From Wellbeing in Interiors to the Future of Cities: The Most Relevant Architecture Themes of 2021

Table of Contents

If last year we concentrated all our efforts and attention on the climate crisis and how we will live together, this second year of the pandemic was a tremendous opportunity to continue with the reflection and deepening debate on the most urgent issues in architecture. Through calls, articles, interviews, debates and projects, ArchDaily’s Monthly Topics of 2021 presented a response each month, rich in research and reflection about the most relevant issues – from interior wellbeing, green architecture, adaptive reuse, migration and equity, to rendering, automation in architecture, collective design and the future of cities.

Aiming to provide inspiration, knowledge and tools, and always seeking to “empower all who make architecture happen to create a better quality of life” we summarise this year’s topics by presenting the publications that most impacted our readers. Goodbye 2021, Hello 2022!

Interior Wellbeing

“Many architects and designers have highlighted the importance of taking into account all five senses during the design process, in order to create a successful user experience. Fortunately, many strategies have been implemented to facilitate the experience of those who are physically impaired, however, little is being done to aid those who feel helpless and restricted due to mental illnesses and traumatic experiences.”

© Manolo Yllera. ImageOficinas de Sony Music en Madrid / AECOM.

“This is not an easy consideration. Consolidation projects, refurbishments, office moves –all these initiatives have been frozen and their slow reactivation is occurring amidst an atmosphere of uncertainty and a difficult mix of cynicism, reluctance, and even fear over implementing the wrong solutions. Can strategic design help executives assess and execute the appropriate steps for their company’s return to the office? Yes.”

© Maarten Willemstein. ImageBar Botanique Café Tropique / Studio Modijefsky.

Green Architecture

“How many changes have you done to your interior space during this past year? Whether it was a change of furniture layout, repainting the walls, adding more light fixtures or perhaps even removing them, after spending so much time in one place, the space you were once used to didn’t make sense anymore. We could blame the overall situation for how we’ve been feeling lately, but as a matter of fact, the interior environment plays a huge role in how we feel or behave as well. However, if you were wondering why some neighbours seem much more undisturbed and serene even in the midst of a pandemic, it could be because the interior is greener on the other side.”

© Katsumasa Tanaka. ImageHospitalidad exuberante.

“Not enough can be said about the benefits of incorporating plants indoors. The integration of greenery indoors serves many purposes, be it practical, aesthetic, or psychological. Even though there are basic requirements for incorporating greenery into homes, well-thought-out plant selections and locations are characteristically different around the world. Upon reviewing recent work, a few recurring landscape design patterns emerge, each reflecting distinctive climates, building styles, and traditional building techniques.”

© Steven Keating. ImagePabellón de seda.

Collective Design

“Popularly known as the lotus, the aquatic species Nelumbo nucifera has a useful particularity. Its leaves are self-cleaning, or ultra-hydrophobic. This means that no particles of dirt or water adhere to its leaf, which is especially useful in the humid and muddy environments where the plant typically grows. However, this effect does not derive from a perfectly smooth surface or a resinous layer on the leaves. The lotus is, in fact, full of tiny folds that reduce the area of the contact surface and repel all the particles that try to adhere there. The lotus effect has been studied by nanotechnologists in order to apply this same effect to products, such as surfaces, paints, fabrics, and tiles that can easily clean themselves. As trivial as this may seem, when we think of the resources applied to cleaning skyscraper glass or even of the reduction in photovoltaic energy generation due to dust on solar panels, we can get a sense of the infinite possibilities that hydrophobic surfaces could represent.”

© Matthew Schwartz. ImageEl Coliseo.

“At the heart of it, architecture is an inter-disciplinary profession. Ranging from structural engineers to quantity surveyors, a design project thrives from the collaboration of individuals from various fields of work. An often-overlooked connection is the link between the fields of architecture and archaeology, which in more ways than one have a lot in common. In a time of increased awareness on issues of sustainability and heritage, the expertise present in the field of archaeology plays a vital part in the preservation of architectural landmarks of historical significance. This expertise can also play a significant part in creating sensitive architectural interventions suitable for their context, contemporary in their design while responding to historical precedents.”

