back to

e-flux conversations

The Dispersal of Architecture

The world’s population is to increase by between 1.5 and 2.5 billion by 2050. In the coming two decades “more than seven hundred million households will be added,” according to Tobias Just, professor of real estate management at the University of Regensburg. “But because urbanization is advancing rapidly,” adds Just, “especially in Africa and Asia, and the relocation of a household from the countryside to the city creates an additional need for housing, about a billion more dwellings need to be completed by 2030 to meet demand.”

It is clear from the numbers alone that the form of future residential buildings can no longer be addressed by means of conventional architecture. The question then becomes: What form will these dwellings take?

Most occupants of these new structures will not have the money to finance a house as we generally know it, or even an apartment in a high-rise. According to UN Habitat, 400 million city dwellers already live in critically overcrowded accommodations, especially in South Asia and India, where over a third of the urban population lives in spaces occupied by more than three people. In New York, as of this writing, twenty-two thousand children live on the street—the highest number since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Seventy-two percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives in slums; in Southeast Asia the number is 59 percent. Both economically and ecologically, it will be impossible to meet housing demand with the traditional methods and forms of architecture and urbanism.

The problem is exacerbated by the adoption of Western forms of urban sprawl in Asia. Traffic jams in major Chinese cities have taken on apocalyptic dimensions, even though population density in large cities in China and India is still relatively low. According to statistics compiled by the German Federal Agency for Civic Education, only 3 percent of the urban population of China lives in Shanghai, whereas 42 percent of the Japanese urban population lives in the metropolitan area of Tokyo. It is not difficult to imagine what will happen if Chinese metropolises catch up with Japan in terms of traffic and population density. If only because of dwindling resources, the European and American model of domestic architecture and “social housing” has come to an end. The issue then is how to provide residents, within the smallest area and for as little money as possible, space for privacy, shelter, and the exchange of information, as well as communal spaces that transcend familiar building typologies—and how to convert and repopulate buildings (estates, factories, administration buildings) that have been abandoned in huge numbers in thinned-out peripheries and areas beset by population loss.

Read the full article here.