There is a growing call to ensure that the innovations we apply to Buildings of the Future today make sense tomorrow.
At the heart of a Building of the Future is great design. Technology is the supporting act to design and one of the important tools that we use to achieve our aims, but it is great design that helps make optimal choices about technology solutions.
Designing Buildings of the Future will require a carefully considered balance between user experience and fit-for-purpose technology.
There are rising concerns that built-in technology will be out of date by the time it is constructed or, at least, by the time that a ten-year lease expires. To combat this, designing with flexibility in mind is key.
In future, we may see Buildings of the Future being mass-designed with flexibility in mind. 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. This could give rise to a greater degree of modular or off-site construction.
Finite usage for Buildings of the Future aside, the engineering industry is also seeing the rise of building contracts which incorporate 50-year design-life clauses. This has significant implications, given the unknown impacts of climate change and increasingly extreme weather incidents.
Technologies addressing this have included incorporating floating buildings that have the ability to generate their own energy, and utilise the local ecosystem to cool and heat given finite energy resources.
In future, we’ll see the increasing incorporation of underground facilities to utilise ground source heating and cooling, and the ability to generate, store and share energy through integrated systems. In addition, our definition of sustainability may change, and with the emergence of the shared economy, shift to what it means to be an active contributor to sustainable practices.
Aurecon sees opportunity for buildings to be business enablers, not barriers. Business environments change rapidly and our buildings need to respond quickly and efficiently. In future, buildings will be designed to be simple to use and user-managed. Walls will move easily and essential engineering services will be ‘plug and play’ to allow for easy change and integration. Buildings will be a combination of ‘flat pack furniture’ (easy assembly) meets ‘the car industry’ (mass production of parts). Imagine what we can create!
A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to Buildings of the Future is becoming less and less palatable. The use of new, flexible construction materials, including composite materials, additive manufacturing concrete, solar polymers and carbon fibre balsa, is fuelling new design approaches. These options are unlocking the architectural limitations of size, weight and shape that the building and construction industry works within today. To bring this to life, our thought processes and methods will have to evolve.
One of the biggest disruptors to the design engineering industry is that of new 3D printing technology. 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 create, relocate and shape Buildings of the Future.
3D printing offers ways to implement almost instant prototypes. The European Space Agency is using 3D printing to address the challenges of transporting materials to the moon to construct lunar habitations. Their study is investigating the use of lunar soil, known as regolith, as building matter. Layers of regolith are expected to be built up over the building on the moon by a robot-operated 3D printer.
In addition, the ability of robotics to simplify and automate a diverse range of tasks is also set to revolutionise Buildings of the Future. Within the construction industry, robots are now available to lay pavers and bricks; and drones provide new surveying and security opportunities and are used to construct sculptures and houses. Right now, Japan is reverting to robotics to provide basic services in aged care homes to solve the dearth of care workers.
While the rate of uptake of robotics isn’t certain, one thing is: 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. We must continue to explore design opportunities for emerging technologies, and prototypes such as this are vital to a mature design approach.