This article investigates the changing demands that we are placing on our homes and workplaces, examining how architects, planners and builders are gearing up for the future.
It considers the following topics:
- Living trends
- How we view our homes and buildings post Covid-19
- Climate change and the environment
- Building construction
- Looking to the future
To find out more about the changes ahead for our buildings, dive in!
The spaces that we live in, from our homes to our workplaces and public areas, are increasingly under scrutiny for their suitability, impact on the environment and on our wellbeing. The way that our homes, commercial buildings and community areas are designed and constructed is evolving to meet the demand for practical accommodation, sustainability and environmentally-sound choices. New buildings are being designed and constructed to be future-proofed according to these trends in architecture.
Demand for multi-purpose space is increasing; more homes are being designed with open floor plans often incorporating a kitchen, living room and dining room. Creating spaces with flexibility is key: open space makes it easy to repurpose areas for different uses; adjustable dividing walls and screens can segment parts for a specific purpose.
As well as working in homes, this applies to office space and schools, offering adaptability in case of future threat or change and it is a future-proofing technique. Current trends for making outdoor space suitable for living and entertaining in show no sign of abating after the past year; outdoor kitchens are popular along with contemporary conservatories to bridge the space between outdoors and indoors which can be filled with plants.
In terms of interior design, tactile and luxury materials are on trend, along with a natural colour and material palette. Bathrooms are being designed as spiritual refuge space with spa-like facilities such as small saunas and whirlpools. Minimalism is aspired to, along with sustainable design and recycled items are the new preferred material.
The pandemic highlighted the value of parks and public spaces where people could exercise and see others at a social distance. Great emphasis is being placed on the importance of contact with the outdoors to our wellbeing; this may lead to creating spaces for engaging, innovative community interaction such as town centre plazas and gardens.
Our homes and commercial buildings post Covid-19
The pandemic has proved a catalyst for rethinking the way in which our buildings are designed. During lockdown people spent more time in their houses, creating the opportunity for a scrutiny of home life and deficiencies were often highlighted: lockdown was certainly worse for those in low quality housing.
However, those households which saved money during the pandemic have demonstrated a clear desire to spend it on home improvements and interior design, often focusing on the space where most time is spent to create defined living which may mean personal space, a playroom or office. Households have decided to spend on these improvements now rather than later, and there is no indication that this current trend for spending will decrease (Forbes, 2022).
Working from home
Another legacy of Covid-19 is the change to our concept of the large city office as working from home has proved viable for many firms. However, while remote working means lower costs for businesses, the absence of staff in offices is damaging to businesses operating around them such as hospitality outlets.
Changes to the use of city centre buildings may be required post pandemic; they may be repurposed for residential or recreational uses which could be sustainable and provide an economic boost to some areas. For many years cities have been built around car use; the reduction in car usage during the pandemic saw greenhouse gas emissions drop and some cities are considering pedestrian and cycling only zones. The next generation of cities may be built with a focus on people, rather than the car, creating urban space which includes biodiversity and infrastructure.
To meet sustainability demands, architects are designing buildings which are adaptable to changes. Reducing waste is paramount alongside minimising energy loss through innovative insulation techniques. The next generation of buildings must be located in areas where they do not impact on existing eco systems.
Changes to the planning system are aimed at making the built environment and the natural environment work together; the Government wants a stronger focus on beauty in the National Planning Policy Framework in an initiative to create more attractive buildings and prevent unsightly development. The quality of the design will be key in gaining planning consent for schemes. New development should enhance its environment, creating spaces which add to the area’s sustainability and biodiversity with more street trees to be incorporated into schemes.
Energy consumption is a key factor in designing sustainable houses, and over recent years more people have become interested in homes and commercial buildings which are powered by renewable energy sources such as solar panels. New building materials are being created such as Bioconcrete, which incorporates bacteria: when activated by water it produces calcite, a component of limestone, which fills any cracks or holes in its structure.
Such innovations are being developed alongside more environmentally friendly construction methods. Current trends gaining popularity include green roofs and green alleys which, when paved with permeable concrete made from recycled materials, allow flood water to percolate into the ground.
