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Future scenarios for sustainable designs with Paolo Cresci

André Berlin and Leonardo Giacomobono interview Paolo Cresci, building engineer at Arup


Arup has been dedicated for 75 years to technology research to reach sustainable development in the construction industry. Starting with their first projects, such as the Sidney Opera House, they pushed the idea of a new architecture, where technology plays a fundamental role not only in resolving performance issues but also in space definition, merging Architecture and Engineering. This is the vision of “Total Architecture” that guides the company in its project, a multidisciplinary practice where design is not separated from all the other systems that define the project.

“The term Total Architecture implies that all relevant design decisions have been considered together and have been integrated into a whole by a well-organized team, empowered to fix priorities.”  -Ove Arup

In this way, Architecture is not just what we can see and perceive, but becomes something more complex than that, considering also what is hidden but necessary to develop a project that works in harmony with the community that lives it and with its surroundings, it is a set of different knowledge that come together to achieve overall quality.

Sustainability has been part of Arup’s philosophy in the past, but modern environmental problems require more extreme solutions, that can take us from conventional sustainable design to regenerative projects. The main topic is studying the relation between the built environment and the surroundings, and how we can construct new buildings that not only have zero carbon impact, but a positive effect on the ecosystem. The challenge here is finding new strategies in a situation of climate change, where we need a complete redefinition of boundaries between Humans and Nature.

“To design for the future and not for the present based on the past.”

Old materials, new technologies

 Being Arup a pioneer of new technology in the construction industry, the future-oriented approach is the key to their practice, as demonstrated in their past works and prototypes. The case of “3D Housing 05” designed with CLS Architetti, is particularly interesting and tries to understand the limits and potentialities of 3D printing technology applied to architecture. Speaking of this project, Eng. Paolo Cresci emphasizes the innovation of the approach. Before 3D printers were mostly used to create small objects, while now the technology is developed to a point where it offers the possibility of building a house in the center of Milan. The result was not just a building, it was also architecture, the aesthetic aspect of the surface was not pre-thought, but it emerged due to the construction process, and it’s something new.

In Paolo’s vision there are two key advantages for 3D printing in architecture, the first is using less material, only where it’s needed. Thanks to modern computer software we can define and optimize the shape of the component based on structural or thermal capacities, and robotic printers can be used to build the result of certain optimization.

The second point is the possibility of using local materials as much as possible. Organic materials are sustainable but very different depending on where you are, and this makes more difficult to get a result that combines structural performances with the longevity of the component. So, in this journey around the reduction of carbon and circularity, we must push solutions using new technologies and not only what was given by past techniques, extending the boundaries of what we conceive is possible.

Implementation of new processes is a slow transformation, but there is the possibility to shape architecture in a different way based on technological advancements. This means that if we free up from the rigidity of simplified methods of calculation, the traditional scheme of columns and beams, we move into a new kind of area in which computational power can guide our decisions. The result is an architecture more optimized and unique than the standard “boxes” that we usually have as buildings.

“The point is that we tend to be too confined to the box while designing a building, It’s a box also in terms of thinking, we should really break the box of how we normally use to think.”


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