© Arq. Julio Andrés Pinedo Agudelo. ImageRender simulando ser una maqueta física.


“2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic forced architectural students around the world to go virtual with their classes and coursework, transforming the way architecture was both taught and learned. Once based primarily on in-class participation, and collaboration, architectural workshops had to take on whole new methods of instruction. Conversations and debates between students and their instructors, a key element of architectural education were relegated to phone and video calls as well as written documents, making digital formatting an essential tool for students to share their ideas and receive feedback on their work.”

Cortesia de Steven Emerson. ImageDesenvolvido para Harmony Timber Solutions (

“Incredible lighting, shining finishes, healthy trees, and properly positioned human figures seem to be the perfect kit for a good and traditional image of architecture, which, however, is not always representative of reality or context. We are accustomed to thinking of renderings as visions of future buildings, occupied and in use, which serve to sell or convince customers of the worth of a project. But what if rendered images also helped us understand the construction, systems, and functioning of some parts of the building? We talked to two professionals who have developed images that are both beautiful and explanatory.”

Cortesía de BIG

“Fifty-one years ago, in 1970, a Japanese roboticist named Masahiro Mori came up with the concept of the “Uncanny Valley”. Around the same time, architectural renderings done using analog methods were still in vogue – collages and photomontages used to get ideas across to clients. A decade later, personal computers came along, and that saw the emergence of CAD and the wider adoption of digital rendering. Today’s architectural renderings are almost imperceptible from reality, with the increase in sophistication of rendering software. We struggle to tell the difference between what is a rendering and what is not – or rather we are able to tell a slight difference and it leaves us slightly uncomfortable, which brings us to Mori’s uncanny valley.”

Cortesia de Prashant Ashoka. ImageEterea House / Prashant Ashoka.

Automation in Architecture

“Anyone who lives in a big city may have dreamed of moving elsewhere and living isolated, in a house among the trees or on a deserted beach. During the pandemic and the endless months of quarantine, many more may have had this same idea. As romantic and seductive as this may seem, however, living deep in nature comes with some important practical challenges. Rarely would anyone give up the little comforts they are used to, like turning on a faucet or charging their cell phone. If the location is, in fact, remote, it may not have electricity, drinking water, gas, sewage, or solid waste collection. But there remain several possibilities for a life with comfort and without neighbors. What are the main solutions to enable this and how can an architectural project provide an off-the-grid life?”

© Joshua Perez. ImageICON y New Story Vivienda Asequible – Tabasco, México.

“The viability of 3D Printing in architecture – has, at the very least – seen a seismic shift over the past few years. Usually relegated to prototypes or conceptual models, 3D Printed building designs are increasingly being actualised as physical projects. In 2013, WinSun, a Chinese company – was able to print 10 houses in a 24-hour period, becoming one of the first companies to achieve this feat using 3D Printing technology. More recently, in 2018, a family in France became the first in the world to live in a 3D Printed house. The city of Dubai is also seeking to have a quarter of its buildings be 3D Printed by 2025. These examples display the upwards category of this technology, and how it is very likely, as the years go by, this automation of building fabrication is even more integrated into the construction process than it is right now.”

© Iago Corazza. ImageTECLA, Vivienda impresa en 3D por WASP y Mario Cucinella Architects.

Local Materials

“Taking advantage of abundant resources and local labour are key concepts for sustainable architecture, which are often overlooked at the expense of solutions replicated from other contexts. With new demands and technologies, the globalization of building materials and construction techniques, is there still room for local materials? More specifically in relation to 3D printed constructions, are we destined to erect them only in concrete?”

