Future City Trends – Part 2

Indoor jungles, giant community bean bags and communal spas.


The annual ‘Future 100: Trends and Change to Watch in 2019’ report by The Innovation Group maps out the biggest trends affecting people and our planet this year. In Part 2 of our series on Future City Trends, we continue to highlight some of the trends involving cities, asking how they affect citymakers.


In their annual forecast report, The Innovation Group gives us a snapshot of the year ahead and the most compelling trends to keep on the radar. Given that over half the world’s population are now living in cities, with close to 70% projected to be in urban areas by 2050, and threats to our planet’s survival looming over our heads – it’s no wonder that wellbeing and the quest for comfort take centre stage, setting the direction for emerging trends.

Biophilia Futures

Amazon The Spheres, Seattle. Image courtesy JWT Intelligence.


According to The Innovation Group, ‘wellness architects’ are infusing indoor spaces with greenery to allow the natural ‘healing powers of nature’ to create wellbeing.

Findings by marketing research company YouGov in May 2018 revealed that, on average, people spend 90% of their time indoors, and that companies are well aware of the stresses in daily life. More are seeking to create spaces that can ‘make a difference to their consumers’ and employees’ overall wellbeing’.

At the Amazon headquarters in Seattle, a 4,000-square-foot area comprising glass domes opened in early 2018, with ‘more than 40,000 plants, treehouse meeting rooms, floating staircases and walkways by waterfalls.’ Amazon’s blog declares, “Studies suggest that spaces that embrace biophilic design can inspire creativity and even improve brain function.”


Amazon The Spheres, Seattle. Image courtesy JWT Intelligence.


Meanwhile, Apple’s new flagship store in Macau features ‘a new oasis of calm’ with a bamboo grove and indoor atrium with tall bamboo planters. Designed by Foster & Partners, the space has two distinct spaces – one inside and one outside – ‘imbued with a sense of authentic beauty arising from the innovative use of natural materials’.

There is further evidence. A study by the University of Exeter reveals that offices with plants ‘could increase productivity by 15% as well as lower physiological stress, increase attention span and improve wellbeing.’

Meanwhile, an expert on the gut’s microbiome told The Citymaker that being in close proximity with greenery can affect the gut positively.

The Innovation Group states that architects are increasingly seeking to reconnect people with nature ‘on a grander scale’, stating that offices, hospitals and other spaces housing people for long periods of time will soon be making transformations in this manner.


Traditionally, landscaping, interior design and architecture have been seen as separate vocations. While the effect of greenery can no longer be denied, design thinking will have to shift towards the integration of these three principles.

There are also opportunities for Indoor Greening Specialists to design and act as plant life experts, ensuring that the greenery continues to thrive and grow indoors. More importantly, this train of thought could create more awareness and perhaps impact zoning laws and building codes so that built structures (and their interiors) can be in greater harmony with their natural environments.

Healing Cafes

Chubby Cloud installation at the September 2018 London Fashion Week. Image courtesy JWT Intelligence.


Wellbeing extends to mental health, giving birth to public spaces designed to provide relief for urban citizens.

An installation dubbed the ‘Chubby Cloud’ kicked off a relaxation event at London Fashion Week in September 2018 where visitors could unwind on ‘the world’s largest beanbag’. The three-day relaxation event included guided meditations, bedtime story readings and a lecture on sleep patterns.

In New York, HealHaus, a wellness studio and cafe which opened in May 2018, offers an inclusive healing space with sessions such as Breathwork for Grief.

Meanwhile, wellness spaces have been increasingly popular in Asian cities such as Seoul where overpopulation and minuscule living quarters have taken their toll on citizens. Shim Story, for example, is one of many “public convenience lounges” that offers massage chairs, heated beds and video games.

Founder Jung Oon-mo told The Innovation Group – “Nowadays, city life is causing high competition and life patterns are changing to reduce sleeping time.

“There is no place in Korea to stretch one’s legs before returning home, so I decided to open a relaxing lounge that is as comfortable as home.”

The Innovation Group posits that these new spaces are ‘opening up to promote mental wellbeing, replacing traditional cafés as popular public hangouts while capitalising on the buzzy self-care industry.’


While Malaysian cities are still on a roll with Instagram-worthy cafes popping up with increasing frequency, there are now opportunities for business owners to consider giving citizens spaces to relax and unwind, perhaps combining dining with a mainstream ‘healing’ activity attached. In terms of reclaiming public spaces, there are now new dimensions to organised activities, which can comprise elements of art and healing, to be considered.

