Imagine a highway designed to double as a water distribution and treatment plant, or a public park that integrates a whole community while also producing clean energy. There is no need for imagination. Multifunctional infrastructure makes such projects the keystone of the industry’s trends and a reality that meets various infrastructure needs at once. “Multifunctional infrastructure could provide solutions to more than one particular problem,” says Architect and Urbanist Iñaki Echeverria. “The country should no longer be able to design projects that serve one sole purpose.”
The Architecture Possibilities Are Endless
Architecture for multifunctional infrastructure aims to gather different functions in one space. Jacinto Arenas, CEO of Ares Arquitectos, says that functionality should be considered on a number of levels when developing a project. “We have to improve life quality for the public. Projects should aim to improve the lives of the people who will live and work there,” he says.
According to Echeverria, projects should be viewed as more than solving just one problem, but they should also incorporate elements that indirectly improve life quality. “Instead of a specific solution to a problem, we understand projects as opportunities to maximize potential and for innovation. We analyze as many factors and shape it to become much more than what it was meant to be,” he explains. “For example, we designed a sports center in Atlacomulco in the State of Mexico but its beautiful lakes double as a water-treatment plant for the community.”
Echeverría warns that this opportunity can be missed, as was the case of Mexico City’s Periférico ringway. The project involved a high cost and takes up a great deal of area in the city but when developing, it was only considered to meet a transportation need when it could have been much more. “It is a missed opportunity to repurpose it into something that could provide benefit for the rest of the population,” he says. “It could include a route to carry optical fiber or as a solar energy generator.” He adds that, if properly considered, the structure of the road could work as a water distribution network and treatment plant, at the same time solving the problem of its flooding.
Aesthetics vs. Functionality
Architecture should be both aesthetic and functional, but which one should prevail? For Omar León, Architecture Director of ZVA Group, the answer lies in analyzing projects in the context of both the client and surroundings. “Architecture never stops evolving and because of that we strive to innovate with designs that disrupt the environment and take the next step into holistic projects that will become breaking points for the transformation of their surroundings,” he says.
For a project to become iconic and succeed in being aesthetic and multifunctional it is crucial to base its planning in a deep understanding of customer feedback, he adds. Echeverria agrees. “Developers must push the purpose infrastructure will serve and who its aimed for, to truly maximize its potential and take full advantage of the opportunity,” he explains.
But architects must also consider that the demands are constantly changing with new generations and there is the need to strike a balance. “The challenge becomes one of knowing how to combine the different methodologies for different uses,” says Salvador Rivas, Director of s*arc: Salvador Rivas architects.
As architects face the challenge of designing projects that meet multiple needs, they must also consider meeting different demands and the ability of projects to merge with their surroundings. The matter becomes one of using different typologies in architecture to design and build chameleons. “Adaptability is key as architects and designers can no longer plan buildings that will last for a century. Rapidly changing contexts and patterns call for adaptability, which must be supported by the use of technologies,” adds Rivas.
Technology can be a great ally for architects. New materials allow the creation of more sustainable and flexible projects. According to ZVA’s Architecture Director, facades represent a huge area of opportunity to shape projects. Intelligent glasses, such as the ones designed by Saint-Gobain or Guardian Glass, can allow a simple window to serve multiple purposes such as capturing solar energy, just as a front wall can be designed to gather rainwater for gardening.
The possibilities are endless, with or without cutting-edge technologies. “Examples of multifunctional infrastructure do not necessarily represent technology. They reflect more an appreciation of the interdependence of the various natural and man-made components that make up our environment,” explains The Water Channel.
To better understand the interconnection of natural and artificial components in designing a multifunctional project, the setting is key. “By analyzing the location, architects can design better buildings to be aesthetic, functional and operational,” explains León. “This planning takes into account everything from the sun’s position to the direction of the wind, and many other factors that help create a high-quality project and design.” For example, buildings and houses are being designed to literally chase the sun to use resources more efficiently. Such is the case of The Everingham Rotating House in New South Wales, Australia.
Unleashing Public Spaces’ Potential: Parque La Mexicana
How does an architectural chameleon look like in reality? There is no need to look hard as the example is right in front of our eyes: public spaces. Echeverria believes these are the ultimate form of multifunctional urban infrastructure. Take public parks for example. Not only can they be a communitarian space for leisure, but they can also serve as a green lung for cities while having artificial lakes that can be used as water treatment plants.
But the benefits of urban infrastructure are not seen in what it provides to users, but also lie in the rehabilitation of a neglected area. Parque La Mexicana is a great success case for a project that succeeded in reclaiming abandoned land. The project made people take ownership of their surroundings in the middle of one of the most densified and important corporate corridors of the Mexican Capital, Santa Fe.
The CEO of Ares Arquitectos believes this project contributed to solving some of Santa Fe’s urban planning problems, as the neighborhood was densified without prioritizing public spaces. “Urban spaces need to be planned in advance so that density does not create other problems related to mobility and basic infrastructure. Higher density should not come at the sacrifice of a better quality of life for citizens,” he explains. “Parque La Mexicana has been a great project where finally green and community areas were given the importance that they should have had years ago.”
Just as with Parque La Mexicana, Mexican cities are looking for new uses for public spaces. Projects such as the Tlalpan Viaduct in Mexico City, the Tec District in Monterrey, or the regeneration of the second section of the Interceptor Canal in Aguascalientes are some examples. “The market demands straightforward solutions that innovate in infrastructure development,” says Echeverria. “The discussion for social and sustainable infrastructure is becoming increasingly important.”