23 September 2011

The Day After Tomorrow

The Earth’s population will grow by about three billion people in the next 50 years, one billion of whom will be in China and India. The citizens of these countries will want more and improved buildings, which will drive the demand for innovative types of high-performance buildings supported by logical design methods. Although most of the growth will occur in the developing world, it is predicted that the UK will be the biggest country in Western Europe by 2050, overtaking both France and Germany. The UK's population will increase from 62.2 million today to 77 million in just 40 years, a rise of almost 24%.
World Population Growth
The demands that providing the buildings for these people will place on nature’s ability to supply the resources and absorb the pollution will be incomparable. Meeting these demands will require a significant increase in material efficiency, a switch to more renewable resources and materials that can be endlessly recycled. The cost to the world’s economy and to the environment by poor choices in building design could be staggering because of the massive scale of the undertaking.

The combined challenges of a shortage of fossil fuels (oil production will peak in the next few decades and may already have), geopolitical concerns regarding dependence on Middle Eastern and Russian energy and increasing concern about the growing current and future impact of global warming from carbon emissions will change the energy supply and consumption landscape.

Alternative renewable sources of energy will need to be developed. The only question is which technology and when and the manner in which power is produced, distributed, and consumed needs to evolve to link building-integrated power production to building operation and power consumption in a dynamic, two-way manner. Using this technology together with network communications, buildings will become active parts of the energy grid that communicate with each other and with the community to produce power at the least financial and environmental cost.

As has occurred in the last half century, and likely will continue into the next, occupants will be more demanding in that they expect dry, healthy, comfortable, durable and energy-efficient buildings that are delivered more quickly and economically. The increased chance of legal claims and rising insurance premiums will introduce architects and builders to the risks associated with poor building performance.

Building materials, elements and systems will continue to develop and change to reduce cost, resource use, increase recyclability and building performance. They are likely to become more sophisticated and will be designed for specific uses. In fact, smart building materials are already available, such as vapor control layers that change their permeance with relative humidity and advanced materials such as electrochromic films that offer the potential to control solar radiation, and space-age technologies like aerogel insulations that provide very high insulation values in much thinner layers.

The types of buildings are also expected to change. Multiple residential buildings and mixed-use commercial buildings will become more important sectors. Office space will transform into highly flexible workspace as more people work outside the office and at home, supported by cheaper and higher bandwidth communication. As property in cities becomes more valuable, and people expand the use of their homes, we will expand into the attic and basement spaces. This will demand solutions to making these spaces comfortable and functional. An aging population will also demand more accessible homes, with few obstacles to mobility and perhaps more co-housing of extended families.

Retrofit and repair will grow to dominate the building industry. As the building stock matures, it will become a necessity to improve the functionality and energy efficiency of over 24 million residential buildings in England. This will require new products, systems, design and delivery processes.

As a result of these developments, there will be a need for a better understanding of the performance of buildings so that improved and more reliable solutions can be delivered more sustainably.