Architecture and design today: technology, new materials and sustainability

Architecture and design today: technology, new materials and sustainability
  1. Introduction
  2. The role of the architect and the designer in today’s society
  3. Technology and architecture
  4. The new materials of architecture
  5. Sustainable architecture: green inspirations
  6. Florim’s green commitment




Architecture: a discipline which deals with the organisation of space on any scale, mainly the scale on which humans live.

Design: a form of planning which tries to reconcile the technical, functional, economic and aesthetic requirements of mass-produced objects.

Regardless of the scale of the project, architecture and design are linked by indissoluble parallelism which has its roots in the early 1900s.

“From the spoon to the city” is the slogan that has united designers from Walter Gropius and Ernesto Nathan Rogers onwards, promoting a design approach which dedicates the same care to design objects (small scale), interior design (medium scale) and the relationship between architecture and the city (large scale).


Zaha Hadid cutlery service City Life Milan

Two designs by architect Zaha Hadid: from the cutlery service to City Life in Milan

This means that architects and designers are historically connected by their need to free their creativity by experimenting with different scales of intervention and by their ability to think about a project not as a simple expression of trends, but as the result of a journey that has been supported along the way by a strong respect for the context, for the intended use, for the client, for the shapes, for the materials.

The ultimate goal is the same: designing something that can make our life simpler, more comfortable, better. In other words, solving problems through one tool: the project.




The role of the architect and the designer in today’s society

When we think about the role of the architect or the interior designer, we immediately associate it with expensive interventions. This means that less qualified people are often preferred to these professionals or that the client, taking on the role of a designer themselves, decides to carry out the work independently, relying on their own aesthetic judgement. This is a big mistake. Architects and designers don’t just try to ensure pleasing aesthetic results, but are also tasked with interpreting and finding solutions to real needs, while also guaranteeing functionality, efficiency, quality and respect for the area.

The architecture and design sectors have to deal with the contradictory nature of contemporary society, the increasingly demanding requests of public and private clients, openness to international markets, the sudden evolution of new technologies, respect for the historical memory of places, sustainability, market competitiveness and the many stimuli which we are subjected to.

In this context, what role does the architect and designer play today?

Now more than ever, the figure of the architect is crucial in the processes that govern the meaning and value of the development of the country: in its figure and in its skills, professional, technical and technological, social, cultural, aesthetic and ethical issues and problems, in all their many and different variations, are intertwined like in no other task. The versatility of the figure of the architect, as well as its skills and responsibilities in the processes of urban and local transformation, form the basis of the research carried out, with the aim of defining the social and political image of the architect within the current socio-economic context and within the processes aimed at relaunching the country’s development”.


Battersea Power Station London

Urban redevelopment project in the London area of Battersea Power Station.
Image Credits Battersea Power Station Development

This is how Mario Abis, the sociologist and founder of the Makno Research Institute, describes the role of designers, who are therefore responsible for defining the city and its competitiveness.
This means that their task is to convey the overall vision of the projects, to bring the individual specialist skills in synergy in an overall work: only professionals with their sensitivity, their knowledge and their ability to grasp the evolution of contexts can act as the directors of change in the contemporary city.


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Technology and architecture

Many of the difficulties in this current architectural period come from the fact that the fast pace of technical progress has outpaced the inevitable slowness of development of the technical preparation of the designers“. PierLuigi Nervi

From the beginning, Western thought has been influenced by the debate between architecture and technology, understood as “essence” and “change”. In particular, contemporary architecture has experienced periods in which the innovative tools of technology have been used extensively, and periods in which it has decided to forego them entirely, heading back to, or rather taking refuge in, a “natural”, analogue dimension.

Today, the debate seems to have resolved itself into a winning compromise: technological innovation is no longer an additional superstructure which can be used to help with the project, but it is now a fundamental element, the central pillar of a process which involves numerous actors, and no longer just the designer and the client.

Speaking of technology, the discussion of digitisation deserves a separate focus. In less than twenty years, design and professionalism have been the protagonists of a revolution which has brought about an era-defining change in the world of architecture: the transition from “pencil” design to digital has revolutionised not only how projects are designed from a practical point of view (CAD, BIM) but also the use of materials, resilience, the control of energy efficiency, air quality etc.


Foster Partners office London

Photo taken in the London office of the famous architecture firm Foster + Partners

The theme of integration between technology and architecture has given rise to a smart approach in the construction sector which aims to improve citizens’ quality of life, taking it to a higher level, beyond any expectation. Architecture is connected, materials are intelligent, the design speaks to us, the elements and variables of the project become innumerable and the architect, in the words of Lluis Ortega, becomes “total”, no longer just a designer but more like a conductor of an orchestra.




