Beyond Building

Teksti · words

Kuva: Tiina Eronen

We concentrate too much on the present in new construction, says architect Anni Laurila.

After spending one summer at the Singularity University in 2015, you have been increasingly focused on subjects linked to the future in all of your work. What does the world look like through a pair of constant “future goggles”? 

I see things that are happening now as prototypes of future. For instance, I think that the fact that we are able to have Skype meetings and meet others remotely is just an early phase of our next steps. In the future, we could for example travel less, if it truly feels like we are meeting in the same space. 

You have said that you also want to extend so called future thinking to building and consider how the changing world affects built environments. What changes have you last reflected upon? 

The way we buy and own things is going through huge changes. In the United States, shopping centres don’t have enough customers because of Amazon and they are left empty. Instead, huge logistics centres are built that send packages all around the world. For me, it is interesting to reflect what will happen to those empty shopping malls. 

Well, what do you think we should do with those empty shopping malls? 

A They should be altered for new uses. In my opinion, the construction business should consider more how the built environments will best serve next generations. In other words, we should reflect on how the world can change in ten or even hundred years, and which choices would be beneficial to make already in the planning phases, so that the contemporary buildings would also work well in the future. It’s an integral question when talking about sustainable construction. Building new causes a lot of emissions. The real challenge is that globally we need an increasing amount of buildings—it’s been estimated that global building stock will double in area by 2060. 

What else could be thought of as sustainable construction? 

In addition to reuse and recycling, it’s important to consider the building materials of new buildings. Manufacturing concrete and cement, is estimated to add up to 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. If concrete and cement will be replaced, we need take care that options are still confidently sustainable. We can build houses out of wood, for instance—construction is a good end-use option for wood, as then carbon gets stored into the wood for a long time instead of being released back into the atmosphere. Then again, we need to consider where to draw the line for sustainable levels of logging to conserve and increase carbon sinks. In other words, we need to be careful not to go out of the frying pan into the fire, when looking for the answers. 

What’s worth looking into right now when it comes to building cities? 

A I myself am interested in cities that already need to consider the challenges that other cities will face in the future due climate change and urbanisation. Singapore is the world’s third most densely populated city-state, which is why they need to closely consider how they use up the land. Due to lack of space and local water and food, they have for instance developed seawater desalination plants, protection to sea-level rise, vertical farming, and green spaces and parks that are integrated into buildings.  

Anni Laurila is an architect, a professional speaker and an entrepreneur from Helsinki. She spent the summer of 2015 at the Singularity University at NASA Research Park, studying exponentially developing technologies and their use as solutions for global problems. She graduated in architecture (Master’s) from Aalto University in 2017.

Translation: Tiia Toivari