Year in Review: Major Architectural Trends of 2019

The demand for flexible workspaces dominated the conversation around the design of new buildings in 2019, according to architectural experts.

ESTATENVY has rated the hottest architectural trends of the year. From more open spaces to advanced modular systems, architectural experts gave us the lowdown on how buildings have modernized this past year.

Ian Spula, Program Operations Specialist at the Chicago Architecture Center, noted in an email that the major architectural trends of 2019 included “a renewed focus on designing quality public space in the city center by reclaiming underutilized or formerly industrial land,” a “focus on new, improved designs and environmental standards for affordable housing” and a “growing interest in preserving and retrofitting mid-century modernist icons for greater energy efficiency and to ward off obsolescence.”
 
When asked about the major architectural trends of 2019, experts noted the significant influence of the changing American workspace. In particular, many companies seek out temporary, flexible spaces that can expand and lessen as needed rather than permanent homes.
 
Matthew Giddens, a recent architecture graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, noted that 2019 was a year that brought a “new era of young professionals in the workforce. With this new demographic, comes new technology, more collaborative ways to build, design and create buildings.”
 
Spula also touched upon the changing American workspace. He noted that new buildings in 2019 were “more transparent, open and connected to their surroundings” and pointed to “office buildings designed with food halls and other public amenities to both enhance the work environment and draw in passerby.”
 
Craig Berger, the program coordinator for the Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design Program at the Fashion Institute of Technology, spoke to the ways that digital technology and the demand for modular spaces have transformed contemporary architecture.
 
Berger started his career in architecture but shifted his focus towards urban design over the past 15 years. Today, in addition to teaching at FIT, Berger owns his own consulting practice. He works predominantly with manufacturers, including architectural lighting manufacturers and modular systems manufacturers.
 
“The world has changed so much,” Berger said. “People’s lives are predominantly becoming more digital so how their lives touch space and place is really very much influenced by how they view the world digitally.”
 
The major architectural trends of 2019, he said, included advanced modular systems, flexible architecture and branded environments. He pointed to WeWork as a prime example of how the changing American workspace impacts the way architects and real estate developers work.
 
“The idea of flexible office space is a reality today and that has impacted the way companies are developing their space,” he said. He added that “the trend that’s happening today is that companies will very quickly come in and lease flexible space on a very short-term basis and basically be able to fit the space out to their needs very quickly and flexibly.”
 
He sees less dedicated buildings and more continual flex spaces, he said. Companies need to expand or contract very quickly depending on their needs, and they can do this in part thanks to new construction practices such as modularization, he said.
 
“The reason why they are able to obtain speed in this way is there’s been a really big change in the way that we do construction in urban environments,” Berger said.
 
Berger noted that modular systems have especially impacted the hospitality industry. He pointed to the hotel giant Marriott, which built a hotel in New York City made up entirely of modular rooms.

“The finishes and the furnishings and everything are already in place and they just drop them into the building,” Berger said of the rooms. “That’s the future in office space as well, where they have modular wall systems, floor systems, different structural system that they can easily move in and out quickly to build that space.”

 
Berger anticipates that more and more architecture firms will embrace this kind of work and notes that many larger firms have already embraced such trends for modular systems.
 
“There are architecture firms that are certainly taking advantage of this trend,” he said. “You’re definitely going to be seeing a lot of architecture firms become experts in modular manufacturing as part of their architectural product.”
 
Despite this intense focus on functionality, and in particular, on modularization and speed, Berger insists that beauty is not being sacrificed in today’s architectural landscape.
 
“I think it’s a different view of what beauty in architecture is,” Berger said. “When we look at the traditional view of an architect, it’s that they make beautiful, heroic buildings and places and spaces. That’s really not what people are responding to today as much. People respond today to social spaces. Places that are exciting, thematic.”
 
While eye-popping architecture will always be appreciated, times have changed and people are seeking different things in a structure, Berger said. The contemporary workspace needs to be responsive to a range of different social, entrepreneurial and digital needs as it looks to the future.
 
“People are definitely looking more for developing more of a sense of place, more of an environment for social interaction,” he said. “We’re just more in tune with that today.”