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The future of Architecture: an interview with Ben van Berkel

During our annual trade fair MaterialDistrict Rotterdam (formerly Material Xperience), architect Ben van Berkel and Filippo Lodi of architectural firm UNStudio and UNSense will represent the sector Architecture. Materials related to new technologies are always recognisable in Van Berkel’s work, which they will show in the expo and in the speakers’ programme. Today, Van Berkel paints a picture of his vision for the future of architecture. 

1. How do we build in 100 years if it were up to you?
I believe that in the upcoming decades we will be building much more with circular materials and will be much more mindful of where we use certain materials in buildings. Using technologies like BIM, we can very efficiently relocate materials when we need to re-use buildings or their components. This means that we can significantly reduce our use of raw materials. But there are also new techniques being developed for producing artificial materials such as stone, marble and concrete from waste materials. New chemical strategies have shown that we can even produce meat through certain molecular reactions, so why can’t we do the same thing with more building materials? I hope this will become a reality, as it would mean that we would not be using up our natural supplies, we would instead be promoting circularity and energy neutrality and would be producing and using materials in much more intelligent and efficient ways.

2. What do you think is the best invention ever and why?
In terms of materials, I would say that my favourite would have to be glass. I have always thought that glass is the most exciting material to work with in the built environment. It is almost a non-material and, as such, it regulates the internal qualities and the external forces of space. Historically we can think of amazing structures like the Crystal Palace in London, but on a practical level glass also had other benefits, such increased and improved food production.

3. What do you think are the most important material innovations within your sector of architecture and why?
There are currently some amazing composites being developed that have enormous strength. These materials are very exciting for the design and construction industries and I believe they will become increasingly important in the not too distant future.

4. With which other sector is your sector the most closely related, and is the most similarity or cross-pollination in material innovation?
I think we see the most innovation in the world of product design, for instance with innovations like Gorilla Glass, which is now used in smartphone screens. Spectacular material innovations can also be found in medical devices, such as robotic prosthetics that can be controlled by thought. Architecture can learn a great deal from these kinds of product developments.

5. Which theme is currently the most important in your sector?
I hope it is the integration of tech.

6. MaterialDistrict’s goal is to connect various parties. Which other party or person should the visitor get to know according to you, and why?
The DLR (German Aerospace Centre) in Cologne. They develop incredible materials, like extremely heat resistant, resilient metals that can withstand the most brutal environmental conditions.

About the ambassadors
Founded in 1988 by Van Berkel and Caroline Bos, UNStudio is an international architectural design network based in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Hong Kong and Shanghai. With UNStudio, Van Berkel has realised the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Arnhem Central Station in the Netherlands, the Raffles City Hangzhou mixed-use development, the Canaletto tower in London, a private villa in upstate New York and the Singapore University of Technology and Design, amongst others.

Lodi holds several master’s degrees in engineering, architecture, art and business. As Head of Innovation and Knowledge Management, Lodi leads UNSKnowledge, UNStudio’s strategic research and development thinktank.

In 2018, Van Berkel founded UNSense, an Arch Tech company that designs and integrates human-centric tech solutions for the built environment. Read more about the ambassadors here.

MaterialDistrict Rotterdam
MaterialDistrict Rotterdam is the leading event for R&D and design professionals within six sectors: Architecture, Interiors, Urban & Landscapes, Products, Textiles & Fabrics and Print & Sign. The trade fair takes place from 12 to 14 March 2019 in Rotterdam Ahoy, the Netherlands. Want to visit? Click here for your free ticket!