly, in the privacy of their own homes. While we can still influence the design of health and wellness spaces within the public realm, commercial designers will probably have little influence over the individual private dwelling. This will, however, be an opportunity for the residential design and construction industry to create dwellings better attuned to universal living and aging in place. Multi-generational living situations will continue to increase.

By 2042, we will be in the middle of dealing with the largest elderly and aging population in history with the last of the Boomers reaching their 80s and the Millennials coming to grips with their middle age. This age range will span a broad socio-economic spectrum as well as possess a range of aesthetic desires. Boomers and Millennials will be very demanding, so there will be lots of opportunity for designers. Many of those demands will be accommodated by advanced technologies fully integrated into the environment-smart floors, motion activated lighting, alerting of spills, self-absorbent materials-the opportunities are absolutely endless!

To offset this overwhelming immersion of technology, materiality will continue to advance, making the environment more and more comfortable, while standing up to the harsh realities of cleaning, durability and facility-born infections. Meanwhile, patients will be assisted in navigating these technologies and the complexities of the healthcare systems with personal health coordinators and service concierges.
These advances will allow us to receive healthcare in a more immersive manner, in settings that are more fully integrated into where we live, work and play.

Designing Health
Annie Coull: vice president, Stantec

At every scale, Health with a capital ‘H’ will be the focus of design. Creating experiences will not be enough in the future. The loftier goal of well-being will drive the success of the environments we create.

While medicine continues to work on extending human lifespans, people worldwide will focus on making those extra years healthy and active. Many who suffer from today’s serious conditions will manage their chronic diseases as conditions that minimally impact their lifestyle choices. The healthcare community will continue to take advantage of technology to track, inform and document all the factors that contribute to Health, with each of us taking responsibility for our own well-being from the perspective of personal choice and behavior based on immediate feedback and detailed knowledge. Consumers will prefer the wellness center to the clinic and will expect a comprehensive view of Health that includes complementary and holistic perspectives, access to fitness alternatives and a recognition of and support for the role of behavioral health. An evolving scientific understanding of the role of genetic code in individual health has the potential to prevent expression of inherited disease, to intervene in previously inevitable destinies and to optimize treatments for humans with uniquely suited and targeted interventions. Precision medicine will be the rule rather than the exception.

Simultaneously, healthcare delivery must continue transforming to improve outcomes, reduce cost, optimize utilization of services and manage the health of a population. This will require access to data and technology to track information and enhance patient communications, as well as attention to the social determinants of Health, including nutrition, housing and education. This holistic and data-driven approach will make fundamental change in the Health of our communities possible. Access to information and services will need to be woven into everyday life to make an impact on people’s behavior. Scientists and clinicians will be multidisciplinary communities of professionals collaborating to make breakthrough discoveries that fundamentally change the Health of populations. Artificial intelligence will enhance our ability to process data, observe patterns and design predictive models that manage the Health of populations more effectively.

The word sustainability will be associated with “Health” and not just “green.” Patients, visitors and staff will no longer enter healthcare buildings that give notice of toxic and cancer-causing materials at the door. Product manufacturers will create affordable materials that provide protection while contributing to overall Health of people and the environment. Users of these facilities will not have to accept the toxicity of fire retardant, antimicrobial and durability coatings to benefit from the safety and utility benefits they provide. The positive experience of patients, families, care givers and staff in the care environment will no longer be a competitive advantage for a provider institution; it will be the norm all over the world. With the recognition that environments designed for limitations of age, sensory differences and mobility restrictions are well-designed environments for all, we will enhance the quality of life and wellbeing of people every day. As the world continues to shrink with growing access to information, knowledge, discovery and collaboration, well-being will be the order of the day across global boundaries.

Floor Focus leaned heavily on the images of architect Vincent Callebaut to achieve a visual theme worthy of the editorial contributions from the architects and designers. Callebaut’s projects, both actual and conceptual, include sophisticated environmental aspects, making his inclusion in this issue, which features our annual sustainability report, particularly relevant. For more on this architect, visit

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus 

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