Futuristic Architecture
The Ultimate Guide

The ideals of futuristic architecture and cities have always been founded upon humanity’s technological advancements through the ages. While space travel was always a remote thing of science-fiction stories in the past, today it has become a near-reality and a reminder to ourselves of the importance of the architect’s imagination – to continue dreaming about the multiple possibilities of our future habitats. 

What comes after extra-terrestrial travel and artificially-intelligent cities?

In this article, we look at how futurist architecture has come a long way, from its 1900s Italian pre-modernist Utopian vision, the space-centred streamlined industrial aesthetic, to the uncharted impact of digital revolution on futuristic architecture designs.

Origins of Futurist Architecture – Speed and Machinery

Italian Futurism (1900s)

Futuristic Architecture in Italy

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Futurist architecture was solidified as an artistic and social movement more than a hundred years ago in Italy. It was short-lived though, with its inclinations towards the ideas of high speed and technological advancement. Since automobile racing has already begun after the invention of gasoline-fueled internal-combustion engines in the 1880s,  the author of the Manifesto of Futurism (1909) draws from his experience in a minor car accident as following:

"We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath – a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace."

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Even though Marinetti’s architecture thesis on Futurism explicitly delved into fascist politics such as advocacy for ‘cleansing’ properties of war, which in turn tainted the Futurist movement, his counterparts had then appropriated several key ideas for Futurist architecture namely:               the glorification of speed, machinery, youth and industry.

The Italian architect Sant’Elia conceptualised the futurist city called ‘Citta Nuova’ – Italian for ‘new city', comprising of monolithic skyscrapers looming over industrial bridges and walkways.


Sant’Elia’s vision of an ‘immense, and tumultuous shipyard’ was seen in his drawings for Citta Nuova, a declaration of the agility, mobility and dynamism of industrial and machinery architecture as the pinnacle of model human environment.

This systematic approach to futuristic architecture design was reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s words: ‘The house is a machine for living in’.

Futuristic Architecture Drawing

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Futuristic Architecture Characteristics of 1900s Italian Futurist Movement

  • Architecture as a machine – exposed technology such as lifts.
  • City as a highly agile and mobile space – multiple levels of circulation such as bridges and pathways in the sky and ground.
  • Oblique and elliptical lines rather than perpendicular and horizontal ones to demonstrate strong dynamism of forms.
  • Abolition of ornamentation, and instead using violently colored materials of wood, stone, brick instead of reliance on steel, glass, cardboard and textile fiber.

The Art of Speed & Streamlining (Post 1930s)

The aesthetic and economics of ‘streamlined’ futuristic design emerged in the 1930s and was inspired by scientific aero- and fluid dynamics of speed and motion.

 
Forms and behaviors of ocean liners and automobiles were studied and became fashionably incorporated into industrial design of furniture, home appliances and architecture, and became a type of Art Deco style.

Futuristic Architecture influenced by futuristic cars
Futuristic Architecture influenced by futuristic trains

Photo CreditTichnor Brothers via Wikimedia Commons

Futuristic Architecture Project

Photo Credit: Nyttend 

Mechanization of Futuristic Architecture (Post 1940s)

Googie Architecture

Photo Credit: ChildofMidnight / CC BY 3.0

Photo Credit: Bryan Hong / CC BY-SA 2.5

After the war, the American manufacturing economy switched from producing war-related items to consumer goods.

 

The automotive industry boomed and changed the way humans interacted with the urban city forever – drive-through restaurants, drive-in theaters and automobile billboards became the norm. 

Multi-lane highways were built and the city road infrastructure thus expanded rapidly.

Futuristic Architecture Cartoon

Photo Credit: Boyan Georgiev

The late 1940s saw the revival of a new style of futurism termed ‘Googie architecture’, named after a café in Hollywood from where the architecture was first built.

 
Googie architecture was directly influenced by the post-war obsession with the space race that fueled a whole host of science fiction and imagination about the future of jet engines and automobiles, leading to futuristic architecture designs that are reminiscent of air-stops along
a sky-ride.

 
The automobile culture in 1950s became so widespread in the US and lent inspiration to many of the Googie architecture we see today.

Futuristic Architecture of Googie

Photo Credit: Minnaert / CC BY-SA 3.0

Futuristic Architecture Characteristics of Googie Style

  • Exaggeration and dramatic angles inspired by bursts of speed and motion - hard edges, cantilevered roofs, upswept roofs.
  • Symbols of motion – boomerangs, flying saucers, rocket streamlined shapes, diagrammatic atoms and even radio antennae were typical references and motifs.
  • Use of materials like glass, steel and plastic, with a penchant for neon colors or lights.
  • Thin columns that prop up a building, giving an image of a ‘building in the sky’.

