+44 01483 457477 farolaz@hotmail.co.uk
Future of Design: Towards smart urban environments

Future of Design: Towards smart urban environments


Architecture Now Practice elaborated on the Future of Design as a trend towards smart urban environments in today’s world. It is by Gabriela Mazorra. The above image is Guest columnist Gabriela Mazorra who argues, “Architects and designers are key players in devising liveable urban environments consisting of resilient designs and spaces that cater for the wellbeing of the community and support the green shift.”

As our regular Future of Design columnist, Maria Mingallon, takes a break to pursue further study, we hear from guest contributor Gabriela Mazorra, who recently completed a Master of Technological Futures at the Tech Futures Lab. Mazorra is a data expert and, here, she explores what the cities of our future need in order to create healthy environments and inhabitants and how some urban areas around the world are leveraging data to meet these needs.

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, with the total urban population expected to increase to 68 per cent by 2050 according to a 2018 UN report. To meet this demand, address environmental sustainability and deliver public services, cities have turned to technology and started developing innovative solutions to become “smarter” in the use of their infrastructure. In doing so, cities are increasingly becoming urban laboratories and testing grounds, with contrasting outcomes, as envisioned decades ago by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).

Without a doubt, achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 requires comprehensive mobilisation. Amongst this guiding framework for thinking about the future of place, SDG 11 seeks to transform the way we build and manage urban spaces to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Architects and designers are key players in devising liveable urban environments consisting of resilient designs and spaces that cater for the wellbeing of the community and support the green shift.

Future of Design: Towards smart urban environments
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals from the United Nations.

The 4th Industrial Revolution, a term coined by Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, keeps reducing the gap between the digital, physical and biological worlds. Amongst the enabling technologies of this sweeping transformation are artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, 3D/4D printing (3D shapes able to morph into other forms in response to environmental stimulus over time), the Internet of Things, augmented and virtual reality, advanced wireless technologies, and Big Data. The convergence of some of these technologies, and an effective use of information obtained from pairing the physical and virtual worlds, are the drivers of the digital twin concept. Following its origins in NASA and successful implementation in manufacturing, digital twins promise operational efficiencies as well as dynamic decision making and better social, economic and environmental outcomes for citizens.

As Maria mentioned in her article “Seeing is believing“ in this series, data is the new black and it is the fertile soil required for smart urban environments to flourish. This idea is also embodied by WeWork’s mantra, “buildings equal data”, and the idea that data is becoming an essential ingredient to the traditional brick and mortar recipe. The ability to capture and use the feedback loops that data provides to shape spaces will continue to gain importance in the industry. And, while this is how nature works as argued by Scott Turner in The Tinkerer´s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself (2007), architects like Marc Kushner go even further and promote tapping into the wisdom of the crowd years before a building is created with the help of social media. If you have not watched it already, in his TED Talk “Why the buildings of the future will be shaped by … you“, he explains the centrality of the public in the design process.

In this context, you might be asking yourself: how are these principles being applied beyond individual buildings and to the scale of cities; how are smart urban environments developing? There are multiple shades of “smart” and a wide-ranging group of cities experimenting with smart solutions in critical areas such as urban planning, sustainable energy, social integration, transport strategies or talent attraction.

Since 2019, The Institute for Management Development, in collaboration with Singapore University for Technology and Design, has released the Smart City Index every year with profiles and historic evolution of each of the cities featured. The survey collates information gathered from hundreds of citizens from 109 global cities and focuses on five key areas: health and safety, mobility, activities, opportunities and governance. In 2020, Singapore, Helsinki and Zurich finished at the top and we saw several European cities falling in the rankings as well as significant changes in underdeveloped cities. The following video summarises the results.