© Salva Lopez. ImageCasa Ter / MESURA

“Along with concerns about our environment, new movements, words, concepts, and terms related to these issues constantly emerge, which require us to always remain up to date. The word sustainability itself faced some resistance until it was incorporated into common vocabulary and used widely in the most diverse contexts. Currently, much discussion surrounds the terms circular economy, resilience, the 4 Rs, urban mining, and others. In addition, there are some sustainability-related movements that have been incorporated from activism in other fields, showing the fluidity of such issues. One such initiative is the 0 kilometre materials movement, which has been featured in manifestos and some projects, albeit timidly, in recent times.”

© Ralf Steinberger via Flickr, bajo licencia the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

“Every year, in the hot, dry town of Djenné in Central Mali, something special takes place – La Fête de Crépissage. Roughly translated to the “Day of Plastering”, this day sees the entire community of Djenné collaborate to reinforce the mud walls of the Great Mosque of Djenné – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the African continent’s most distinctive architectural landmarks.”

© Luke Hayes

Adaptive Reuse

“Sustainable architecture begins with designing for longer lifecycles and reuse. Looking to create more inclusive and viable futures, architects are exploring adaptive reuse as one of the best strategies to address the climate crisis and promote social justice. Reuse keeps the culture of an area alive, bridging between old and new as projects push the boundaries of circular and adaptive design.”

© José Hevia. ImageRenovación de una casa de pueblo / unparelld’arquitectes.

“Perhaps one of the most common phrases you’ll hear when talking about interior renovations is “whatever you initially planned on spending, double it, and double the time with it”. Renovations, regardless of their scale, can be very time consuming and costly, especially when unexpected changes pop up last minute. However, we are often met with situations where the interior layout is no longer efficient or we feel that the interior design is a little outdated and it’s time for a change.” 

Cortesía de la mina de sal de Wieliczka

“One site, however, has stood out from the rest and given the country a royal status. Tucked beneath the Malinowka stream, just outside the southern city of Krakow, is one of the world’s oldest and largest hand-chiseled underground mines that has been transformed into an expansive, all-inclusive complex. From a naturally-healing health center to a secluded church and an underground bungee jumping platform, this colossal adaptive reuse project is the Wieliczka Salt Mine.”

© Leonardo Finotti. ImageMinimod Curucaca / MAPA


“Considering that housing is a primary human need, using industrial methods for the construction of affordable and good quality housing has always interested architects, whether to house growing urban populations or for temporary or emergency settlements, on the most diverse scales. After many attempts throughout history, the question remains whether the popularization of prefabrication in the construction field can be a solution to provide greater equity in access to housing.”

© Iwan Baan. ImageParque Superkilen

“Design stems from nuance, empathy and understanding. The best solutions address the needs, identities and context of a client and place. A designer’s response needs to be informed by these different realities. Intersectional Design is a method of designing by thinking through how factors of identity (gender, race, sexuality, class, and many more) interact with one other. In understanding how these factors combine, we can more deeply understand the context of use and an individual user’s priorities.”

Creado por @benjaminrgrant, fuente @digitalglobe. ImageCampo de refugiados en Dadaab, Kenya.


“What do Katuma, Hagadera, Dagahaley, Zaatari or Ifo bring to mind? They are truly beautiful names, and could easily belong to Italo Calvino’s 55 invisible cities. But they are not invisible cities, they are informal settlements in Kenya and Jordan, home to between 66,000 and 190,000 refugees, mostly from bordering countries, supposedly temporary camps that half a century later are still with us today. Generally lacking in infrastructure, some have schools and hospitals, and Zaatari even has a circus academy, but for most of the people who live there, they are the only cities they have ever known.”

© Nómada Laboratorio Urbano

“Countless people from across various professions have come together to try and make sense of the limits of this territory and to also protest against the vitriolic discourse and actions that have impacted it over the years. With the passage of time, diverse collectives of artists, architects, and activists have collaborated to bring installations to places like Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, and Texas, just to name a few, in an effort to highlight the social processes that define and shape the border region.”