Community Spas

A sound bath specialist runs a sonic healing session at Paradise Now by Bompas & Parr, London. Image courtesy JWT Intelligence.


By no means a new concept, public spas and bathhouses are experiencing a renaissance, bringing affordable means of wellness, and making it accessible to local communities.

London’s first ‘wellbeing playground’ made its debut in 2018 as a popup, featuring a ‘pink mist waterfall enriched with energizing minerals, an immersive meditation zone with anxiety-reducing aromatherapy pebbles, and a light installation emitting a warm, soothing glow’, plus an ‘aqua bar’ with a water sommelier, serving creative water-based cocktails.

Harry Parr, cofounder of sensory designers Bompas & Parr, stated that Paradise Now was created not only to highlight top wellness trends, but to integrate them into daily life.

Hopping onto the bandwagon with a low-profile feel is Studio Puisto’s “neighborhood sauna” in Tampere, Finland. Riffing off the traditional korttelisauna, popular in the late 19th century where locals would go to ‘wash, gather and share ideas’, Tuula Vitie, interior architect at Studio Puisto, told JWT Intelligence: “Above all, we wanted Tullin Sauna to act as a neighborhood sauna, a space that everyone in the local community could equally enjoy together.” The building has incorporated the concept of a ‘communal living room’ into the design of every part of the building, from ‘the bistro serving local delicacies to the specially designed coworking space.’ Also in Finland, floating sea pools for public use in coastal cities and towns have been commissioned.


Tullin Sauna by Studio Puisto, Tampere, Finland. Image courtesy JWT Intelligence.


The Innovation Group emphasises that ‘urban spas are the perfect remedy for those seeking to escape the stress of everyday life’ but not just for recreation and relief. Rather, the role of the spa as a community gatherer is at the heart of everything, with the ‘spirit of inclusivity and high design principles’ to boot.


It’s time for local citymakers to realise that if not for the longevity of the human race on the planet earth (and what we have made of it), all our efforts under the big banner of ‘Sustainability’ is for naught. If every new city attraction or event requires that urban citizens spend money, they will continue to accumulate the stresses involved in the pursuit of money, thereby putting their health at risk.

With a focus on accessible and affordable wellness options, the urban citizen has a chance not only to decompress and catch their breath, but break away from cultural conditioning and habits surrounding mall cultures. Perhaps developers and local government can hone their focus less on the next mega shopping mall, but wellness beyond the cheap reflexology joint around the corner.


Silent Room by Nathalie Harb. Photography by Ed Reeve. Image courtesy JWT Intelligence.


With health complications increasing due to living in overpopulated cities, air pollution, from smog to free-radicals, has been the subject of scrutiny. However, beyond residential neighbourhoods, a less-considered pollutant that has slipped the radar is Noise.

At the London Design Biennale 2018, Nathalie Harb explored the effect of noise pollution on our emotional state with her installation, ‘Silent Room’.

She told The Innovation Group: “Above a certain decibel, noise is proved to affect your ability to concentrate, your level of stress and your sleep.” The project offered a structure insulated from noise where visitors could reconnect to their own thoughts, desires, space and self, describing the room as a space, ‘…where you parcel yourself from the invasive information, stimuli and representation we’re subjected to every day.”

The Innovation Group notes that this is interesting that silence has become the new luxury for urban dwellers and that society has produced so much noise that it has ‘transformed silence into a commodity’.

Harb told the Innovation Group: “Silence is becoming a luxury feature because of the technology that enables it, but also because of all the wellbeing culture

that promotes it.”


The idea of silent booths in which to read or listen to one’s thoughts is appealing to say the least, reminiscent of the listening booths in music stores, a vanished retail genre.

Malaysian cities have also perhaps celebrated noise, as infrastructure development, vehicular noise, bustling marketplaces, music blasting in malls and even fireworks from our many ethnic festivities, all point to prosperity. Therefore, as a concept, silence as luxury may have yet to penetrate our radar of wants.

However, policy makers could perhaps keep tabs on noise pollution, consider how this could impact the liveability of our cities and what can be done to regulate sound. Business owners ahead of the curve can begin plotting their next entrepreneurial adventures involving this concept.

Look out for Part 3 of the series on Future City Trends.