Some cities are innovating from scratch and creating custom build environments. A great example is Kalasatama: once a brownfield district in Helsinki (Finland), it has been transformed into an avant-garde city district and an experimental platform where new solutions resulting from the joint collaborative effort of residents, companies, council officials and researchers are piloted. Based on the idea that time is residents’ most valuable resource, the co-created vision is for everyone to gain one extra hour every day to spend on whatever brings them joy. They propose to achieve this by improving the flow of traffic and logistics and aiming to deliver quality services to the public instead of the other way around. The goal is for smart services to  improve both quality of life and time management.

The City of Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney (Australia), is another test case with the capacity to influence the future planning and architecture of cities. In 2015, it became the first local government in New South Wales to adopt a Smart City Masterplan which outlines a number of projects that leverage data and technology to become future ready and improve citizens´ lives experiences.

Future of Design: Towards smart urban environments
Parramatta´s Smart City Framework from the Smart City Masterplan 2015.

One of these initiatives is The Melrose Park: Smart Planning for Climate Responsive Neighbourhoods pilot project involving the installation of a network of 70 environmental sensors throughout the site and nearby streets. These sensors will monitor conditions such as temperature, humidity, air quality, noise and stormwater before, during and after construction to help improve the area’s liveability and inform future planning. In this 25-hectare industrial site, the construction of 5,000 new residential dwellings is projected over the next 10 years.

Not all cities have the ability to start over and many inhabited cities need to strike a balance between their heritage and demands from residents and visitors. Interestingly, some cities are making the most of the “old meets new” concept. In Italy, the cities of Bari and Matera were early adopters of the 5G wireless technology. This has enabled remote visits to Matera’s main tourist attractions and archeological sites using virtual reality that allows visitors to enjoy an immersive experience following the directions given by a local guide. In Bari, workers involved in the maintenance of ship engines receive remote assistance and training using a Smart Helmet built with augmented reality.

Moreover, there are case studies on urban and educational hackathons in smart cities with a heritage context like the one that took place in the city of Rauma (Finland) that show the possibilities of integrating the historical uniqueness of this Word Heritage Old Town with modern city services. Urban innovation is not reserved for the new and shiny elite, and cultural heritage may contribute to sustaining productivity and enhancing the livability of certain places.

Closer to home, the Wellington City Digital Twin Project developed a digital cities twin tool that utilizes advanced gaming technology to create large-scale city visualizations comprising integrated and real-time data. It is also pleasing to know that both Wellington and Auckland are amongst the 50 Champion Cities selected for the 2021 Global Mayors Challenge, a global innovation competition aimed at identifying and accelerating ideas to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Finalists are busy refining their ideas and still have work to do until October. The list of the fifteen winning cities to receive a $1 million prize along with multi-year technical assistance for the implementation and scaling of their idea won’t be published until early 2022. 

Clearly, cool gadgets and technology will not fix cities’ complex problems, and some believe the conversation needs to shift towards openness instead of smartness. As author Ben Green warns in The Smart Enough City (2019), “…contrary to the fables told by smart city proponents, technology creates little value on its own—it must be thoughtfully embedded within municipal governance structures.” As proposed by Paula Kwan, former Director of the Civic Innovation Office for the City of Toronto, among others, the conversation needs to be focused on advancing a community’s experience, using technology to serve our lives – not vice versa – and making cities better for people and business by encouraging citizen participation and transparency.

And because what is not measured cannot be improved, the UN’s United for Smart Sustainable Cities (U4SSC) initiative developed a set of 91 international key performance indicators to capture a city’s performance in three dimensions: Economy, Environment and Society and Culture. These have already been implemented by 100 cities worldwide and provide cities with the means for self-assessment and monitoring of their sustainable development progress to achieve the SDGs. There are city snapshots available on their website, which are worth taking a look at. Among the cities featured you will find Esperanza and Santa Fe (Argentina), Gjøvik and Ålesund (Norway), Moscow (Russia), Valencia (Spain), Pully (Switzerland) and Bizerte (Tunisia).

