This is the time of year when people love to look ahead, trying to imagine what the year might bring. People who call themselves futurists look farther ahead — a decade perhaps, or two.
But Arconic, an engineering materials company, decided to outdo everyone else. It looked ahead 45 years and saw a smog-eating skyscraper that stretches up five kilometres built using 3-D printing. It saw windows that transform into balconies at the touch of a button.
Arconic was formed last year, splitting off from aluminum giant Alcoa. Its mission is to focus on advanced manufacturing technologies, especially 3-D printing using metals. Now it has a flashy new website where it has posted, among other things, a video that will catch your attention.
The company has been working with futurists to imagine the technologies likely to be most useful 40-plus years from now. The video highlights some construction materials that have just recently come onto the market. It also highlights materials that are still under development.
But central to most of the ideas Arconic puts forth is 3-D printing, which many engineers refer to as additive manufacturing.
Thomas Frey, a futurist who worked with Arconic, says, "Once we're actually able to 3-D print a wall, we no longer have the need for flat walls.
"Every wall can be an artistic centrepiece. We're going to have lots of free-form structures that are unlike anything that we have today."
The five-kilometre skyscraper is one example: a twisting, soaring structure that couldn't be built without 3-D printing.
The self-cleaning aspect is already on the market, although still very new. The company's EcoClean surface treatment is a coating containing titanium dioxide, which disperses smog and cleans itself.
The windows, called Bloomframe, are basically motorized windows that convert into an all-glass balcony in 55 seconds. You touch a button and the window pushes out, rearranging itself into a floor with a front ledge and two side panels, creating a balcony of about three square metres.
Watching the company's video and reading material on its website, one can't help but notice how often the word "organic" is used. Indeed, many of the ideas the company puts forth are organically inspired.
A metallurgist who appears in the video says that the ideas mean there will be fewer "boxy" skyscrapers. Instead, he says, they will not look or feel as though they were humanly created.
"They will feel organic," he says.
Architects, says Arconic, could be free to be able to think more like artists and less like engineers.
Much of the 3-D printing envisaged by the company would make use of specialized metal powders made from titanium and nickel "super-alloys." They are desirable in the aerospace and defense industries because of their ability to withstand high pressures. They are being produced by Arconic at a plant in Pittsburgh.
In fact, aerospace and automotive components make up an important part of Arconic's business.
But it also has a division devoted to building and construction applications. Designing buildings that could only be built using 3-D printing might sound radical. But Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, has set a target of having 25 per cent of the city's buildings 3-D printed by 2030.
Maybe all this sounds too much like The Jetsons. If you're old enough you might remember the science fiction cartoon that launched in 1962 and was set 100 years in the future.
It got a lot of things right, predicting things like smartwatches, tablet computers and 3-D printing. So it's not surprising that Arconic's video is titled The Jetsons.
If you want to know what sort of buildings your children and grandchildren will be building, you can find the video at www.arconic.com/thefuture/
Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.