Facing the future: What will be relevant and buildable in three to five years?

New tools and materials provide architects and planners with new possibilities. Where will this journey lead in the near future? Our author Thomas Geuder summarizes the relevant presentations.

Featuring the event “Facing the Future”, the “Forum Future of Building” traditionally wants to dare a look into the future. However, it is not about science fiction, but about what will be relevant and buildable in three to five years. The short time horizon deliberately serves the purpose of controllability and discussability. The topics of this year's presentations ranged from building technology and energy management to the digitalization of construction and new utilization of familiar materials. And the question is always whether and how architecture—and with it the work of architects—will change in the future.

For some time now, the construction industry has been undergoing a clearly noticeable process of change. Architects and planners must deal with ever new tools, materials, and framework conditions. The change is being driven primarily by digitalization, which has now taken hold of and penetrated the entire industry. Hence, to be prepared for the future, construction professionals have to face the challenges already today.

From digital building to the digital space

Digital planning and implementation generate unforeseen possibilities in the construction industry, including three-dimensional facades made of brick, foldable wooden structures or elastic steel spring cladding made of multi-curved slats that—depending on the light and perspective—produce a hologram-like pattern on the facade. And digital design tools also enable the development of repeatable and resource-efficient structural geometries. In the future, architecture can even be experienced purely virtually and interactively, which will completely change the concept of space and thus the role of the architect.

High tech, low tech, and energy management

Building technology has also changed enormously. Technologization has brought great potential for energy savings. However, meanwhile the question arises as to how much technology is necessary to achieve good results. Research shows that more technology is not the best solution. Rather, thought must be given to the interaction between technology and architecture. The question is whether an overall system that combines high tech and low tech in a reasonable way is robust and durable. It will also be important to manage energy flows (especially from renewables) intelligently, flexibly, and resource-efficiently to help reduce CO2.

New old materials

In the future, wood will play a central role in construction, as it is an ideal building material in many respects. Since the invention of cross laminated timber (CLT), the capacity of wood has increased tremendously. Many implemented examples, such as the SKAIO project by Kaden+Lager Architekten, show how versatile building with wood can be. So, it will (soon) be quite normal. However, the building industry goes even one step further with a material made from wood: paper. Although this building material is new to the construction industry and research is still young: when thinking of paper as functionally optimized wood, it will lead to new paths.

Utopias of new construction

Digitalization, new building possibilities, climatic contexts and a changing society will entail that we will have to rethink architecture, urban development—and thus living together. A community is always made up of individual needs and lifestyles, to which architecture and urban planning must respond. It is about individuality united in collectivity. Winy Maas (MVRDV) calls it “From egoism to wegoism.” It will be about the built environment that creates a setting that works for people and nature alike. Built structures will have to become greener, also against the backdrop of climate change. The city of the future is radically green, with plants and trees growing on, around and inside buildings. It will be a living, biological organism that offers everyone a place.


  • Prof. Thomas Auer (TU München / Transsolar)
  • Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ulrich Knaack (TU Darmstadt / TU Delft)
  • Markus Lager (Kaden+Lager Architekten, Managing Director / Owner)
  • Dipl. Architekt Friedrich Ludewig (ACME, Founding Director)
  • Winy Maas (MVRDV, Founding Partner/ Lead Architect)
  • Phillipe Rahm (Philippe Rahm architectes, Chief Architect)
  • Dr. Ing. Alexander Rieck (Lava Laboratory for Visionary Architecture, Architect, Founder)
  • Dr.-Ing. Jens Schneider (TU Darmstadt / TU Delft)
  • Prof. Tobias Walliser (Lava Laboratory for Visionary Architecture, Architect, Founder)

Thomas Geuder | Der Raumjournalist