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12.4: Architecture for the 21st Century

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    Architecture is the art and process of designing and constructing buildings, both small and large. Architects accomplish practical and expressive requirements to provide both functional and artistic ends. Contemporary architecture is a compilation of many styles with no dominant hierarchy. From traditional to highly conceptional, the square buildings of the twentieth century have given way to buildings with the look of a sculptural piece of art. With the use of digital technology, the pencil has been replaced. We have entered a process of digitized architecture, transforming societies' way of life and raising awareness of the global environmental damage caused by the overuse of natural resources. New technologies challenge gravity as they spiral higher into the atmosphere as competitions become the highest.[1]

    Architecture is one of the significant developments in building design in the new millennium, developing new concepts and designing mixed-use facilities to fit into compact settings with public transportation. The pressures of energy requirements to meet radical design turned the architects into efficient and functional artists. The concepts of immense towers caused adjustments in lifestyles and the concepts of where we live, work, transportation needs, and supporting public lands requirements. 

    The building materials of the new millennium are prefabricated on-demand using computer-aided machines to cut, construct, and process raw materials into pieces transported to the job site. The use of robotics guarantees the accuracy and continuity of the fabricated components and reduces human error. Testing labs for earthquake stability, wind stability, and fire prevention are essential for the design. More than half of the world's population resides in urban cities, and contextual models have become important.

    The invention of CAD (computer-aided software) in 1961 had the most significant impact on architectural design. The realistic representations, speed, accuracy, and affordability make the CAD programs valuable for architects. Today's CAD programs incorporate 3D visualizations and simulations without the need to create physical models. Virtual tours offer exact views of the architectural design. Architects can draw a set of plans for the construction company to build the structure, also making a mock-up model in three dimensions as an example for the client to physically see the design. Today, architects use computers to help design and draw the final plans and make live 3-dimensional models viewable from different angles. 

    Contemporary Architecture design continues into the twenty-first century; however, the transformation from standard upright buildings to organically designed with diverse functions and connections to the surrounding environment takes precedent. Architects are challenged to create unusual designs using twenty-first-century materials and engineering techniques. 

    Interactive Element: Maya Lin

    Maya Lin is the FIRST woman to design a memorial on the National Mall. "Architecture is a profession where you figure that whether you're a man or a woman shouldn't matter. But when I was starting out at the top firms, women architects were generally given the managerial positions, not the design positions. Why was it that women kept getting slotted not to be a design partner but a manager?"






    Kazuyo Sejima

    Kazuyo Sejima (1956-) is a Japanese architect known for her clear modernist elements with shiny, slick, and clean surfaces. After graduating from Japan Women's University, she worked for another architect. Sejima founded Kazuyo Sejima and Associates (SANNA) as a studio for innovative building designs worldwide. Sejima redefined her style, and instead of narrowing down a design, she used models to finalize what she calls "process designs." Sejima was the second woman (Zaha Hadid was first) to win the coveted Pritzker Prize in 2012. In 2016, Fast Company named SANNA one of the 50 Most Innovative Companies.

    The Sumida Hokusai Museum (8.4.16) in Tokyo is dedicated to the great print artist Katsushika Hokusai to celebrate his work. The monolithic block is five stories with angular cutouts bringing light into the museum's center. The building is surrounded by a patchwork of residential, commercial, and light industrial zones. She had to fit the building into an environment of the architectural hodgepodge. Sejima divided the building into several units of various sizes, so the entire building did not overwhelm the neighborhood.[9] The geometric forms continued inside, creating walkways with a triangular appearance. The outside of the structure is clad in aluminum panels that softly reflect the skies, and there are huge windows for natural light, producing a fluid passage between inside and outside. One of the design challenges Sejima confronted was to minimize the amount of sunlight to protect the delicate prints of Hokusai's artwork. Leveraging the slanted wall, she allowed sunlight into the building by utilizing the A-frame construction.

