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Observations | Rapid Technology Changes and the Built Environment



It’s no surprise that architecture rapidly changes. We witness the evolution of forces acting on architecture every day, such as patterns of movement and technology that shape trends in the built environment. Of course, architecture is temporal, the built environment evolves with the demands of a changing society.

For example, the Illinois Tollway oases were redeveloped in the early 2000’s to increase engagement and interest for consumers, offering meeting spots and restaurants with views of the traffic below. In 2003, Bailey Edward was tasked with designing a business center prototype, Connexus, at a tollway oasis to increase internet connectivity. The business center offered wireless internet access, computers, and a conference rental to provide on-the-go professionals a remote office or meeting place with full connectivity. Connexus was completed in 2004. The prototype was to be rolled out to all seven oases in the coming years with a design that featured an aluminum curtainwall system with polycarbonate panels that could be easily constructed at each of the locations.

However, in 2006 free Wi-Fi was released throughout all oases. Then, in 2007 the iPhone was released changing the game for on-the-go data completely. In order for Connexus to be successful, there had to be a need for people to pay to connect to internet. With ever-increasing data plans and smartphones, consumers had everything Connexus could offer in their pockets, already paid for. While Connexus was intended to be implemented in each of the oases, only one was brought to fruition.

Now, 15 years later, the tollway oasis itself is being taken down. A distinctly Illinoisan feature, the seven redeveloped tollway oases, a $95 million project, were to become obsolete. The tollway is now looking to expand the tollway to ease congestion into the city and the central support for the bridge oasis stood in the way of expansion.

It is striking to see a project become obsolete so quickly. It brings to mind how important it is to look at how building resources are used and what the lifecycle of materials looks like. If we continue to build up what will be torn down a few years later and what is the environmental impact? Are those materials reusable? As architects, we should create spaces that are lasting and more sustainable in material consumption.