Pozo en Mirny, 525m de profundidad y 1,200m ancho, visible desde el espacio (Imagen © Alexander Veryovkin para Zupagrafika)

“Found worldwide and revolving around various activities, from resource extraction to manufacturing, monotowns are urban settlements created around a single industry that employs the majority of the inhabitants. In the former Eastern Bloc, where monotowns are the remnants of the totalitarian regimes of the last half of the 20th century, the sudden transition from centralized economies to capitalism came as a profound shock to these settlements, generating processes of de-urbanization and internal migration. The following explores the architecture of the Russian Soviet-era monotowns, highlighting the failures, successes and current state of these particular urban environments.”

vía Paris En Common

The Future of Cities

“While the 15-minute city might seem like a utopian impossibility, many policymakers around the globe are already beginning to give their urban cores new life with better city planning, the decentralization of services and goods, and new laws that rezone streets to remove cars and make way for pedestrians and cyclists. One city spearheading this urban strategy is Paris under the leadership of its Mayor, Anne Hidalgo. In fact, it was one of the pillars that drove her political campaign to successful re-election. Her goal is to encourage the development of more self-sufficient communities within each arrondissement of Paris. Dubbed the “ville de quart d’heure”, or the quarter-hour city, the goal is to transform the capital into more efficient neighborhoods to reduce pollution and create socially and economically diverse areas.”

Cortesia de AI SpaceFactory

“When we explore urban visions of the past anticipating the future, it is common to find exaggerated and even funny predictions. As for the promises of architecture and, consequently, of our cities, it is not an easy task to predict future developments clearly either. By looking at industry trends and using all of our imaginations, could we tell what cities will be like in tens or hundreds of years? Their materials, their appearance, their way of building and thinking? Will it be a more pristine and minimalist future or a more organic and complex future? How will new technologies and building materials affect the shape, aesthetics, and prosperity of the cities of tomorrow?”

© Jon Wallis

New Practices

“The issues of the built environment are no longer exclusive to the incumbents who build and design it and have become transversal questions in our society. From the citizens who question the quality of their public spaces to the self-trained builder erecting a tiny house in the woods, to the homeowners using an app to codesign their interiors during lockdown, we want to have a saying and we want to take action. Why does architecture have to be so uncertain, so distant?”

Via Balenciaga lanza un videojuego para su colección otoño 2021

“You might have heard that Mark Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become a Metaverse Company, and earlier this year, Epic Games, the company that develops the Unreal Engine announced that it completed a 1 billion round of funding to support the long-term vision for the metaverse. Metaverse is definitely the hottest buzzword in the tech scene. In this article, we will briefly discuss what is Metaverse, who will build it, and most importantly why it matters for architects, and how can designers play a significant role in this upcoming digital economy?”

Cortesia de David Correa / Achim Menges. ImageFabricación de filamentos fusionados para una apertura sensible al clima de estado multi-cinemático

“While we are still trying to understand the possibilities and limits of three-dimensional printing and additive manufacturing, a new term has emerged for our vocabulary. 4D printing is nothing more than a digital manufacturing technology -3D printing- which includes a new dimension: the temporal. This means that the printed material, once ready, will be able to modify, transform or move autonomously due to its intrinsic properties that respond to environmental stimuli.”

© Karisman. ImageHereretopia”, 2021, Unique Non Fungible Token

Year in Review

“While some countries witnessed a return to alternative normality, opening up to the world through travel and events, others stayed in lockdown, expanding furthermore the inequality gaps. Nevertheless, this year also brought a lot of hope in all aspects, raising questions and building solutions for the near future.  With a major focus on climate urgency, biomedical research as well as notions of hybridity, 2021 has triggered new understandings of the environment that surrounds us and of our place in this world.”

© Salva Lopez. ImageSix N. Five Studio Renovation / Isern Serra

“As 2021 comes to an end, we look back at how this year introduced new normals and raised questions about what the future of the built environment could look like. In retrospect, not much has changed in regards to where people are spending most of their time. Following constant changes in commuting restrictions and the continuation of the pandemic, people acknowledged that most of their time will be spent indoors, so they adapted their living and working spaces accordingly.”

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