    A building with silver sides and shaped in the letter M
    Figure \(\PageIndex{16}\): Sumida Hokusai Museum (2016, Japan) by KakidaiCC BY-SA 4.0

    In 2007, The New Museum of Contemporary Art (8.4.17) opened its doors to 5,453 square meters of changeable exhibition spaces and as an incubator for new ideas. The bold decision to stack boxes on top of each other gave Sejima the ability to create a harmonious symbiotic connection to the surrounding neighborhood. The seven boxes are of various sizes and heights (53 meters), giving the appearance of a child stacking blocks prior to it falling. The four public galleries are located on the first through the fourth floor, with educational centers and offices occupying the rest of the building. The light and airy spaces are covered in a seamless, anodized, and expanded aluminum mesh wrapped to mimic a soft, shimmering skin. Visitors are drawn into the museum through large 4.5-meter glass doors stretching the entire width of the building. The grey concrete sidewalks change into the grey concrete polished floors inside the doors.  

    Interactive Element: Kazuyo Sejima

    A visit to Sanaa's Hokusai Museum in Tokyo. I think the building itself is quite beautiful. The brushed metal clad facade and triangular cut wedges are proportionately well balanced, but that's where it all stops. SANAA, Kazuyo Sejima and Rye Nishizawa received the Pritzker Prize in 2010 for being "deceptively simple" and for their architecture which "stands out in direct contrast with the bombastic".

    A building with stacked blocks with grey colors and a boat on the side of the building
    Figure \(\PageIndex{17}\): New Museum of Contemporary Art (2007, New York) CC BY-SA 4.0


    Shigeru Ban

    Shigeru Ban (1957-) is a Japanese architect born in Tokyo and attended the Southern California Institute of Architecture. Ban is known for his innovative and temporary prefabricated cardboard houses for disaster victims. In 2014, Ban was named the 37th recipient of the Pritzker Prize of modern architecture. "The Pritzker Jury cited Ban for his innovative use of material and his dedication to humanitarian efforts around the world, calling him "a committed teacher who is not only a role model for the younger generation but also an inspiration."[13] Marrying his Eastern philosophy with Western building materials, Ban creates minimalistic structures, unlike others.

    The Aspen Art Museum (8.4.26) in Aspen, Colorado, is 10,058 square meters with four levels. The facility opened in 2014 with six gallery spaces, outdoor commons, and a rooftop sculpture garden. The Grand Stair covers three levels and intersects with a glass wall blending inside and outside spaces. The exterior wood screen is made from composite materials of paper and resin covered by a wood veneer. The roof deck has a sculpture garden and allows incredible views of the Rocky Mountains.

    A building with woven wood structure on the outside
    Figure \(\PageIndex{26}\): Aspen Art Museum (2014, Colorado) by Bkthomson16, CC BY-SA 4.0

    The Nomadic Museum (8.4.27) is made from used shipping containers and large paper tubes, allowing it to be moved from city to city, usually constructed on a pier. The Canadian photographer Gregory Colbert wanted a traveling museum to display Ashes and Snow's art exhibition. He asked Ban to design a traveling building and first opened it on New York's Pier 54, then traveled to other cities. The containers are stacked in two parallel rows for 205 meters in a checkerboard pattern. A tubular triangle roof truss was erected to support the fabric roof panels giving the illusion of a European Gothic church nave. 

    a building created from cargo bins
    Figure \(\PageIndex{27}\): Nomadic Museum (2005) CC BY-SA 2.0

    A broad pathway of wooden flooring (recycled scaffolding wood) (8.4.28) defines the pathway for visitors. The remainder of the floor is covered with river rock, giving a sense of peace and continuity, further emphasizing the minimalist design Ban created to focus on the art. The best part about the traveling museum is containers are standard sizes, and you can rent them in any port city where the museum is moved for the exhibition. Overall, the design is cost-effective as it utilizes recycled materials yet creates a visually powerful nomadic gallery.

