While “the future of building design” is far too deep and rich a topic to cover in five minutes or less, (and, be honest, you knew that when you clicked that headline, right?) the top-level trends driving that future are much easier to wrap your head around.
If you’re currently working every day in the construction trades, these powerful trends won’t come as a surprise to you. You’ve seen them on the horizon for years now. But, if nothing else, let this article serve as a wake-up call that highlights the importance of actively integrating these trends into your current business — both through continual education for your seasoned pros and through strategic hiring going forward.
Energy efficiency and net-zero
To this day, commercial facilities account for about two-thirds of the energy expenditure in the United States. Understandably, lawmakers and forward-thinking investors have been pushing various methods of improving these buildings’ energy efficiency for many years now.
As we look to the future, there’s no longer room in the high-end professional design and construction field for erecting buildings that fail to meet the highest of energy efficiency standards. While some areas (such as the state of California) are pushing the envelope when it comes to legal requirements around energy efficient structures, it’s reasonable to expect those same efforts nationwide within the next 20 years.
When the public and private sectors collaborate to pursue lofty energy efficiency goals, amazing things can happen. One exciting example of what’s possible is the Net-Zero Plus Electric Training Institute in Los Angeles. This large building — specifically designed and built as a training facility for new and experienced MEP contractors — goes far beyond the laudable goal of “net-zero” energy usage.
The term “net-zero” indicates a building generates as much energy as it uses, therefore having a net-zero impact on the power grid, conserving energy. This “net-zero plus” building accomplishes that, and then goes on to produce 185,000 extra kWh annually — roughly the energy used by 17 average American homes during the same year.
If your firm isn’t actively pursuing training and expertise at that level, in both energy efficiency and energy generation technologies, you’re falling behind.
Of course, the people who live and work in the buildings we design and build have always been an important part of the design. But, in many cases in the past, that human element has only impacted design choices to the extent required by common sense: spaces needed to be sized so people could freely and comfortably move about, safety needed to be a priority in layout, and the design needed to accommodate the basic functionality human beings would expect of it.
The latest trends, however, expand upon that common level of accommodation and really put the human being — and the human experience — front and center in the design process.
As noted by Claire Richmond, a senior associate at interior design firm Gensler of London, “As designers in the built environment, we have a great responsibility to the communities, cultures and individuals we design for. It’s up to us … to really understand how people lead their everyday lives, and how they think and feel, to offer progressive, intelligent solutions that do justice to the vast array of human values and lifestyles.”
Gensler won the 2016 Sleep Set competition by taking a human-centric approach to designing the “hotel” of the future, which turned out to not even be a hotel (once they recognized that humans would much prefer a homier, more laid back guest room-style accommodation).
Going forward, nearly all building designs are going to need to incorporate more and more of the human element, especially early in the design process. While form and function have traditionally been the two elements designers struggle to balance, in the future, convenience, comfort, and flexibility — all highly human factors — will change that dynamic dramatically.
The term “disruptive” has negative connotations, but in this context, it doesn’t need to be all bad. However, if construction firms try to ignore or fight against the impact of these technologies, it can get very bad very quickly.
Nathan Miller, founder of the AEC consultancy Proving Ground published an excellent article on the Building Design and Construction blog just a few months ago on that very topic. Citing the rapidly evolving fields of automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (among others), his article serves as a plea to modern construction professionals to take stock of how these innovations are affecting both current and future consumer expectations.
Those firms that successfully stay afloat and ride the wave of innovation will find that these disruptive technologies are really a blessing. But, of course, if you’re not on top of that wave, you’re probably drowning somewhere beneath it.
This is just a general glimpse at the future of building design, but it carries a lot of meaning. We want to take this opportunity to thank you for joining us on the Constructible blog where we intend to continue tracking and discussing the future of the construction industry (along with a host of other valuable topics). Bookmark us and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
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