Climate and the environment
It is widely accepted that our planet is heating up and architects globally are challenged with designing houses that can be naturally or artificially cooled efficiently: the focus is shifting to the materials used in their designs. Buildings are responsible for high proportions of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Architects must decarbonize buildings by reducing operational carbon through energy efficiency and reduce the embodied carbon of new buildings over their life cycle. Use of renewable energy onsite is set to increase as schemes endeavour to leave the smallest possible carbon footprint. Architects will be aware of global initiatives such as the Net Zero Carbon Buildings commitment, The Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction and The Carbon Leadership Forum.
Technology holds the key to progress: its influence on our everyday lives is demonstrated by the increasing uptake of smart homes equipment such as smart speakers and smart plugs, allowing ever more control of our houses. Smart buildings also reduce energy consumption bills and offer great comfort.
Big Data is likely to become an increasingly important resource in building the next generation of cities alongside the use of sensors which can produce huge amounts of data. Smart cities will use limited resources more efficiently with sensors monitoring energy consumption; when used alongside 5G networks sensors can provide data such as information indicating when a bridge is at capacity or a problem with a water storage system.
The use of Digital Twin technology is increasing; this creates a digital picture of a physical asset or system, alongside engineering information which allows architects to understand and model its performance. Such technology allows professionals to visualize a project and its progress can be monitored during the build using drones.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used in design software, material selection and robotic process automation. During the design process AI can create computer generated options to resolve issues such as a building’s wind resistance and build strength. Architects can now calculate the carbon output of a building via Life Cycle Assessments set by international standards. They can also evaluate results through verified Environmental Produce Declarations which assess the environmental impact of a product throughout its lifespan.
Other innovations include Virtual Reality and 3D virtual design which enable clients to `see’ a proposed project completed. The use of assisted robotics is expected to increase with humans and robots working on construction schemes.
Technology may enable changes to the way in which we care for the elderly, which is being re-evaluated following Covid-19 and the high death toll figures seen in care homes. Whilst we currently care for older people in segregated, compartmentalised communities, changes being considered include using technology to allow better communication with family in case of a disease outbreak.
There is a global demand for timber and other construction products; the timber shortage is a result of the Coronavirus outbreak limiting production, followed by a surge in demand. The problem has been compounded by Brexit legislation disrupting the supply of imports, resulting in price increases for construction materials. A poll conducted by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors published in August 2021 indicates that construction material costs, including wood, are expected to rise by around 10% over the coming year.
Construction trends are evolving away from the traditional brick-built method: industrial design in homes is proving popular using products such as iron, wood, aluminium and recycled plastic which all have the benefit of reducing carbon costs. Environmental benefits can be gleaned by greater use of lighter materials especially for constructing walls, such as drywall (insulated metal stud drywall) and bio-sourced materials including wood, hemp wool and wood fibres.
Such products are sustainable as they store carbon while they are in use, reducing carbon dioxide levels before they are disposed of. Architects and designers are likely to focus on sustainable design, reusing or recycling existing materials to reduce the carbon footprint of a building and mitigate the negative impacts of extraction and waste. Successfully reused materials include cullet, which is waste glass, decarbonized and melted down for reuse.
Another trend is the demand for prefabricated building systems: over the past year the pandemic highlighted the need to rapidly design and build structures for hospitals and temporary accommodation. The market for modular offsite construction methods is expected to expand to combat the housing shortage and current lack of skilled workers in the industry; it is also a less wasteful method than the traditional building process.
There is also increasing interest in lightweight architecture such as tent-like structures which can be used as field shelters or recovery units in crises, being easy to build and portable. Our changing climate, severe weather episodes and the Covid-19 outbreak have highlighted the fragility of our systems and supply chains. Robust back-up strategies are required to ensure that alternative power and supply systems can be activated in crises and architects have a key role in keeping our buildings and infrastructure functioning.
Looking to the future
Clearly there is a need to plant more domestic forests to ensure a high-quality, economically priced supply of timber, encouraging biodiversity and trees which are disease resilient and adaptable to climate change. Houses need to be built with a range of sustainable materials including timber, avoiding the use of carbon-intensive materials such as concrete.
Our towns and cities may benefit from the creation of improved and exciting public spaces as awareness of our mental health gains traction, and technology will enable greater connectivity, helping mitigate the environmental impact of our urban areas.
These initiatives, combined with the Government’s aim for beauty as a prerequisite in new building schemes and the trend for flexible living and working space, present the architectural world with stimulating challenges.
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