Buildings of the Future
When thinking of buildings of the future and how they will function, it is sometimes easier to think about what we don’t want our future buildings to be like. For me, I don’t want future buildings to be of poor quality, unaffordable to buy and expensive to operate. Neither do I want them to be unhealthy for us to live in or to be a drain on our planet’s scarce resources. Finally, I don’t want them if they don’t fit in with existing communities and infrastructure.
Let me flip this perspective and look at the future buildings that I think we will require.
We need high quality affordable buildings. Quality and cost are considered to be interdependent. In my future world, due to advances of innovative construction materials and smarter methods of construction, aided by a digital revolution, material costs are affordable. The materials that we use won’t come from virgin materials, unless they can be proven to be sustainably harvested (like timber and wood products). The energy required in their manufacturing will be generated from clean renewables. All the materials will adhere to the principles of the circular economy, promoting eco-efficiency and maximising their value. The product details will all be stored digitally for future owners’ use when the building needs to be refurbished or dismantled.
Another exciting function of these materials are their properties to help maintain (and restore) both indoor and outdoor air quality, and to establish the buildings as miniature power stations able to generate, store and release energy. Advances in material science, such as phase change substances, and technology such as batteries and 3D printing will have made this possible. Furthermore, changes to planning and building controls favour buildings that don’t function in isolation, but are connected to other buildings – allowing resources like energy and water to flow where appropriate. Smart meters will record these flows as part of a digital intelligence system linked to sensors and the internet.
Materials used in the fit out are all eco-sensitive and promote health and well-being outcomes, clean air, ventilation and natural light are universally recognised as essential. Architects, designers and the value chain are all aligned to deliver this efficiently.
My buildings of the future and their associated urban infrastructure are climate resilient. Able to cope with extreme weather events – rapid heavy rainfall, drought, heatwaves and extreme cold. Buildings mimic trees in being able to store, release and draw back water. Sensors connected to the weather forecasts from the internet trigger the movement of water depending on future dry or wet spells. The water when released is shared in communal reservoirs in the public realm. Internally rainwater is used instead of today’s potable water, except when used for drinking or washing. It is also used for irrigation for green roofs and walls and food production.
More frequent heat waves have resulted in buildings overheating, resulting in intolerable indoor air temperatures. My future buildings will have intelligent facades that can both detect temperature, allowing light into the buildings, and can stop heat flows in either directions. These materials would mimic the human skin. Retrofitting older buildings that are overheating with these materials would be essential.
How will design and construction of my future buildings be different? Prior to construct, building components will be assembled offsite allowing for precision engineering, with laser scanning allowing for testing of tolerances and accuracies ensuring excellent quality control. Real parts will be checked against the CAD plans. Virtual reality will allow people to assess changes to any part of the building project, allowing a better understanding of how to optimise both design and construction methods to deliver the best outcome for the asset owner or building user. Such technology will help with tasks such as setting out, reducing errors and saving time and cost.
Digital technology will also play its’ part with the use of augmented reality; it will be common place for engineers and contractors to map digital plans and images onto the actual build area, helping construct the building right first time for all aspects. Our contractors then become augmented workers. Other elements such as digital work instructions will allow operatives to eliminate errors as they follow these instructions whilst working, so reducing time and costs on corrections.
For those wanting to buy or lease these new buildings there are new mainstream financial mechanisms that favour these better buildings – green mortgages with discounted interested rates and favourable leasing terms. Furthermore, institutional investors recognise the value in these buildings and a focus on quality and whole-life performance. The market has changed and leads to the scaling up and transformation badly required back in 2019.
Do my future buildings sound far-fetched? Much of what I have described is nascent, emerging now to change the future. Mobilising talent and inspiring the next generation of architects, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs is vital. That is what Futurebuild has the potential to do – come and be inspired – it is the forum, to meet, debate and generate ideas to collaboratively build the future of our buildings