On the other hand, the World Council on City Data led the development and implementation of three international standards on city data that have been published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO 37120 Series includes ISO 37120 – Indicators for Sustainable Cities, ISO 37122 – Indicators for Smart Cities, and ISO 37123 – Indicators for Resilient Cities. As the scrutiny and oversight on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) impacts evolves and becomes more rigorous, the importance of this criteria to evaluate the contribution of information and communication technologies to make more efficient and sustainable urban environments may also increase.

Before I go and hand over back to Maria, it is worth pointing out that data security and privacy concerns derived from smart cities initiatives and governments adopting open data platforms are not new, particularly due to the over-collection and subsequent sharing of data with third parties. Part of the success of these projects will depend on addressing these concerns and consistent public policies that provide suitable guarantees over time. No need to go any deeper on the subject but certainly something to bear in mind insofar as the current solution, usually in the form of a data-sharing agreement exclusive between the parties, will probably not stand the test of time. For anyone interested in the subject, I recommend you head to literature on data stewardship and data institutions from The Gov Lab (New York), the Open Data Institute (UK) or the Aapti Institute (India).

In conclusion, the train has left the station. Harnessing the great wave of urbanisation that lies ahead depends on our ability to have an open mindset, embrace community-driven innovation and rethink the future with citizens at the centre. As recognised in the report published last May for the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission, Preparing for technological Change in the Infrastructure Sector, developed by Beca Ltd and Polis Consulting Group, the opportunity is there for those that are ready to embrace it with the Government expecting to spend over $21bn in the short to medium term. Are you ready to take action?

Read more from the Future of Design series here.

How Spacemaker AI Optimizes Architecture Development

How Spacemaker AI Optimizes Architecture Development


INSIDER: The Fourth Revolution—How Spacemaker AI Optimizes Architecture Development

26 July 2021

Spacemaker AI doesn’t threaten architects as we know them. It simply makes Architecture even more impactful.

THE PROFESSION OF ARCHITECTURE is at a crossroads. According to Carl Christensen, co-founder and CTO of Spacemaker AI, the whole building industry, while digitized, lacks critical building blocks that would enable the AEC industry to make big leaps.

Describing his initial reactions to how architects deliver value in early-stage development for clients, he says, “I didn’t really see the building blocks. People worked in digital tools, but some stakeholders work in drawing applications while others work in Excel.”

New to the AEC industry and with a background as a computer scientist, Christensen used the word “shocked” when he met Spacemaker CEO and co-founder Håvard Haukeland. When Haukeland, an architect, explained how architects deliver early phase work for clients, Christensen assumed Haukeland was doing something wrong.

Driven by Experience

“I was basically working [as an architect] with the kinds of projects that users today are using Spacemaker AI to solve,” says Haukeland. “I was really frustrated that I was not able to deliver what the clients really wanted, and I started discussing this with Anders, who I had known before.”

Anders Kvale is the third co-founder with a business background who saw Haukland’s problems—which involved working with clients who have either acquired a building site or evaluating one—as an interesting problem to look into.



This is a global problem; we need to build so much more in every city. When we build more densely, it is technically more difficult. There are more stakeholders and with them comes complexity.



The core challenge was how to optimize the development potential of building sites by breaking free of the traditional toolsets and processes that were leaving Haukeland disappointed. Kvale introduced Haukeland to Christensen, who has deep experience in software development and the digitization of industries.

“So the problem definition was really very clear,” says Christensen. “However, the more you looked into it, the more the complexity grew.”

A Worthy Global Goal

This complexity seemed ideally suited for AI and machine learning, but larger than that, the timing to help urban and architectural development make a big leap was now. “This is a global problem; we need to build so much more in every city,” says Haukeland, referring to massive urbanization change taking place around the world. “When we build more densely, it is technically more difficult. There are more stakeholders and with them comes more complexity.” (Image 01)

01 – A view of Spacemaker’s user interface, this one looking at the effects of noise on building design and parcel development decisions. Noise is just one of the dozens of technical issues impacting urban development that challenges AEC design and development teams to optimize architectural solutions.

