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.

House Network is the UK's first and award winning online estate agents.

 
 
 
 

Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.