Earth, Soon to be an Urban Planet

2050. A world of megacities awaits us. Cairo, Kinshasa, and Lagos, among others, will have more that 20 million inhabitants. Seventy percent of the population will live in towns, more than 7 billion people having to live well together. Saint-Gobain’s mission lies in this highly urbanized, globalized world that demands local solutions. And this is because the way we build is not the same in Oslo as it is in New Delhi.
  • Respond to the demographic challenge
There is so much to do
There will be some 10 billion of us in 2050. Speaking purely of Africa, we have to “deal with a population explosion on a huge scale while the continent is cruelly lacking in infrastructure,” says Pierre-André de Chalendar, Chairman and CEO at Saint-Gobain. Asia will have completely changed and the “old world” will not be outdone.

Did you know ?

Saint-Gobain is an active member of more than 30 Green Building Councils across the world to exchange ideas about the cities and buildings of the future.

Innovation is the answer to demographic changes

This wave of urbanization requires the construction or renovation of millions of homes and houses while ensuring they are comfortable and safe and reducing as much as possible the environmental impact.

To innovate on a world-wide scale, we have to start by organizing a Research and Development department on every continent. There are eight Saint-Gobain cross-business centers spread across Europe, Asia, and America aiming to design innovations which benefit all their clients in every corner of the world. They are also trying to imagine “materials adapted to the bioclimatic situations that buildings will have to withstand”, explains Armand Ajdari, Vice President Research and Development at Saint-Gobain. In India, it is a question of “preventing sunlight from overheating buildings in summer, which avoids air-conditioning energy costs.” Even the purchase of polluting air conditioning equipment. 

The social situation is also taken into account. Research programs about low-cost housing have been set up in disadvantaged countries. In developed countries, prefabrication and offsite manufacturing are an answer to labor shortages at the same time that demand is growing. 3D printing is also going to have increased importance for creative or complex projects with a reduced environmental cost. Saint-Gobain has achieved a world first in Holland with its housing project – Project Milestone. It could be the forerunner for the residential district of the city of the future. 

At a time when constraints linked to overpopulation increase, research into solutions is at the beginning stage. With inspiration drawn, for example, from biomimicry – the shape that nature takes. Glass wool and rock wool can take direct inspiration from the way birds build their nests in order to increase the “heat and sound insulating properties” of a home, suggests Armand-Ajdari. The lotus flower led Saint-Gobain to design a self-cleaning glass: rain beating down on the glass tower of this or that town washes away dust and particles. 

Intelligent materials in urban settings

Besides the “smart city” model, every town needs intelligence. And this begins with materials. We spend 80% of our time inside – at home, in the office, travelling – 80% of our time in contact with materials. What comes into play here are comfortable warmth, protection from noise, access to natural light and air quality. This reality is all the more apparent in overpopulated cities.

 “In the Middle East,” explains Bechara Ammar, Development Director at Saint-Gobain Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, “buildings consume up to 80% of the electricity generated, mainly on air conditioning.” Reduction in consumption is enabled by installing glass that insulates sufficiently or is capable of tinting in proportion to the amount of light, like SageGlass  electrochromic glass.

Insulation from sound is another issue for overpopulated towns. A less noisy indoor environment means less stress for those living and working there and greater efficiency for employees. “Kandumètre” is a small capturing device whose objective is to identify sources of noise in an open space in order to handle them better.

Access to natural light. What would we do without it? For a long time, large windows have been a feature of business districts and homes; glass always lets in more – or less light according to need. For well-being, it’s always glass. So, we’ll see more and more of these large areas of glass – 18 meters high for the Overlength product alone – to add refinement to urban frontages and enhance appearance. 

And finally, air quality. So precious in the city. Indoor pollutants can cause irritation, headaches, sore throats, and even respiratory illnesses. But how can we reduce their presence? By, for example, using products such as Activ’air plaster board or Novelio CleanAir wall coverings, specially designed to absorb pollutants and ensure optimal air quality for occupants, or by using very low emission products, such as new ISOVER glass wool.


Building challenges in emerging countries 

Thinking about urban construction involves adapting to places where population growth is greatest. Consider India, which is participating in the New Urban Agenda under the auspices of the UN. 500 million more city dwellers by 2050. Here, as in Africa, it is all about the construction of brand new buildings as the existing stock cannot be renovated. It is an opportunity to offer high-quality, energy-efficient buildings to the African population, built to European or American standards. This is what the middle classes in Nigeria, Vietnam, and Indonesia expect. 

Let's go back to India.  Saint-Gobain Research India, the R&D Center in Chennai, not far from Bangalore in the south of the country, works closely with local businesses and universities. Researchers are considering materials capable of withstanding hot and humid climates. Here, as elsewhere, climate hazards are taken into account, with the idea of imagining the “resilient city” that can be quickly reconstructed after an extreme weather event. 

Building challenges in developed countries 

The Paris Agreement and the recent Climate Action Summit encourage Saint-Gobain to accelerate its activities concerning the renovation of buildings in Europe and the United States. Far from being incompatible, energy performance and comfort go hand in hand. Taking into account increasingly stringent standards brings innovation to the fore in order to continually increase efficiency in terms of thermal insulation, noise insulation, brightness, and healthy well-being. The circular economy complements this approach by encouraging the eco-design of materials and changing practices.