But the development process today needs re-engineering itself, and the Nordic team knew this. “So architects have their knowledge expertise, and so too do engineers, and the developer is focused on their goals, but none of them are really communicating in any kind of shared space where they can understand each other in any meaningful way,” says Christensen. “So we figured we needed to bring all this information together in a way that is transparent to the other stakeholders.”

With a clarified vision of the problem Spacemaker AI was aiming to solve, the company began developing its namesake solution and directing it to architects. But that is not where they found success. Architects’ usage of information technology at a budget level is less than 1.5 percent of revenues in some cases, so Spacemaker AI found greater success going directly to large property development firms, who passed Spacemaker technology on to their internal designers and architects, and external consultants.

Value in the Early Phase

Spacemaker AI describes itself as “early-stage planning reimagined.” The cloud-based solution centralizes the various knowledge and issues typically siloed by the A, E, C, and O professionals in the AECO world. It empowers stakeholders to optimize the development potential of building sites. And it uses artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to achieve this.

Haukland told me on our call that a McKinsey report says that only 20 percent of technology investment in the building industry is directed at early phases. Still, he notes another report that finds that it is the early phases where 50 percent of the value creation happens.



You mentioned the revolution of hand drawing to CAD, from CAD to BIM, from BIM to Cloud. And now we have ‘outcome-driven’ design. And that’s now the fourth revolution.



The problem is that value creation can be higher and achieved at faster rates if machine intelligence can augment the heuristic processes human designers employ. Spacemaker AI’s goal isn’t to replace human architects, planners, and urban designers but rather augment them with “over the shoulder AI,” as Haukeland and Christensen call it.

Christensen says of today’s workflows for this early-stage work, “there is a lot of manual labor inside a digital tool, but there is no added value across projects, everything is bespoke.” This takes us back to those building blocks he says the industry is missing. He means that without digital connections between data from various stakeholders and the meaning and values of that data from each stakeholders’ perspective, there is no value-chain present, no value creation. “It’s really hard to extract value and knowledge from such a disconnected process,” he says. “If you are trying to analyze processes and systems, that is just shockingly far from what most industries have already accomplished.”

The Fourth Revolution

Indeed, the AECO industry is profoundly behind taking true advantage of the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) revolution. (see: Architosh, “Perspectives on BEST of SHOW 2018: Perez’s Model of Technological Revolutions—BIM, CDEs, and VR,” 12 July 2018) But the current constellation of digital technologies, particularly when paired with AI and machine learning, may finally offer a step-change in productivity gains.

“You mentioned the revolution of hand drawing to CAD, from CAD to BIM, from BIM to Cloud. And now we have ‘outcome-driven’ design, says Haukeland. “And that’s now the fourth revolution.

Spacemaker AI helps users arrive at optimal outcomes for given building sites, tuning development projects to particular sets of criteria in optimized formations that will yield better outcomes. (Images 01 – 02)

02 – An image of Spacemaker’s interface showing slider controls on the right and data and results options at the bottom.

The software does this by both generating and evaluating designs against inputted criteria. The system can analyze solutions for sunlight, daylight, views, wind, traffic noise, energy efficiency, and all the zoning setbacks and FAR (floor-area-ratios) impacting projects. (see Image 03 for Wind)

Spacemaker AI can optimize designs for over 100 criteria types, including doing all the boring calculation work like tenant lease area and building area calculations. The user inputs the criteria but also determines which criteria to emphasize. You let Spacemaker AI help solve for quality outdoor spaces, for example, by emphasizing sunlight utilization and controlling shadows. It can solve for microclimates and views to the river, for example, and at various combinations of importance.



It’s really hard to extract value and knowledge from such a disconnected process. If you are trying to analyze processes and systems, that is just shockingly far from what most industries have already accomplished.



As for the AI, Christensen says, “it is incrementally supportive of what you want to do but not taking over the wheel,” making a driving analogy. So, in other words, in the same manner, that a Tesla can provide some autonomous driving functions with human oversight, Spacemaker uses artificial intelligence to augment human designers but requires human oversight at multiple levels.

