The Paradigms of Architecture and Designed Place are Shifting

“Place” has an evolving role in the world. Society is making a shift from geo-based networks, to technologically-facilitated relational networks, and people are considering alternatives for what architecture has classically provided to the world. 

The large influx of digital technology in the last twenty years has radically shaped the first-world perception of place, along with its value. While historically time, place, and language have been the backbone of connectivity, a new digital dimension has arrived on the scene radically shifting the framework in which humans operate. This has led our society to augment and replace some functions of built space altogether. New social facilitators have recently blossomed with the integration of the internet; for example consumerism, the largest economic driver in our country, is growing less dependent on built space as the percentage of goods bought online has grown from just 2% in 2004 to 6% in 2013 - now a $1.2 trillion dollar industry. The store is not just a physical place but also a digital screen accessed wherever the consumer chooses. Traffic is no longer the colloquial business term referring to a quantity of people who visit a physical address, but a digital one. Furthermore, this consumer-driven economy has turned into an experience economy where products become services that are experienced over time. Consumers are spending more today on intangibles such as event planning, admission to experiences, digital media and apps, and personal or brand reputation, than ever before. In fact, 86% of everything produced in the United States is an intangible, up from 32% in 1985.

Education, the workplace, and healthcare have likewise been affected by the shifting need for built space as students and workers increasingly participate and contribute remotely through technology. Schools, businesses, and healthcare providers alike are now competing in digital verticals that didn’t exist 20 years ago, not only for constituents and talent, but to be sustainable, viable and relevant. Our lives are becoming ever more digital in a physical world. This “trend” is not going away, and will only become more apparent in the years to come. 

Other factors also play into the shifting architectural paradigms of our time. For the first time ever, according to the World Health Organization, the majority of the world’s population lives in a city, and this proportion continues to grow. “One hundred years ago, 2 out of every 10 people lived in an urban area. By 1990, less than 40% of the global population lived in a city, but as of 2010, more than half of all people live in an urban area. By 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will live in a city, and by 2050, this proportion will increase to 7 out of 10 people.” This unprecedented change has profound impacts for architecture. Built space will have to accommodate the needs of these populations and assimilate the digital infrastructure the population will demand. The use of resources in an efficient and sustainable manner will require this assimilation to be continually streamlined until the digital infrastructure that facilitates commerce, education, socialization, and entertainment is indistinguishable from built space. Once this is realized, the value we offer our clients will be dependent upon our ability to design digitally and physically harmonious environmental experiences.