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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Liverpool looks to move hospitality industry outdoors

One of the industries that’s taken the most immediate hit from the Covid crisis is hospitality. Bars and restaurants have been closed for the duration of the lockdown; even once it eases, the need for social distancing will reduce the number of punters they can serve at any one time.

There’s not much that can be done about the former problem, but one city, at least, is taking steps to tackle the latter. On Monday Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, announced a £450,000 project to redesign streets and enable businesses to create covered seating areas outside. 

The goal is a streetscape that looks more like many continental European cities, where cafes spill out of their premises into the surrounding streets. So a restaurant that finds, post-lockdown, that it now needs to keep tables 2 metres or more apart will be able to make up for some of the lost capacity by expanding its footprint.

Liverpool council is working with designers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Liverpool BID Company, another business group, on the project. Details of the criteria for the fund are being finalised, reports the Liverpool Echo, “and the process for being part of the pilot project will be announced in mid-June, once the phased reopening of retail in the city has begun and the impact been assessed”. If all goes well, lockdown restrictions on bars and restaurants are expected to begin easing in early July.

There are unanswered questions about how all this will work – whether it will require pedestrianisation or other changes to street design, for example, or to local planning restrictions – and it’s not clear how far that £450,000 will actually stretch. But this is nonetheless a lovely example of solving a problem while actually making a city better. 

Something similar is happening across the North Sea, incidentally, where the Dutch city of Rotterdam is allowing all businesses to convert parking spaces to retail space without a permit, and even offering them a loan of some free decking with which to do it. More here, albeit in Dutch.