Zooming around with jet packs and living in rocket-shaped buildings seemed our destiny during the space age-obsessed 1950s and '60s. With civilian space travel now nearly a reality, how do today's starry-eyed architects see the future?
Well, it turns out a survey of morphing city skylines reveals abstract structures inspired by nature or cultural symbols and engineered to reach higher, glow brighter, curve, and swoop.
These futuristic buildings are not only visually arresting, they offer novel solutions to the challenges that lie ahead, such as harvesting water from clouds (as Dubai's vertigo-inducing, 2,716.5-feet-high Burj Khalifa does), creating high-rise rooftop forests, and offering perks like charging stations for electric cars.
Martha Thorne, executive director of the Pritzker Prize, architecture's most prestigious award, believes that the best buildings balance innovation and beauty with time-tested architectural principles. "First, it needs to be well constructed and function well, but it must also delight," she says. "The delight aspect is the most difficult to pin down, but perhaps the most important."
Consider New Mexico's Spaceport America, a surreal Foster + Partners construction that will soon be the take-off point for Virgin Galactic's civilian space odysseys. Or Zaha Hadid's Galaxy Soho Building, a series of white domed structures connected by skybridges that feels refreshingly fluid amid the imposing architecture that dominates Beijing.
Other buildings that caught our eye are literally futuristic, with launch dates still a year (or a few) away. Yet projects like Abu Dhabi's Saadiyat Island Cultural District are already generating buzz. And that’s part of the point, as cities jockey for influence in the 21st century and strive to appeal to both locals and visitors.
While these buildings instantly crave icon status, Thorne maintains a dose of skepticism. "Many of the advances in architecture come slowly," she says. "Architects who see themselves as marathoners rather than sprinters will create the most forward-thinking and timeless buildings. The qualities of serving the inhabitants and society well, both today and in an unknown future, are worthwhile goals."
These cool buildings give us a glimpse of what our future holds—for the moment, at least. If only someone could get to work on those jet packs.