The new materials of architecture

For some decades now, following the Ea
rth Summit held in Rio in 1992, the need for green architecture has been becoming more and more apparent worldwide, not only to protect the planet against building pollution, but also to increase people’s comfort and living conditions.

To achieve the ambitious objectives for environmental sustainability in the construction field, the careful choice of the materials used in construction becomes crucial. Let’s talk about green building.

Green building uses ecological and non-polluting materials to limit the consumption of non-renewable energies as much as possible, protecting the environment through energy savings and reducing operating and maintenance costs.

But be warned – it isn’t enough for a material to be “eco” to guarantee a project’s sustainability. When we assess a material’s suitability, we need to take into account its entire life cycle and the possible effects which each phase, from production, to use, up to disposal, will have on the environment.

From insulating materials based on fungi, sheep’s wool, or straw to construction elements based on bacteria or recycled material, to cellulose, porcelain stoneware, or traditional wood, stone, brick, etc., the choice is varied.

Insulating material based on fungi

Samples of insulating material based on fungi

Sheep's wool for thermal insulation

Roll of sheep’s wool for thermal insulation


Compound based on bacteria building construction

Compound based on bacteria for building construction


Detail of porcelain stoneware cladding

Detail of porcelain stoneware cladding


Here are some of the main requirements that need to be taken into account when evaluating the materials which are most suitable for our sustainable projects:

  • Control of the raw materials used
  • Energy-efficient production processes with low-polluting emissions.
  • No harmful emissions in domestic environments after installation.
  • Long life and high recyclability at the time of disposal.
  • Technical performances like hygroscopicity, insulation and heat storage.




Sustainable architecture: green inspirations

Sustainable architecture, also called green building, creates buildings whose life cycle has a limited impact on the environment. The aim is to maximise current users’ well-being and, at the same time, to guarantee the same possibilities for future generations. The assumption on which sustainability is based is the awareness that the earth’s resources, and by extension the available building materials, are limited and, as such, need to be protected.

This challenge has been taken on worldwide and today there are numerous good practices of sustainable architectural design.

Every year a review of the best green projects which have been put into practice is prepared by the AIA – American Institute of Architects through the COTE® Top Ten Awards which recognises the value of the 10 best architectural projects from all over the world which integrate excellent design and environmental performance.
(HERE is the link to the call for projects for the 2020 edition)

In 2019, various projects were awarded prizes for achieving high environmental standards through the application of innovative techniques for energy saving, purely through the use of simple and intuitive design measures: from the integration of buildings and systems, to the use of local or LEED-certified materials, to the choice of the construction site and the orientation, to the use of sustainable elements like such as solar panels, green systems, bird-safe windows or rainwater filtration systems.


Amherst College New Science Center

2019 COTE® Top Ten – Amherst College New Science Center. Image Credits Chuck Choi



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Florim’s green commitment

Made in Florim porcelain stoneware is a guarantee of safety, innovation and respect for the environment.
Florim, in fact, makes the correct management of environmental policies one of its main strategic objectives: from good practices for reducing the use of paper in offices to the use of electric vehicles for transporting materials up to the more complex strategies for reducing energy use, such as the use of cogeneration plants, photovoltaic panels, eco-friendly ovens for firing slabs, and tanks for collecting rainwater.

Florim recovers and optimises 100% of raw tile waste, dust and sludge residues from the treatment of process water within the production process.

The same principle applies to water. In fact, there are none of the environmental impacts associated with water discharges, because all the water used in the production cycle is reused.

Unlike with other natural materials, the production of Made in Florim porcelain stoneware has no significant impact on local biodiversity, since the company is located within the ceramic district of Fiorano Modenese, about 5 km from the nearest protected area, Salse di Nirano.

Florim plant 4.0 green

Florim plant 4.0 surrounded by greenery

Made in Florim encompasses passion, innovation, constant commitment to improvement and corporate energy and environmental responsibility. It is for these reasons that we have received numerous acknowledgements and certifications which are proof of our respect for the environment. Among them: the process certifications AEO, UNI EN ISO 14001 and UNI EN ISO 50001 and the product certifications Marcatura CE, Ecolabel, Greenguard and Greenguard Gold. In addition, the use of Made in Florim porcelain stoneware contributes to obtaining LEED points for monitoring a project’s level of sustainability.


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