The James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University, designed by Snohetta and Clark Nexsen, is an example of how buildings are embracing technology to provide innovative solutions. Here,
The James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University, designed by Snohetta and Clark Nexsen, is an example of how buildings are embracing technology to provide innovative solutions. Here,

Urbanization is increasing at an unprecedented rate, with more than half of the world’s population living in cities today and more than 70 percent expected to do so by 2050—and this should be good news when it comes to innovation, according to a new report released by the AIA.  “Cities as a Lab: Designing the Innovation Economy,” the eighth report in an AIA series of reports on innovative, healthy, sustainable, and livable communities, examined how cities are responding to an uncertain future. The conclusion? Cities across the world are hotbeds of innovative solutions to changing needs, as well as changing climates and potential natural disasters—and this provides a wealth of opportunities for key players across the green building industry.

“Cities have become a laboratory for change,” said Clark Manus, FAIA, CEO of Heller Manus Architects in San Francisco and former AIA national president, at the release of the report. “And design serves as the critical lynchpin.”

In addition to identifying key trends developing in cities—such as the rise of Ecodistricts, the growing use of public space to foster connectivity, the changing design of workspaces and collaborations to better promote collaboration, the rise of temporary architecture and pop-up buildings to experiment with new ideas, and the emergence of resilient solutions in response to climate change and natural disasters—the report also includes a selection of case studies from across the globe to showcase innovative practices in action.

“The report discusses the design and policy choices shaping the urban environment now and in the future,” said Brooks Rainwater, director of public policy for the AIA, at the report’s release as part of the National Leadership Speaker Series: Resiliency & Security in the 21st Century in Washington, D.C. last Friday. Many of the opportunities for the design community, lies in the growing focus on resiliency, Manus said during the press conference releasing the study. “A truly innovative city must not react, but prepare for unexpected eventualities,” he said. “The coming decades foreshadow more frequent natural disasters with limited resources and public health challenges. As society urbanizes, new doors can open for innovation that will magnify our potential to create.”

Among the examples of resilient, forward-thinking cities and their innovative design solutions included in the report are:

  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
    The city’s district of the Vancouver Olympic Village and the Southeast False Creek Neighborhood Energy Utility has achieved a 55 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over conventional HVAC systems, and the city is currently planning steps toward a zero-carbon, zero-waste future under its Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.

  • Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    For a city located below sea level, adapting to rising tides is essential for survival and Amsterdam’s Ijburg development houses 12,000 residents who are working within a Cradle-to-Cradle city that consists of eight islands of floating homes. Amsterdam also is working on a smart city project that focuses on sustainable public spaces, mobility, living, and working.

  • Medellin, Columbia
    Aiming to revitalize its poorest areas, Medellin now features transit links to connect hillside slums with formal jobs below in the city, and where rapid bus transit was not feasible due to hill inclines, gondolas and escalators were installed to aid in resident mobility. Transit terminals, libraries, and sports centers were upgraded, with architecture taking a core role in the social revitalization.

  • Boston
    Formerly derelict wharves have been transformed into a multidisciplinary hub for innovation and manufacturing, attracting 200 companies and 4,000 jobs to date.

  • San Francisco
    Giving second life to the San Francisco Chronicle Building in downtown, the new 5M development from Forest City Enterprises has grown from a few subleases for tech companies to an inter-disciplinary ecosystem of more than 1,000 firms in technology, the arts, and manufacturing. The existing four-acre site will be redeveloped over the next 10 years to support this community to ultimately provide 1.85 million square feet of office, residential, retail, cultural, and public space.

Click here to download a PDF of the full report.