More than dreams, projects. For the space, printable houses and galactic tourism. On earth, plant-covered buildings, shared lives, smart homes and recycling. The future is here
MARS Is there life on Mars? David Bowie posed this question in his 1971 song. The answer? Soon. It could happen as soon as 2024. That’s the goal of Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla Motors, whose private company SpaceX is moving forward with the ambitious plan of colonizing the red planet by sending into orbit 100 people within eight years and one million more by 2075. Not surprisingly, the interstellar project is outrageously expensive and those of us who are more down to earth discount it as mere science fiction. But the appeal of colonizing Mars could be much more than a pipe dream if it’s true that climate change caused by fossil fuels is jacking up the temperatures so high that man will be forced to abandon earth in the future. In fact, London’s Design Museum is planning an exhibit titled “Mars” for autumn 2019. The planet could become our second home, albeit not a weekend getaway since its 225 million kilometres away. «Mars is relatively close», said Stefano Boeri, who heads the Future City Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research department at Tongji University in Shanghai. «Reaching the planet takes only three months and some of the living conditions are similar to earth, even though the average temperature much lower and the solar year is 670 days». In partnership with the Chinese space agency, the lab is conducting research into whether it’s possible to live on Mars. «We are imagining that there would be many trees and plants, thank to cultivated cityforests. The chlorophyll in this greenery helps trigger the photosynthesis that results in oxygen production». Since plants could be our lifeblood on this new planet, other architecture firms are recreating the red planet’s extreme conditions here on earth. The Mars Science City project is being designed by a team from the United Arab Emirates’ Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and the Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The largest-ever space simulation city will recreate Mars-like conditions on 17.5 hectares in the UAE desert in order to study ways in which these first colonists will be able to live self-sufficiently with the available energy, food and water (last July a saltwater lake was discovered on Mars). The technologies that will be developed at Mars Science City will be the first step for man to become «a multi-planetary species», said BIG founder, Bjarke Ingels. The Mars Science City project proposal emphasizes that architecture makes our world more liveable: «This becomes fundamentally clear when we venture beyond our Terran origins and settle in foreign worlds. Designing to low gravity, low pressure, extreme colds and high levels of radiation radically changes the architect’s tool kit and the resulting forms and spaces». This Mars-on-earth will be located inside a series of geodesic domes. A space museum will engage and educate visitors, some of whom just might be future climate migrants. But before these colonists set foot on Mars, an advance team of robots needs to construct living spaces. At least this is the theory of the acclaimed architect Norman Foster who envisions semi-autonomous robots constructing 3D printed structures using regolith, the mineral dust that covers this alien land. «Given the vast distance from the earth and the ensuing communication delays, the deployment and construction are designed to take place with minimal human input, relying on rules and objectives rather than closely defined instructions», explained Foster + Partners in a statement. «This makes the system more adaptive to change and unexpected challenges – a strong possibility for a mission of this scale». Another David Bowie song “Space Oddity” begins to play in our heads when considering Philippe Starck’s latest project. He’s designing the interior of a hotel inside the world’s first commercial space station. Enjoy a cosmic vacation at zero gravity, at least until Mars opens to visitors.
URBAN FORESTS Fabio Salbitano is calling for an eco-makeover of our cities. «We need to place more importance on greening the cities of the future», said the University of Florence associate professor in the agricultural management department. «This is not an expense, but an investment. The more we raise awareness of this idea, talk about it and take concrete actions the better». Salbitano is one of the organizers of theWorld Forum on Urban Forests (28 November-1 December 2018, Mantua, Italy). The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is the main promoter, marking the first time that a UN agency has dedicated a conference to this subject. In the last few years, urban forests have become increasingly important for city governments. Projects are appearing in the portfolios of prestigious architects, who are toiling away to transform the urban landscape. The concrete jungle is becoming more jungle, less concrete. All abloom are leafy skyscrapers and lush facades, public parks, community vegetable gardens and roof-top gardens, as well as the forests surrounding cities. «For decades, we’ve watched as plants and green areas have been disappearing from urban centres», said PeterWalker, a renowned landscape architect from the United States. «This has resulted in poorer air quality and urban heat islands. We are even losing community gathering spaces. There’s much to be gained by the re-greening of an area, not only environmentally but also socially. In fact, being surrounded by nature doesn’t benefit just the economy, it helps the psyche», stressed Walker, who has worked on many fascinating projects including the oak forest surrounding the National 9/11 Memorial, which is located where New York’s Twin Towers once stood. And living trees also enhance the architecture that embraces the intricate branches and foliage, especially the repeating patterns known as fractals, a style completely different from the typically flat lines in urban streetscapes. Jean Nouvel, among others, is a believer. «Vegetation is a way of dematerializing the traditional rigid shapes of modern buildings», said the French architect. Nouvel has collaborated for years with Patrick Blanc, the botanist who created the first green walls which add organic life to man-made surfaces. «I never think of the landscape architecture as separate from the building; it’s part of the overall concept», said Nouvel. For example, Rosewood is a residential building and hotel in the heart of São Paulo named for the wood that partially covers it. Set to open next year, this complex is one of many vertical gardens blooming around the world that «can be a means for returning to a lost way of life», explained Nouvel. Other landscape architects are also incorporating lush urban oases into their projects in development. Japanese architect Kengo Kuma is designing an eco-luxury hotel along Paris’ Left Bank. The Dutch firm MVRDV and garden designer Piet Oudolf have joined forces to construct Valley, a cluster of craggy, mountain-shaped buildings. And the British starchitect Thomas Heatherwick is