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The future of architecture

Dr. Xavier Costa

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Xavier Costa, dean of Northeastern’s Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design, co-​​chaired the 2012 Asso­ci­a­tion of Col­le­giate Schools of Archi­tec­ture Inter­na­tional Con­fer­ence, which took place on June 20–23 in his home­town of Barcelona, Spain. We asked Costa, a world-​​renowned archi­tect, scholar and leader in archi­tec­tural edu­ca­tion, to expound upon the expe­ri­ence, in which leaders in the field dis­cussed the rela­tion­ship between archi­tec­ture and civic engage­ment, acad­emia, tech­nology, urban­iza­tion, glob­al­iza­tion and sustainability.

A series of powerful forces, including globalization, rapid urbanization and the expanding roles of technology, is primed to shape the future of architecture in both the academic and professional realms. What impact do you predict each of these factors will have on the field over the next decade?

Sev­eral pro­found global trans­for­ma­tions are taking place in the field of archi­tec­ture and insti­tu­tions of higher edu­ca­tion should be able to antic­i­pate the future course of events by addressing emerging needs and pro­viding intel­lec­tual leadership.

Archi­tec­ture itself is becoming a global pro­fes­sion. Tra­di­tion­ally, archi­tects and urban designers used to build locally, but now they are more likely to be working in loca­tions throughout the world. This is espe­cially true during inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions for urban devel­op­ment projects in regions such as Asia or the Middle East.

In terms of rapid urban­iza­tion, cities are growing quickly — and megac­i­ties are no longer exclu­sive to the western world. This calls for a new capacity to design urban devel­op­ments on a scale that has never existed before.

Finally, new tech­nolo­gies, such as intel­li­gent mate­rials, energy-​​efficient building solu­tions and dig­ital rep­re­sen­ta­tion soft­ware, are rev­o­lu­tion­izing both the design and con­struc­tion processes, which are becoming more sus­tain­able and energy-​​conscious.

How would these changes be reflected in both the classroom and co-op experiences of Northeastern architecture students?

In these rapidly changing times for our field, we con­stantly antic­i­pate future con­di­tions, keeping a close eye on new tech­nolo­gies and the impact of glob­al­iza­tion. The School of Archi­tec­turepro­vides lead­er­ship and edu­cates stu­dents not only to be suc­cessful archi­tects today but also five and 10 years down the road.

Through expe­ri­en­tial learning and co-​​op, our stu­dents get first­hand expe­ri­ence in their field from the very begin­ning. Archi­tec­ture stu­dents do co-​​op all over the world, from Boston and New York City, to Ger­many, Spain and China. Through inter­na­tional co-​​op, we offer stu­dents the chance to get valu­able expe­ri­ence working in a dif­ferent con­text, one that reflects the con­di­tions of a pro­fes­sional envi­ron­ment and intro­duces them to new mate­rials and technology.

We are cur­rently devel­oping new part­ner­ships with sev­eral col­leges — including the Col­lege of Engi­neering, the Col­lege of Sci­ence and the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties — to approach archi­tec­ture from an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary per­spec­tive to enhance our under­standing and knowl­edge of sus­tain­ability and new mate­rials and technology.

You have called Barcelona one of the world’s main urban laboratories, where new ideas for architectural and urban design have been tested and implemented. How did growing up that environment influence your decision to become an architect?

Barcelona expe­ri­enced a three-​​decade-​​long phase in which it devel­oped into an urban lab­o­ra­tory — one that has been regarded highly and fol­lowed closely by many other cities around the world. It has a very rich archi­tec­tural cul­ture and those of us who grew up in Barcelona and became archi­tects within the last 30 years have been greatly influ­enced by its urban transformation.

The suc­cess of the Barcelona model has to do with architecture’s capacity to engage many other sec­tors of city. There has been a real and fruitful exchange between archi­tects and a range of dif­ferent com­mu­ni­ties in the city, which has forged a strong sense of the impor­tance of inter­dis­ci­pli­nary work. You learn that you have to work, for example, with researchers in urban studies, with engi­neers for urban sys­tems, and with artists to define mean­ingful public spaces.

What is great about Northeastern’s School of Archi­tec­ture is that it does just that — our pro­gram inter­acts with design, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and arts and media. This is extremely impor­tant today because indi­vidual dis­ci­plines cannot be working in iso­la­tion. Nowa­days, the emphasis in this field is on pro­ducing fresh, inte­grated ideas that pro­vide a strong response to cities’ new needs.