Archigram

Despite being largely unrealized, Archigram’s concept of futuristic architecture had lasting impact on other architects subsequently, such as works of Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s Centre Pompidou.

Arhigram Futuristic Architecture Concepts

Archigram was a highly experimental art and architecture collective comprised of six key architects from the Architectural Association in London.


Their outlandish and futuristic architecture designs caught the public’s imagination – cities that could walk, float and move around at will.

Arhigram Futuristic Architecture Walking City

Futuristic Architecture Characteristics of Archigram

  • Technocratic, ‘high tech’ focus – glamorizng the future machine age.
  • The Utopian freedom to move around easily – lightweight and modular technology; ease of mobility with leg-like protrusions that allowed movement.
  • Megastructures – huge structures that could accommodate an entire city.

Postmodernism

Structural Expressionism

Whilst Postmodern architecture was initially conceived in the 1960s as a playful or ironic reaction to the austerity and seriousness of the Modern movement, it morphed into several new categories of architecture with futuristic tendencies.


Largely considered a futuristic architecture style of Postmodern architecture, Structural Expressionism emerged in 1970s which manifested some forms of the 1900s Italian Futurism – honesty in design, exposing structural elements like steel elevator lift cores and emphasis on ‘industrial aesthetics’.

Futuristic Architecture in Postmodernism

Photo Credit: Oh Paris

Digitalization and Deconstructivism as an inspiration for Futuristic Architecture

With the advent of Building Information Modelling (BIM) technologies developing from the 1970s onwards, the style of futuristic architecture was greatly altered.


Architects were gradually empowered with the ability to create massive and dynamic structural buildings that could only be dreamed of in the past.


Deconstructivism could be seen as a departure from the modular practicality of Modernism with its ability to twist and morph into any form imaginable by the human mind.

Futuristic Architecture with Parametric Architecture

One of the famous practitioners of Deconstructivist architecture was    Zaha Hadid, whose team had utilised the wonders of computers and BIM design to optimise the design process to create her signature style of futuristic architecture designs.


Seeing that she was a painter and a student of Mathematics and Architecture, the use of computational tools to generate designs seemed like a perfect fusion of inspiration for Zaha Hadid and definitely resulted in many jaw-dropping designs in her career.

Photo Credit: Arne Müseler / arne-mueseler.com / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Such sculptural design concepts would previously pose a huge challenge to engineers and contractors in their ability to construct the multitude of custom parts needed within a budget and limited time.


Technological advancements such as the use of algorithmic design in
digital fabrication and automation with robots
have brought numerous benefits like cutting manpower and material costs and saving on on-site assembly time.

Futuristic Architecture with Robots

Futuristic Architecture Characteristics of Postmodern architecture

  • Structural Expressionism: honesty in expressive style through exposing internal industrial elements and high-technology, focus on industrial aesthetics and use of modern materials like steel, glass, concrete.
  • Deconstructivist: reliant on the help of advanced computer software that speed up the manufacturing and construction of complex custom engineering components while allowing for fragmented and dynamic-looking designs that defy all established notions of Modern architecture.
  • Big Data and Digitalisation: increasing integration of digital technologies like robotic prototyping, automation and artificial intelligence which allows for cost- and labour-saving smart architecture and city systems. Comprehensive design that considers the whole process of Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA).

Futuristic Architecture Looking Forward

Mars habitat

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

While we may have been through many phases of architecture concepts that seemed way ahead of their time, it is worth noting that past futuristic architecture concepts have been emerging and will continue to do so in the future.

 
The post-World War II space race created a craze for humankind to colonize other forms of planets, and in turn, we're seeing a new range of extra-terrestrial architecture proposals emerge nowadays.               

Top architecture schools increasingly witness the rise in popularity of extra - terrestrial themed, speculative and futuristic thesis projects that look at space dwellings and soil conditions for possibilities of food and farming in the not so far future of Mars inhabitation.

 
As new breakthroughs come to light every day in the architectural scene, the concept of futurism in architecture shape-shifts relentlessly - making architecture a truly exciting space.

If you're interested in reading more about a similar style in architecture, check our piece on contemporary architecture today.

About the Author

Dušan Cvetković is a professional architect from Serbia with international experience in the industry. Collaborated with numerous clients all around the world in the field of architecture design, 3D modeling and software education. He's been teaching Rhinoceros3D to thousands of architects through How to Rhino community and various social media channels.