The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings

By Marc Kushner

TED/Simon & Schuster. 176 pp. $16.99)

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Reviewed by

David L. Ulin


What is the future of architecture? That question grows more compelling the more we think about cities as vast networks in which infrastructure and sustainability are two sides of a very complicated dynamic. The way we build teaches important lessons about who we are.

Not only that, suggests Marc Kushner in The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, but also "the world's 1.75 billion smartphones are fundamentally changing the way architecture is consumed." Yes, consumed. Architecture is (or should be) not just practical but also aesthetic: art with which we interact.

How else to make sense of, say, the Aqua Tower in Chicago, an 82-story residential project in which irregularly shaped balconies appear to ripple, creating the illusion of a waterfall or cloud? It's designed for people to live in, yes, but also for people to look at: architecture as experience, as a key component of a dimensional cityscape.

Kushner's book, part of a new series called TED Originals, grew out of a 2014 TED talk. He's the founder of the architecture firm HWKN and the website Architizer.com. Both try to make architecture accessible, part of a public dialogue.

The 100 structures he examines here - some not yet built - highlight that objective, moving from the repurposed (a Netherlands cathedral turned into a bookstore, a Brooklyn warehouse now a 73-room hotel) to the revolutionary (a floating pool in New York's East River that would function as a kind of Brita filter, cleaning half a million gallons daily; a New Zealand house on sleds that can be towed inland from a flooding shore).

Other designs challenge our preconceptions. The 3D Print Canal House in Amsterdam seeks to make a Dutch canal house out of digitally printed materials. Dune plans to use bacteria to turn sand into sandstone - and thus "create a structurally sound and livable structure" that might offer "rapidly deployable refugee housing" in the Sahara.

The idea is to produce structures and ways of working that are innovative, socially conscious, and forward-looking. At the end of this exhilarating, lavishly illustrated survey, Kushner writes: "Remember: Architecture doesn't just represent your community - it shapes your society. If you ask architecture to work for you, and to reflect the priorities of your community and the Earth, you will be amazed by the possibilities architecture can bring to every aspect of your life."

This review originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.