How will the future of architecture change the way we live?

Building Up, Not Out
Are buildings like The Shard the future of architecture?
Are buildings like The Shard the future of architecture?
Gary Yeowell/The Image Bank/Getty Images

According to Denis Hayes, one of the founders of Earth Day, A whopping 82 percent of Americans, and over half of all human beings on the planet, dwell in cities, which weren't designed with sustainability in mind [source: U.S. News].

In reality, the Earth is running out of resources and room. At least in the places where many of us want to live, meaning the cities. In large cities, this means that people who can afford it often pay big bucks for small spaces, while people who live in the suburbs and work in the cities spend time, money and gasoline commuting to their jobs.

While there are lots of potential solutions to these problems, types of architecture can make a big difference. One way is the super-tall building -- not just a skyscraper, or high-rise as we think of them, but 30 stories high or even more. It's truly vertical living. We've already seen a trend toward more mixed-use communities, meaning living, playing, shopping and working all in one area, with promising results. The super-tall building trend takes this to the next level, since the sky is literally the limit.

Imagine how living in a building like this could change your life. Your co-workers could be your neighbors (hopefully you like them in both settings). You'd feel more invested in your environment since it's all contained in one place. The idea is to not only have a smaller physical footprint on the Earth but to also build a lively, dynamic community of people. No more urban sprawl. There are even ways to lessen these uber-tall buildings' impact on the environment, such as using electronic glass panels that darken when exposed to higher temperatures to help cool the building and absorb sunlight to generate energy.

Buildings are already being designed with this ideal in mind. The iceberg-shaped London edifice known as The Shard (due to be completed in July 2012) has 72 floors that include office space, residences, shopping and more. Its builders also boast that it will be more energy-efficient and have indoor gardens.

Don't want to live in a big, shiny tower? Going more compact is also the way of the future for single-family homes, for both economic and environmental reasons.