What does the future hold for the built environment?

12 emerging themes which will shape the future of the built environment

  • 7 Sep 2016

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According to fresh research from Marshalls, four global megatrends will manifest themselves as 12 themes which, together, will dominate the shape of public and private spaces over the next decade.

The report, Future Spaces, is the result of intensive research and pulls on the expertise and experience of leading academics, industry commentators, architects, landscape designers, material technologists, engineers and futurologists.

The megatrends identified by the report are: the growing importance of sustainability driven by climate change; shifting demographics caused by an aging population and a growing middle class; accelerating urbanisation; and the growth of smart technology.

The future of the built environment

From these megatrends, the report’s contributors were then able to identify 12 themes, which will form the ‘street level’ realisation of how urban spaces are shaped:

1) The blurring of public and private spaces
A subtle shift in the ownership and management of urban spaces will change where individuals can go and what they can do ‘in public’. This in turn will cause a shift in the way spaces are planned, designed and specified, creating an opportunity for fresh innovation by landscape architects and engineers.

2) More people in smaller spaces
The flow of people into cities will force more residents, workers and commuters into the same spaces, causing some buildings to become smaller and others higher. As a result, clever design will be needed to make spaces work harder.

3) Demarcating multi-use spaces
Linking in with the theme of smaller spaces, both indoor and outdoor areas will increasingly be designed to serve multiple functions for different types of users. This will lead landscape architects to explore new uses for existing materials, as well as experimenting with new materials. 

4) A new wave of water management
Ongoing climate change will necessitate bold changes at both policy and implementation level if flood risk is to be managed effectively. This presents a genuine opportunity for innovative thinking, with water sensitive urban design expected to lead the way.

5) Future concrete
Thanks to the mega trend of urbanisation, concrete will continue to play a vital role in creating our urban environments. However, this long-standing material will evolve to meet the challenges of the future with ‘smart’ concrete likely to become increasingly important.

6) The blossoming of biophilic design
Another theme linked to urbanisation will be the rise of design that mimics natural forms. Biophilic design will play a pivotal role in improving people’s quality of life, as city dwellers seek to establish a connection with nature.

7) Urban greening
Green strategies designed to manage air quality, water run-off and climate change, as well as providing health benefits for city inhabitants, will play a crucial role in ensuring future cities are liveable.

8) The rise of the super-landlord
‘Generation rent’ will attract more institutional investors to the private rental market, leading to a growing ‘build to rent’ sector and a new take on design and specification. If supported by design standards, this is predicted to have a positive impact on the quality of environments available to those who live in rented homes.

9) The gender-neutralisation of society
As genders become more balanced, the way the built environment is created and used will shift. Women will become increasingly influential, both as practitioners and consumers. A more balanced mix of decision makers will affect how future issues, such as greening of spaces, sustainability and the housing crises, are tackled.

10) Place making for the people
A step change to involve people in the planning of their own community will put local needs and aspirations at the heart of the built environment. In cities which are becoming ever larger, this will also engender a sense of belonging and ownership, thereby helping to build a cohesive society.

11) Building in resilience
With climate change and increasing populations, cities will need to be able to function properly under increasing stresses. To do this, resilience will need to be consciously and collaboratively built in to a city’s design to allow them to withstand the impact of natural, social, political and economic events.

12) The circular economy
The circular economy, which aims to eradicate avoidable waste, will require a radical rethink of the linear supply and manufacturing chain and a shift in thinking by the public.

The Future Spaces report concludes that, over the next decade, urban spaces will be shaped by a series of interconnecting trends. Together, these will have a lasting influence on the UK’ s cities. These trends will present professionals, who work within the built environment, with a huge range of opportunities, challenges and surprises with which they can shape the future.

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