6 July 2022

‘The Rise of Boring Architecture: Why the Planet Needs Buildings to be Radically More Human’

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In his TED Talk, Thomas Heatherwick explains why the planet needs buildings to be radically more human. He describes the epidemic of soulless, inhuman places that has emerged in so many cities around the world and makes the case for buildings that people cherish and adapt, not hate and demolish.

You can listen to the Talk here or watch below, and find out more about the associated campaign, Humanise, here.

We live in a throw-away society. 

Shopping trolleys are still filled with single-use plastics. Fast-fashion means clothes barely last one season. Our phones are replaced every couple of years. It’s no surprise then, that buildings are suffering the same fate.

All over the world, humdrum designs built to poor briefs are being torn down, having lasted a matter of decades. Worse still, they are replaced by more of the same. Like endless photocopies with ever-fading ink, monotonous buildings blight our towns and cities – two dimensional and monolithic. Dull, flat, shiny and straight.

It’s not just our mental and societal health that is impacted. Carbon emissions from the construction sector sky-rocket thanks to the demolition of buildings that nobody cares about.

In the USA, one billion square feet of buildings are demolished every year.

In the UK, 50,000 buildings are destroyed each year and the average life of a commercial building is only about 40 years.

It’s hard not to take this personally: at my age, if I was a commercial building in Britain, I’d have been killed 12 years ago!

There are ways we can reverse this. There’s a lot of thought going into different materials, greater efficiency, community engagement and carbon mitigation.

But one crucial ingredient is missing: emotion. By which I mean the ability of buildings and places to mean something to us. To lift our spirits and connect us.

The truth is, people only care for and adapt things that they love or value. And this applies to objects, buildings and places too. 

All over the UK, you can still find red phone boxes from the 1930s. Some are still payphones. But many more are coffee shops or mini-bookstores. People cherished them and found a way to preserve and reuse them, despite their function now having nothing to do with their form. 

At a very different scale, cathedrals were built at a time when everyone believed in God. 900 years later and members of a far less secular England still get untold joy at their sheer presence, as well as the multiple uses they have for their communities, religious or not.

And that’s what this talk is about. We need to join up the dots between people’s emotional response to the things we design and the state of our planet.  

Let’s create buildings that are radically more human. Buildings that people love and adapt, not hate and demolish.

– Thomas Heatherwick –