The software is flexible in terms of how it can relate to existing urban design and architectural workflows. “Users can import previous designs in SketchUp or Revit format and run analyses on them using the systems’ AI-based engine for testing scenarios,” he notes. “And once completed, users can export their project out to more precise design programs like SketchUp or Revit.”

Designed to be interactive as part of the overall process, Spacemaker AI enables the designer to generate and test in multiple iterative steps, fine-tuning both criteria and possible design options. The system isn’t there to find the ultimate solution for you by itself.

Christensen says there is confusion in the industry about solutions like Spacemaker AI. He says that “black box AI seems very attractive at the onset,” but that is not what people really want. “You cannot iterate on it,” he says, referring to the way the designer can take what Spacemaker AI has produced and understand why it got there.

The Autodesk Acquisition

Last year Autodesk acquired the Norway-based company. Over the past few years, the US design software giant largely focused on construction professionals within AEC—with a series of stunning acquisitions. In the area of new software for designers and architects, the Spacemaker AI buy was seen as a positive move.

03 – An image showing Spacemaker’s wind analysis functions in action.

“We never talked about an acquisition,” says Haukeland. We always planned for a standalone journey.” He says the company, at 115 people as of the time of our conversation, has been solely focused on its mission. “We are driven by that story. Everyone on the team is driven by how we can optimize the process.”

With that focus, Autodesk is leaving the company to operate very autonomously. The company stays in Norway, though it has staff in remote locations globally.

“Right now,” Haukeland adds, “the obvious synergy with Autodesk is on the mission of being part of that fourth revolution and of making a digital tool that everyone uses.”

Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities


“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” wondered Anne Guerry in a Stanford University article in which Sarah Cafasso explains how Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities.

Stanford researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities

By 2050, more than 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Stanford Natural Capital Project researchers have developed software that shows city planners where to invest in nature to improve people’s lives and save billions of dollars.

By Sarah Cafasso, Stanford Natural Capital Project

New technology could help cities around the world improve people’s lives while saving billions of dollars. The free, open-source software developed by the Stanford Natural Capital Project creates maps to visualize the links between nature and human wellbeing. City planners and developers can use the software to visualize where investments in nature, such as parks and marshlands, can maximize benefits to people, like protection from flooding and improved health.

By 2050, over 70 percent of the world’s people are projected to live in cities. As the global community becomes increasingly urban, cities are looking for ways to design with sustainability in mind. (Image credit: Zhang Mengyang / iStock)

“This software helps design cities that are better for both people and nature,” said Anne Guerry, Chief Strategy Officer and Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project. “Urban nature is a multitasking benefactor – the trees on your street can lower temperatures so your apartment is cooler on hot summer days. At the same time, they’re soaking up the carbon emissions that cause climate change, creating a free, accessible place to stay healthy through physical activity and just making your city a more pleasant place to be.”

By 2050, experts expect over 70 percent of the world’s people to live in cities – in the United States, more than 80 percent already do. As the global community becomes more urban, developers and city planners are increasingly interested in green infrastructure, such as tree-lined paths and community gardens, that provide a stream of benefits to people. But if planners don’t have detailed information about where a path might encourage the most people to exercise or how a community garden might buffer a neighborhood from flood risk while helping people recharge mentally, they can’t strategically invest in nature.

“We’re answering three crucial questions with this software: where in a city is nature providing what benefits to people, how much of each benefit is it providing and who is receiving those benefits?” said Perrine Hamel, lead author on a new paper about the software published in Urban Sustainability and Livable Cities Program Lead at the Stanford Natural Capital Project at the time of research.

The software, called Urban InVEST, is the first of its kind for cities and allows for the combination of environmental data, like temperature patterns, with social demographics and economic data, like income levels. Users can input their city’s datasets into the software or access a diversity of open global data sources, from NASA satellites to local weather stations. The new software joins the Natural Capital Project’s existing InVEST software suite, a set of tools designed for experts to map and model the benefits that nature provides to people.

