There is a lot for us to consider
There is a burning platform for change in the design and construction of our built environments. Increasing urban populations, rising demand for residential, commercial, social and public buildings, escalating costs and declining profits, means a step-change needs to occur to create a democratic and sustainable sector for the future.
While prefabrication, modularisation and industrialised design and construction in general is occurring in pockets around the world and has been for decades, it is not occurring broadly, and not at a fast-enough pace for significant change.
Drawing on Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation, the time is ripe for a new entrant to emerge at the bottom of the market, creating a maelstrom of change akin to what Henry Ford achieved with the car industry in the early 1900s and Uber and Airbnb have delivered to transportation and travel in the 21st century.
Low cost, commoditised products available to many through construction robotics and 3D printing systems, with minimum human interface on the actual construction site, is the only way in which we will meet the global need for buildings of the future. New processes, technologies and materials are enablers already in place to assist with this transformation.
All that is now required is a mindset and behaviour shift of designers, developers, owners, suppliers, governments and end-users, towards a new breed of buildings that are built by robots, standardised, commoditised and affordable. While not likely to cater to all, there will still be room for customisation and optimisation. Questions of ethics and craft will also need to be addressed, to ensure a smooth transition. The gains will need to be greater than the losses, for customers to make the shift.
But as Christensen points out, the ‘job that needs to be done’, in this case, hiring an affordable and functional building to provide a house, office, university or healthcare facility is a far more relevant opportunity for widespread innovation than merely tweaking an existing product or service hoping to meet ongoing customer demand.
The buildings of the future may arrive on-site via a 3D printer in a factory or may in fact be assembled in-situ by robotic processes.
They may take weeks rather than months or years to be constructed, and their cost may be a tenth of what they are today. Entire communities could be assembled cheaply and quickly, providing homes and public buildings for currently homeless populations, or at least those for whom home ownership is beyond their reach. On the other end of the scale, high-end buildings featuring customised designs could still be available for those with the means to purchase them.
There is a lot for us to consider – we don’t have all the answers now, but as long as we keep asking the right questions, solutions will eventually emerge.
DOWNLOAD FULL REPORTRETURN TO BUILDINGS OF THE FUTURE