What will the future of housing look like?

Homes of the future on display in Paris, 1974. Image: Getty.
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The last decade has been a challenging period for housing in the UK. The next ten years do not look any different – although there have been schemes put in place to ease the strain of ever increasing house prices and home-ownership.

Architects are looking to take on a new role in housing, with pioneers such as Richard Rogers pushing for the acceptance of his Y:Cube scheme of prefabricated houses, designed for young homeless people, in partnership with YMCA.

Smart sustainable technology and multi-purpose spaces are on the rise, and are likely to become the standard in the next 30-40 years. The government pledged that Britain would build 300,000 homes in 2018, but only managed around 230,000; even optimistic estimates suggest it will only manage around 250,000 in future years. With the ever growing population it would be interesting to see whether there are any additional steps taken to ensure long term sustainability.

Technology like driverless cars and mirror smart screens are expected to be commonplace within the next two decade – so it only makes sense that our homes are updated to accommodate these new gadgets and advancements.

General shifts in generational living behaviours now mean that houses with have to become flexible spaces that can comfortably hold an ageing population. There are also clear moves towards cleaner energy, eco-building and protection against more extreme weather conditions caused by climate change.

So what innovative approaches towards housing can be expected in the future? Although speculative, the below provides just an insight of what we could see in the next few decades.


1) Robot builders

Imagine a brand new home, built within 48-72 hours for around £12,000. That is the claim of Apis Cor, an American firm, which was the first to successfully complete a house printed using mobile 3D printing technology in Stupino, Moscow. The completed construction (including interior) took around 28 hours for an open plan studio-style home at just over 450 square feet.

The future might even include SAM, a bricklaying robot laying the groundwork for robotic construction. Designed to operate collaboratively with a mason, it can work six times faster than a human, laying 3,000 bricks a day. It’s hoped SAM will be introduced into the UK in the next five years after it has been trialled extensively in construction sites across the US.

The use of drones has also made its way on to the building site. Japanese construction giant Komatsu are currently using drones as the “eyes” for automated bulldozers. The drones can scan the building site, and feed the information to the machines to plot a course.

2) New materials

Modern flat-pack homes are now much better designed and put together than homes post WW2. Manufacturer Huf Haus is now pushing the introduction of shipping container styled properties.

Shipping container homes in Germany. Image: Getty.

Even the type of materials used is advancing. Timber has found its way back into house building thanks to advanced construction techniques, and is now being in the construction of sky-high towers. Urban design specialist Perkins+Will is teaming up with the University of Cambridge to develop the River Beech Tower, an entirely timber 80-storey structure.

On the other side of the material spectrum, we have the use of plastic bricks. Lise Fuglsang Vestergaard from Denmark developed the concept of recycling plastic into useful building materials for future homes. The colourful bricks can withstand up to six tonnes of pressure, and if exposed to the monsoon season are likely to be able to hold up better compared to the current clay brick homes that are often washed away.

3) Living in Space

Probably the most optimistic option, but the same was said for man going to the moon. With yearly advancements in space exploration and the likes of Richard Branson and Elon Musk dabbling with the idea of space tourism within the next few years, we cannot discount the possibility of human settlement one day on planets such as Mars.

Homes in space! Image: Housenetwork.co.uk.

The idea of living in space one day does seem alien to many with logistics and possibilities seeming very slim. Studies by Russia between 2007 and 2011 considered the psychological challenges for a Mars crew. Isolation simulations carried out in a spacecraft showed that after 520 days, four of the six members developed psychiatric problems, including sleep disorders and depression. Researchers decided that astronauts would need coping strategies to deal with the isolation as well as frustrations over the 40-minute communication delay with Earth from Mars.

The future? Image: Housenetwork.co.uk.

If we do manage to overcome such issues and settle successfully in space, it would be interesting to understand the dynamics of society. The types of homes that would be built to deal with the weather and pressure changes, transport and amenities to improve comfort.

There is still a huge housing shortage in the UK and there are still high doubts on whether this will be met in the next few decades especially with the ever increasing UK population, creative solutions and policies seem to be certainly necessary to ensure residents can have improved living quality and the necessary infrastructure to grow with their families.

4) Self-sustaining housing

It’s not just the population that’s growing: it’s also food and energy consumption. Understanding the steps required to ensure families can live in an era of self-sustenance is essential for the future. There are various ideas on how houses can be made to benefit the eco-system, including:

  • Built-in water collection and filtration;
  • Passive heat and heated spaces for winter;
  • Intelligent kitchens to aid with food and nutrition;
  • Natural ventilation;
  • Built in solar-energy;
  • Extendable and demountable spaces;
  • Attached greenhouses for organic food production.

Some possible upgrades. Image: TMD Studio.

Although these are just a few ideas of upgrades that can be made in homes of the future, there also needs to be a balance in considering the costs involved. Millions will have to be spent on R&D and governmental/environmental approvals, which may further delay the implementation of such ideas. The costs of building such homes may also be much more than current costs, which may end up being passed on to the consumer.

So we must consider whether these more sustainable homes will be available to the general public – or only affordable for those with deeper pockets.

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Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.