To test Urban InVEST, the team applied the software in multiple cities around the world: Paris, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China; and several U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis. In many cases, they worked with local partners to understand priority questions – in Paris, candidates in a municipal election were campaigning on the need for urban greenery, while in Minneapolis, planners were deciding how to repurpose underused golf course land.

Running the numbers

In Shenzhen, China, the researchers used Urban InVEST to calculate how natural infrastructure like parks, grassland and forest would reduce damages in the event of a severe, once-in-one-hundred years storm. They found that the city’s nature would help avoid $25 billion in damages by soaking up rain and diverting floodwaters. They also showed that natural infrastructure – like trees and parks – was reducing the daily air temperature in Shenzhen by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) during hot summer days, providing a dollar value of $71,000 per day in benefits to the city.

Targeting inequities

A map of the Paris metropolitan area of France showing neighborhoods with the lowest access to green spaces (yellow), the lowest income neighborhoods (red), and an overlap of the two (blue) where, according to the Urban InVEST software, investing in green spaces like parks would have the greatest impact on reducing inequalities. (Image credit: Perrine Hamel et al)

Nature is often distributed unevenly across cities – putting lower-income people at a disadvantage. Data show that lower-income and marginalized communities often have less access to nature in cities, meaning they are unable to reap the benefits, like improved mental and physical health, that nature provides to wealthier populations.

In Paris, the researchers looked at neighborhoods without access to natural areas and overlaid income and economic data to understand who was receiving benefits from nature. The software helped determine where investments in more greenspace – like parks and bike paths – could be most effective at boosting health and wellbeing in an equitable way.

Planning for a greener future

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota region, golf revenue is declining. The downturn has created an appealing opportunity for private golf courses to sell off their land for development. But should developers create a new park or build a new neighborhood? Urban InVEST showed how, compared to golf courses, new parks could increase urban cooling, keep river waters clean, support bee pollinators and sustain dwindling pockets of biodiversity. New residential development, on the other hand, would increase temperatures, pollute freshwater and decrease habitat for bees and other biodiversity.

Healthy city ecosystems

Urban InVEST is already seeing use outside of a research setting – it recently helped inform an assessment of how nature might help store carbon and lower temperatures in 775 European cities.

“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” said Guerry, also an author on the paper. “With Urban InVEST, city governments can bring all of nature’s benefits to residents and visitors. They can address inequities and build more resilient cities, resulting in better long-term outcomes for people and nature.”

Why Sustainability is Essential to Long Term Development


Ethically, architects and engineers alike have been good at policing themselves to meet their client’s needs through the design process.
In the UAE’s design industry predominantly of South Asian architects and engineers, an elite has emerged to respond to the built environment’s strong but slightly waning demands successfully. But why sustainability is essential to long term development in the Middle East that makes it at this conjecture, climate emergency has become not only a challenge but a goal; all had to keep in mind. The said elite is rising to meet such arduous tasks, as highlighted in this article written by Payal of Prasoon Design Studio.

Why Sustainability is Essential to Long Term Development in the Middle East

May 26, 2021

Sustainability is an essential design philosophy that influences the construction sphere within the Middle East. The implementation of green energy, eco-friendly strategies, and sustainable rating measures have significantly affected the way that the region drives development long-term. In fact, sustainability and green strategies have the power to unlock close to US$3 trillion in economic development by 2030, which is why cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi are leading the way.

With rising energy demand and increased urbanisation, developers are also focusing on sustainability from a strategic perspective. Along with green materials and natural landscaping, sustainability is being driven right from the planning stage. The top architecture firms in Dubai, such as Prasoon Design, are specialising in planning the right layout, orientation, methodology, and approach to ensure long-term sustainability.

