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HDR outlines six megatrends for 2024

In a climate of innovation, HDR’s architecture practice has forecasted six trajectories of change that will have a transformative impact over the coming year and redefine city-shaping for the foreseeable future.

HDR outlines six megatrends for 2024

Sydney Biomedical Accelerator Wester Avenue, courtesy of Denton Corker Marshall.

Triple Net-Zero Design

As society continues to tackle issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, waste and pollution, designers are being encouraged to rethink design processes and adopt a triple net-zero – net-zero energy, net-zero water, and net-zero carbon – design mindset within a circular economy framework to reconnect humans with nature and enable people, communities and natural systems to regenerate.

In 2024, three key principles will supercharge society’s transition from a linear economy to a circular one – designing out waste and pollution; keeping products and materials in use; and regenerating natural systems. With designers looking beyond embodied carbon and considering metric-driven targets for water, nutrients, air, biodiversity, and social and health categories too, we will see projects adopting waste-free systems that utilise renewable resources and energy; water-sensitive urban design integrating stormwater, water supply and sewage management into developments; and principles of passive design becoming second nature. The HDR-designed CNL Chalk River Laboratories, Orange County Sanitation District project and Hamilton Center are just a few examples of this framework already in action.

HDR Six Architecture & Design Megatrends for 2024
Orange County Sanitation District Headquarters Complex, courtesy of HDR.

Place-Based Innovation

Economic growth, community development, workforce evolution and exponential advances in medical sciences have culminated in concentrated, place-based innovation in cities with a high concentration of intellectual, financial, social and cultural capital.

This year, new heartlands for business and industry will transform urban centres into dynamic, innovation ecosystems that revitalise economies and improve population health and wellbeing outcomes. Underpinned by design benchmarks such as critical mass, site permeability, spatial integration, access to primary services infrastructure, hyper-connectivity, community engagement and formal governance structures, innovation-powered precincts will deliver micro-neighbourhoods that support translational health science outcomes and work to solve some of the most complex medical challenges of our time.

The HDR- and Denton Corker Marshall-designed Sydney Biomedical Accelerator, HDR- and Warren & Mahoney-designed New Dunedin Hospital, Arden and Parkville medical precincts, and Boggo Road Innovation Precinct are representative of this emergent paradigm shift. HDR’s International Benchmarking Study of Academic Health Precincts has also identified Zurich Central University District in Switzerland, Toronto General Hospital’s University Health Network in Canada, St. Olav’s University Hospital in Norway, and the Helen Diller Medical Center at the University of California in San Francisco as best-inclass examples.

HDR Six Architecture & Design Megatrends for 2024
New Dunedin Hospital, courtesy of HDR and Warren + Mahoney.

Social Value

Demand is mounting for companies to demonstrate tangible benefits beyond financial measures and improve their triple bottom line. The federal government’s ‘Measuring What Matters‘ framework and WSP’s ‘Legacies that Last‘ paper have set the stage for a new chapter of measurement that integrates profit, people and purpose into business-as-usual.

In 2024, measuring and quantifying the social value of architecture will no longer be just a value-add. Moving forward, designers will be expected to go beyond the brief and consider the contributory role that infrastructure can play in improving society’s interconnected social, economic and ecological systems. Not only will they be required to build positive social outcomes into the fabric of projects from the outset, but they will be increasingly expected to produce measurable place-based social impact reports upon project completion, all while generating strong commercial outcomes. HDR’s Social Equity Toolkit and ‘Resilience. Reconciliation. Regeneration‘ framework is another step on this ongoing journey.

Related: Q&A on COP28’s Buildings Breakthrough scheme

HDR Six Architecture & Design Megatrends for 2024
Hamilton Center, Forterra, courtesy of HDR.

Maximising Value Through Flexibility

A new NSW government directive will soon force developers to include affordable and social housing in high-density apartment developments built around priority public transport precincts to ease the housing affordability crisis. In this climate, clients are also considering how social infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals and universities can be integrated with housing.

In 2024, designers will play an increasingly pivotal role in integrating places and precincts for flexibility and adaptability and delivering shared facilities and adaptive spaces that can transition to new requirements. Moving forward, health facilities will more readily be integrated with key worker accommodation, as is evidenced by the Rouse Hill Hospital and Temora Health Service and Finley Hospital redevelopments, and relationships could be established with developers to provide air rights for residential housing above education facilities. By integrating housing into social infrastructure and creating in-built populations that support surrounding activity and amenities, a double benefit will emerge in attracting great minds and creating thriving districts that mobilise the economy and improve our social and cultural fabric.

Western Sydney University Bankstown City Campus_Wall of Hands, Student Hub, photograph by Ela Glogowska.

Equity-Driven Design

Today, equity-driven design goes beyond architecture itself and places the community at the nucleus of the co-design process so that flexible, safe and comfortable spaces can be delivered for everyone who interacts with a building and its surrounding environment.

In 2024, designing through the lens of social equity will become even more commonplace, with designers embedding the full range of human diversity – from gender to culture, sexual orientation, age and ability – into projects more rigorously to provide innovative solutions to societal challenges. Designing for neurodiversity will, for example, create high-performing teams and more inclusive workplaces, while designing more diverse, gender-neutral spaces will address the wider intersectionality of gender so that well-being can be promoted in all its forms.

Western Sydney University’s Bankstown City Campus’ universal design, for example, connects the campus to Country and its diverse community, while the HDR-designed Rouse Hill Hospital masterplan has been guided by Connecting with Country experts Bangawarra, in consultation with knowledge keepers and traditional custodians, to inform the siting of the buildings, open spaces, site access points and circulation.

Western Sydney University Bankstown City Campus, photograph by Ela Glogowska.

Towards Hybrid Intelligence

With the world expected to generate 180 zettabytes of data by 2025, architects are in a unique position to operate at the interface of data and design and create powerful new tools of innovation. This year, designers will move further towards integrating human expertise and in-house tools with AI capabilities to streamline the design process, explore a more extensive range of design possibilities, and achieve enhanced outcomes on complex tasks such as architectural design. Increasingly powerful machine learning text-to-image models will begin to transform the way architects communicate design and enable them to generate, modify and finalise visualisations in minutes.

Moving forward, this will facilitate a new level of ‘living’ collaboration that transforms conceptual and detailed design reports into architectural models and immersive design reviews whereby building stock is visualised in real-time using augmented and virtual reality. It will also enable AI-driven rapid optioneering and evaluation of master plan options in real-time by test-fitting for optimal building stock utilisation. Examples of this application in practice include the Macquarie University STEM Masterplan and The Pavilion at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.


The Pavilion at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, photograph by Dan Schwalm.

How accurate were HDR’s 2023 megatrend predictions? Revisit last year’s projections here.

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