For architects in search of meaningful influence on the way people live, the realm of the city has always been a compelling stage for testing new ideas. While the architecture of global centers of capital has slipped into a mature stage of generic development, the developing world is on the brink of an unprecedented era of urbanization: in the next twenty years 1.3 billion people will migrate to the cities of emerging countries,1 and in half that time these markets will produce nearly fifty percent of the expected
global GDP growth.2 These new populations will be seeking not only jobs but access to health care, infrastructure, recreation, and other advantages of urban life; it is a migration that will compress people, resources, and capital. How will the built environment adapt to such rapid changes, and how can architects take the lead? While many complex forces will shape this emerging urban order, the focus will be on two pressures in particular: finance and energy.

Following years of financial deregulation and growth of secondary markets, the contemporary city has
been transformed from a fixed place to a liquid asset. Financial instruments such as Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) are augmenting and even replacing traditional “brick and mortar” investments. The importance of real capital has diminished greatly as new financial tools subsume it, a process that has been described as the “financialization” of the economy; economic performance is tied increasingly to complex financial systems rather than physical output. Thus, in several sectors of the built environment, appeal to investors and rate of return have become the most important aspects of a project’s feasibility. The result is an imperative for predictable results and an aversion to risk from which arises a pervasive ethos of genericism heavily restricted by global industry standards of development and construction. Countless scholars within and outside of the discipline have noted this trajectory.

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