When Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs began conceptualizing Sidewalk Toronto, the 12-acre Toronto neighbourhood touted to be “a smarter smart city,” they asked themselves one question, “what do 21st-century technologies enable us to do better?” In other words, what can we accomplish today in development and design, that wasn’t possible five years ago, ten years ago, fifty? It’s a question that’s currently shaping the industry as designers, architects, and developers aim to create better spaces that support both people and the planet. Here are five trends currently shaping our environments and changing the world of sustainability and design.
1. Sustainability as a driving force for design
The environment has been making headlines for nearly five decades, but sustainability was often seen as a footnote in most development plans. Today, developers understand that, to create a project that will leave a lasting contribution to the community, a project that responds to market and buyer needs, sustainability must be a driving force from the very beginning of the design process. Sustainability becomes the focus of the project, not an afterthought. From sourcing local and renewable materials to opting for state-of-the-art heating and cooling systems like geothermal, sustainability is being considered at every step.
2. Zero carbon building practices
We’ve all heard of reducing our carbon footprint, well now developers can go one step further and aim for zero carbon building design. By shifting to higher-efficiency systems that rely on low-carbon, renewable energy sources (instead of the traditional fossil fuel-based infrastructure), and using full-cost accounting practices that account for carbon fuel in the costs of owning, constructing, and operating a building, developers can better assess and deliver value to buyers, and help the environment at the same time.
3. Net-zero building
Looking beyond zero carbon, can we, in the future, build homes that don’t require any additional fuel sources, but that produce as much energy as they consume? A group of students from Ryerson and the University of Toronto say yes. Last year, they won a U.S. design competition with LaneZero, a “net-zero” laneway house that aims to address the issues of resource management and urban density. The project is still in limbo (while laneway housing is debated by the City), but it does put the industry one step closer to future “net-zero” design.
4. Flexible space design
Urban density has been, and will continue to be one of the biggest challenges facing all major cities, including Toronto, but, in response, architects and developers will continue to focus on more flexible space design. We’re seeing true mixed-use development where public and private spaces combine to service a variety of purposes and groups. Everything that was once thought of as fixed (e.g. ceiling heights, hall widths, amenity configurations) will evolve to be more adaptable, transmutable, and sustainable, to address the changing ways in which we live.
5. A holistic approach
Focusing on the bigger picture – one that includes not only inspiring architecture and exceptional quality, but also sustainability, preservation of natural resources, and improvements in overall quality of life – will become de rigueur for any developer aiming for longevity and success. More and more, buyers are voicing their opinion through their purchasing decisions, and their demand for sustainable product will continue to fuel investment in green building.