The region has historically focused on introducing new measures and guidelines to implement eco-friendlier design and construction. Using indigenous materials, new technologies, and recycled components, the Middle East’s architects are redefining the limits of sustainability. They are innovating not only on the aesthetics front but also in the longevity and ecological balance sphere as well.

Impacting Policymaking in the Region

The construction industry in the Middle East works within specific guidelines that govern its practices across residential, commercial, industrial, and infrastructure spheres. In terms of policymaking, sustainability is a key driver of the region’s long-term goals and vision. Saudi Arabia and UAE’s Vision 2030 includes plans to enhance renewable supply by 30%, with Dubai focusing on 75% clean energy by 2050.

Sustainability also shapes many of the policies around energy consumption, the use of new technologies, innovative materials, and novel construction practices. Sustainability is helping drive the industry forward by aiding in the formation of longevity-focused guidelines. The Pearl rating system is the ideal example of this, giving developers points for specific objectives that can be analysed and approved during development.

Promoting the Use of eco-friendly Measures

The construction industry is one of the few ecosystems worldwide that can radically transform the scope of sustainability within a region. With the industry accounting for 38% of carbon emissions, it is important to leverage the right construction methodologies and waste management strategies to ensure long-term sustainability. In fact, the construction industry has the potential to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 if it follows the right practices and guidelines for sustainable development.

The construction industry in the Middle East can lead the way in achieving the region’s targets of sustainability, energy consumption, and renewable energy use. Architecture firms Dubai and Abu Dhabi based are actively working with government entities, developers, and construction material suppliers, to ensure that new projects are aligned with the region’s overall sustainability vision.

Improving adaptability to new challenges

Many of the key challenges of the next few decades are going to be around sustainability and energy consumption. With the summer months accounting for 50-60% of energy use within buildings, it is important to design all future iterations of residential and construction projects to be self-sustaining. Whether through solar, wind, or an eco-friendly hybrid model, energy generation and utilisation would have to be optimised long-term.

The circular nature of construction means that developers need to focus on the entire lifecycle of the project. To implement truly impactful initiatives, such as zero waste, recycling, ecological balance, natural landscaping, zero emissions, and resource efficiency, developers need to be adaptable to new challenges. Developers that overcome challenges of the future in the present are also more likely to attract investment within the region for large-scale construction projects.

Innovative Materials Use within the Region

The construction industry is a highly innovative sphere within the Middle East, focusing on using the best materials that are sustainable, aesthetically pleasing, and durable. High-performance concrete, nanoparticles, cross-laminated timber, 3D graphene, and other innovative materials are shaping the way for the future of development. The region’s focus on leveraging these new materials is unmatched, with many new projects being designed keeping these high-insulating and low-maintenance materials in mind.

Additionally, innovative materials are easier to store, manage, and dispose of. They are highly sustainable by design and can be recycled or demolished without releasing toxic emissions or harmful compounds in the air. With C&D waste accounting for 70% of total waste generated in the UAE, it is important to use the right materials to ensure long-term sustainability within Middle Eastern countries.

Influencing design aesthetics through sustainability

Some of the most architecturally complex and aesthetically advanced projects are being designed in the Middle East owing to the region’s focus on sustainability. New geometries, shapes, layouts, and styles are being innovated to ensure that projects capture as much natural energy as possible. The balance between ecology and construction is also being promoted through sustainable architecture in the region as well.

From the exterior façade to the interior finishes, the use of innovative strategies is the key to sustainable development in the region. Both active and passive strategies are being leveraged to accomplish the goals of the construction project, with developers focusing on the right techniques to optimise energy management. Through key initiatives, such as rainwater harvesting, recycled materials, re-using of resources, solar, and water management, buildings are emerging both aesthetically superior and eco-friendlier.

An Homage To Zaha Hadid: “Abstracting The Landscape”


Marking five years since the passing of renowned architect and artist Zaha Hadid, Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska presents a celebratory and revelatory exhibition of her work entitled “Abstracting the Landscape”.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Ocula.

