Summer Design Trends: How Architecture and Engineering Intersect with Outdoor Spaces

As we welcome the summer months, a pivotal season for architectural and engineering exploration, a beautiful symbiosis of these disciplines is making waves in the design of outdoor spaces. This union is the main driving force behind the rise of outdoor havens that marry aesthetics, functionality, and sustainability. These components, while primarily functional, are also becoming distinctive design elements that add to the overall aesthetics of the space.

More than creating visually appealing spaces, this partnership between architecture and engineering is pushing the boundaries of design, promoting sustainability, and paving the way for a future where mankind and nature coexist in harmonious balance.

“A favorite book—and required reading at university—was ‘City’ by renowned American author E.B. White,” expressed EAPC Senior Architect Phil Stahl. “White said, ‘The city is like poetry; it compresses all life, all races, and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.’ To me, outdoor public spaces embody this thought the most.”

1. Embracing Biophilic Designs

Biophilic design principles are a major trend in architecture, utilizing elements that emphasize the human connection to the natural environment. This summer, expect to see an increase in structures that incorporate natural elements like plants, water, and stone, in unique and groundbreaking ways.

Take, for instance, the concept of vertical gardens. This ingenious solution transforms conventional walls into lush, green landscapes, contributing to cooling in the summer heat while promoting biodiversity. On the engineering front, these vertical gardens demand intelligent irrigation systems and plant selection to ensure their viability and longevity.

The Pasona Group Building, Tokyo, Japan: A nine-story building that integrates urban farming within its office spaces, with more than 200 species of fruits, vegetables, and rice grown both inside and on the building’s exterior.

Pasona Building in central Tokyo

2. Maximizing Use of Natural Light and Shade

Savvy use of natural light and shade in architectural designs has always been a crucial strategy for dealing with summer heat. Architects and engineers are now taking this a step further by creating dynamic structures that can adapt to changing sunlight conditions.

Examples include movable canopies and shade sails that can be adjusted based on the sun’s position, optimizing the amount of shade throughout the day. The engineering challenge here lies in developing reliable, durable mechanisms for these movable structures, ensuring they can withstand variable weather conditions.

The Al Bahr Towers, Abu Dhabi, UAE: The design of these towers features a dynamic shading system – a ‘Mashrabiya’ that opens and closes in response to the movement of the sun, reducing solar gain by more than 50%.

Al Bahr Towers in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

3. Pioneering Sustainable Materials

Summer design trends are heavily influenced by the urgent call for sustainability. Architects and engineers are experimenting with materials that are not only environmentally friendly but also thermally efficient.

Innovations like green roofs and walls, permeable paving for better water management, and solar reflective surfaces are becoming increasingly common. There’s an exciting ongoing exploration of materials like rammed earth, bamboo, and reclaimed wood, which are sustainable, beautiful, and can help regulate heat.

The Bullitt Center, Seattle, USA: Dubbed the greenest commercial building in the world, this structure employs reclaimed wood, a green roof, and solar panels, amongst other sustainable features.

4. Merging Indoor and Outdoor Spaces

The line between indoors and outdoors is blurring, as architects design structures that seamlessly transition between the two. Think of expansive glass walls that open fully to connect an interior living space with an exterior patio, or office spaces designed around open-air courtyards.

The engineering challenge here is to ensure structural integrity while maximizing openness and continuity. It’s also essential to think about climate control for these open spaces, necessitating innovative HVAC solutions.

The Glass House, New Canaan, USA: Designed by Philip Johnson, this structure blurs the line between indoor and outdoor with its transparent glass walls offering uninterrupted views of the landscape.

5. Innovative Water Features

Water has a unique appeal in summer, and architects are going beyond traditional pool designs to integrate water features into outdoor spaces. Natural swimming pools, which use plants and microorganisms to keep the water clean, are a prime example of this trend.

These design elements don’t merely offer visual and recreational benefits; they can also contribute to cooling down the surroundings. The science behind these natural pools requires careful planning from engineers to ensure the correct balance of plants and microorganisms.

City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia, Spain: This cultural and architectural complex designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela features a stunningly aesthetic integration of water bodies around and within the structures.

Valencia, Spain. The Reina Sofia Art Palace b

6. Smart Technology Integration

Finally, smart technology is not just for indoor spaces anymore. Outdoor spaces are being equipped with advanced technology like automated irrigation systems, solar-powered lighting, and even outdoor sound systems.

These innovations require significant engineering expertise, from developing energy-efficient systems to weatherproofing technology for outdoor use.

The Edge, Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Touted as the world’s smartest building, it uses smart technology in a myriad of ways, including intelligent, responsive lighting, and energy use systems, many of which extend to the design of its outdoor spaces.

The Edge

“I love the City of Chicago: Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, a section of Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois. It brings together our advanced technology with the unique ambiance of the location and time, crafting one-of-a-kind and cherished life moments,” said Stahl.

The intersection of architecture and engineering is transforming our outdoor spaces this summer, emphasizing nature-inspired designs, sustainability, and tech integration. It’s a fantastic time to reimagine and recreate our relationship with the great outdoors as we lean towards designs that not only look great but also boost our wellbeing and safeguard the planet.

Crown Fountain in Millennium Park in The Loop, downtown Chicago.