    inside of the museum with wood floors and paper columns
    Figure \(\PageIndex{28}\): Interior of Nomadic Museum. by PaoloMazzoleniCC BY 2.0


    Yasmeen Lari

    Yasmeen Lari (1941-) is Pakistan's first female architect and received the Royal Gold Medal in 2023, the first recipient King Charles III approved in his newly established reign. The award is given to some with a significant influence on architecture. After receiving the award, Lari said, "I never imagined that as I focus on my country's most marginalized people—venturing down uncharted vagabond pathways—I could still be considered for the highest honors in the architectural profession." And she concluded, "Totally delighted." [12]The award was based on her work to create emergency shelters and housing for Pakistan's people devastated by earthquakes, floods, and conflicts. Lari created simple designs to rebuild from the available debris of disasters. She worked with a foundation to build 50,000 accessible dwellings from found materials, focusing on low cost and zero carbon. Previously, Lari received an award for designing and implementing a smokeless cooking device made from mud and quickly constructed by local people, an alternative to the polluting stoves generally used by Pakistanis.

    Lari's life as a child was focused on her father and his work on development projects in different cities where she was exposed to architecture. As a teenager, she went to school in London, followed by attending Oxford Brookes University in the School of Architecture. After graduating in 1964, Lari and her husband returned to Pakistan, where she opened her own company. The time was difficult as construction site workers constantly challenged her authority and expertise because she was a woman. She built a successful architectural career designing office buildings, hotels, and apartments. The latter part of her career was spent with her Heritage Foundation to help people restore their lives, dignity, and homes after disasters. Lari called it "Barefoot social architecture," using naturally available materials of mud, bamboo, and recycled materials. She also set up training programs to educate local people on building safer, inexpensive dwellings with their own hands. Lari's concepts are the opposite of the usual "international colonial charity model that believes in treating people as victims, giving them handouts, telling them to use concrete and all kinds of materials that are going to be even more destructive to the planet." [13] She believes that the approach does not work.

    Since 2010, Pakistan has endured multiple significant floods and earthquakes, destroying the homes of already impoverished people. Lari believed the usual tents sent by charity groups to house people were not long-lasting and did not fit with the people's lifestyles. Lari designed shelters or living places (10.5.17) made from bamboo, mud, and lime, locally sourced, sustainable materials. The latched roofs and supporting bamboo poles were constructed first, followed by mud/lime bricks. The walls were covered with smoothed mud and frequently decorated with local designs. A family could build one or more of the structures. The building could be built on stilts for flood-prone areas, mud floors, or platforms. The people were trained in simple construction techniques and could create their housing. Thousands of these styles of houses have been constructed in Pakistan. The video is a TED Talk by Lari.

    mud brick building in a hexagon shape with thatched roofing
    Figure \(\PageIndex{17}\): Pakistan dwellings (CC BY 3.0)
    Interactive Element: Yasmeen Lari

    Award-winning architect and humanitarian Yasmeen Lari says it's time to redesign foreign aid to promote self-reliance rather than dependence on handouts. As Pakistan's first female architect, Yasmeen led a glittering career designing government complexes and major landmarks. After retiring, she shifted her focus to building sustainable low-cost homes in some of Pakistan's poorest areas, and shares her passion for how to deliver social and ecological justice through architecture. Yasmeen Lari is a world-famous pioneer of zero carbon architecture and designer of over 50,000 zero carbon, low-cost homes in her home country of Pakistan. Yasmeen Lari qualified as Pakistan's first female architect in 1963, and lives in Karachi. She rose to become a nationally famous 'starchitect' during her early career. Since her official retirement from architectural practice in 2000, her UN-recognised charity' Heritage Foundation Pakistan' has built thousands of zero carbon homes for some of the poorest rural villages in Pakistan. She was awarded the Fukuoka Prize in 2016, and the Jane Drew prize in 2020. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

    [9] Retrieved from:

     [13] Shigeru Ban named 2014 Pritzker Prize Winner"ArchDaily.



    [12] Retrieved from

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