An Homage To Zaha Hadid: “Abstracting The Landscape” Exhibition At Galerie Gmurzynska In Zurich

Nel-Olivia Waga, Contributor to Travel

I write about conscious luxury, focusing on travel, well-being & art.

Described as the “Queen of Curves”, this Iraqi-British innovator was one of the major figures of late 20th Century and 21st Century architecture and design. Her buildings and interiors always dared to be different and her global legacy reveals her creative and enduring genius. What she achieved is an influential body of work which others look to for inspiration.

Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

Hers was a career marked by recognition for all that she contributed to the development of design and function. Her impact on the built environment was extensive and driven by her fusion of Modernism into her architectural creations. This saw her become the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the only woman ever to be presented with the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Her numerous and acclaimed exhibitions have included “The Great Utopia” at the Guggenheim Museum and Art Basel in both Switzerland and Miami.

Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

Her architecture always evolved as she was never prepared to stand still or to accept anything that would compromise her vision. She was always eager to challenge preconceptions bringing some much-needed refreshment to an architectural establishment that can often appear stale and inflexible. The fact that her many buildings already seem timeless is a testament to her ongoing relevance and her ability to prompt those who follow to strive to achieve such a level of authenticity.

Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

Galerie Gmurzynska has had a long association with Zaha Hadid having highlighted her work in a number of earlier exhibitions. There is therefore an initial poignancy around this collection of models, drawings, artworks and sculptures as it prompts the thought that she has now gone. However, the sheer vibrancy of the pieces quickly dispels any feelings of melancholy and it is a joy to look at and experience what is so carefully set out here. 

“When we saw Zaha’s design for the “Great Utopia” exhibition of Russian Avantgarde at the Guggenheim New York in 1992, it took our breath away. And that is what our relationship was about, to implement breathtaking projects ever since. For most she will be remembered as the female architect who broke the glass-ceiling. For her the term “female architect” was irrelevant. For us, as a gallery, her drawings and paintings could be considered works of art, while Zaha never considered herself to be an artist. Zaha was an eternaly curious and artistic minded person with a vision. It is this Zaha that we attempt to present in our current exhibition as an homage to Zaha Hadid.” says Matthias Rastorfer, CEO and Partner at Galerie Gmurzynska

Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

Zaha Hadid’s use of non-figurative forms and shapes fuses technology with art and the clever interplay of light and color combinations show her freshness of vision, creativity and technical expertise. Elements of the exhibition are so “reach out and touch” that they draw both the hand and the eye as they fill the gallery’s floor space. The sinewy contours of many of the works on display seem irresistible and lure both our eyes and hands to discover more. The mixing of media adds depth to the exhibits and there is also the contrast between the modernity on show here as it juxtaposes with the traditional architecture of the commercial building which appears opposite.

Zaha Hadid Abstracting The Landscape at Gallery Gmurzynska Paradeplatz Zurich GMURZYNSKA

The exhibition involved close co-operation with the late artist’s designs team who act as the guardians of her legacy and who seek to preserve and respect her artistic integrity. It is fitting that Galerie Gmurzynska has decided to incorporate key elements of Zaha Hadid’s work as a permanent element of its gallery space. This will act as a reminder and a living memorial of this great architect and artist’s depth of contribution over the length of her career. 

Nel-Olivia Waga at Galerie Gmurzynska’s Zaha Hadid Exhibition: “Abstracting The Landscape” in Zurich XANDRA M. LINSIN

Impressive on all levels.

I view luxury lifestyle from a conscious perspective and am most passionate about wellbeing, art and travel. I am the founder of the lifestyle blog her-etiquette.com (follow me on Instagram: @her_etiquette). I also run the consulting firm HER CIRCLE which specializes in sustainable luxury strategies and marketing concepts with purpose. Before becoming an entrepreneur I have worked in Sales & Marketing at Coutts & Co, Deutsche Bank and Hugo Boss. Based between Zurich and London, I travel the world and write about the joy of the journey.