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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The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.


Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

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