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4 trends that will radically transform the built environment sector

The building industry is often noted for just how slow it has been to change. While other industries are radically reshaping in response to technological, cultural, demographic and economic shifts, the built environment sector has been sitting stagnant, clinging to the status quo.

But not for much longer. Major shifts in technologies, how we work and what people expect from their buildings are ushering in a new era, promising to deliver buildings straight from the page of a science fiction novel.

Global engineering consultancy Aurecon is set to launch a white paper on these trends, named Buildings of the Future: science fiction or science fact?

The company spoke to its own staff and a range of industry stakeholders to pinpoint what the future was expected to hold.

Aurecon Buildings of the Future leader Peter Greaves said the four drivers identified in the paper had the potential to radically transform the built environment industry over the next 30 years.

People

As you’ll hear in our upcoming ebook on healthy offices, people, rather than the built form or technology, are at the centre of a building’s value.

Buildings of the future will be able to “self-tune” in response to occupants, with sensor technology allowing the building to know exactly how many people are in the office at one, and adjust services accordingly.

“Advancements in monitoring and security, building management system apps, information screens, WiFi, automated elevators, lighting and air conditioning will mean that services are adjusted before the worker even steps out of the building of the future elevator,” the paper says.

These future offices will be characterised by:

  • Variety of spaces – including facilities for agile working, sitting and standing meeting rooms, creative spaces, coffee shops, couches, training areas, gathering areas as well as standard carrels.
  • Social context – buildings of the future will need to also cater for needs such as crè
  • Enhanced understanding of staff utilisation of space – tracking staff to better understand the use of space and high traffic office areas will allow for a more agile work environment, drastically reducing inefficiencies in space, energy and workplace design.
  • On-demand services – knowing where your building occupants are located gives rise to exciting possibilities, include on-demand HVAC, lighting control, room bookings, emergency evacuation management, rental of space based on time used and greater sharing of spaces.

Flexible design

Designing with flexibility in mind is another key driver that will ensure buildings can keep up to pace with the speed of technological transformation.

“Buildings of the future will no longer be rigid structures that can’t change: by design, they will adapt and their spaces will be adaptable without significant building modifications,” the paper says.

“This could give rise to a greater degree of modular or off-site construction.”

3D printing is a technological key to flexibility, which will bring with it the death of the “one size fits all” building approach.

“The 3D printer is significantly disrupting the traditional design role held by the structural engineer, but, at the same time, presents exciting new opportunities in how building designers will create, relocate and shape buildings of the future,” Greaves says.

One respondent said 3D printed buildings would be a reality within 10 years, and would disrupt both the design and construction industries.

“Twenty years ago, if you were to draw the ideas we are seeing today, you would be fired, yet today that’s exactly what the clients want,” they said.

The paper says that while rate of uptake of technologies like robotics isn’t certain, designers nonetheless needed to be open to these new ways of doing things.

“Those working on buildings in future will need to maintain an appetite for new and advanced technology, materials and methodologies if they want to stay relevant.”

Complex technology that’s easy to use

The increasing complexity and sophistication of technology will not mean it will be more difficult to operate. Conversely, new technologies will “just work”, without the user understanding how.

“The ultimate goal for technology is that the facilities management of the building of the future will self-manage, learn, anticipate, adapt and enhance: without the users being aware of it.”

Greaves says the facilities management space will be disrupted by the Building Internet of Things – developing a building as a smart device able to transmit and receive data for the use and management of building, which will lead to “shared building maintenance hubs”.

“Such hubs would be designed to provide facilities for all local buildings to centrally monitor electricity, water, energy storage common areas and integrate other aspects of maintenance and management of operational efficiencies.”

Measuring bottom-line benefits

Better metrics to support the business case will be needed to make these new buildings a reality.

“To solve the investment conundrum, we will need to focus on improving the tools we use to calculate the cost-value equation,” the paper says.

“We’ll need to develop better metrics to support the business case for buildings of the future, and take advantage of government incentives to foster innovation in this field.”

Aurecon is calling for more specific measurement standards to be introduced to allow the returns on investment from new building technology to be calculated, including “their achievement of occupant wellness, connection to local community, energy being delivered to the right place at the right time, as well as the integration of appropriate technology and new materials”.

“Establishing these standards will require an ahistorical level of collaboration between innovative executives, HR and buildings professionals.”

Aurecon managing director, built environment James Bennett said in order to help design the next generation of buildings, they first needed to be envisioned.

“Those who shape buildings of the future will be those who, firstly, realise that our world is changing and have the boldness to not only let go of, but question, the status quo so that working with government and economic leaders, we might reimagine our physical spaces and infrastructure. Engineers need to lead such conversations,” he said.

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