The homes that the future built

by Melanie Howard

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What value is there in knowing what’s next?

Futurology is fascinating, but the only legitimate business in ‘future gazing’ - call it what you will - is to help to make better decisions in the present. The acid test should be whether it helps strategists and policy-makers broaden their thinking and improve their ability to plan for change in any field. This is harder than it sounds - things mitigate against the effective use of knowledge and nowhere is this more true than in homebuilding. It is a textbook case of an industry that is, by-and-large, failing to adapt fast enough to the needs and sensibilities of a changing world.

To be fair, most reasons that the industry is trailing are beyond its control: bureaucracy and planning constraints, shortages of homes confusing market messages, overheating of the homes-as-investment market and so on. But these have been compounded by a failure for design processes to become consumer led and better informed by the emerging needs of the customer. It is often difficult to persuade companies in this sector to invest in the creation and application of social and consumer insights to drive innovation and ensure homes are fit for tomorrow’s consumer when they are built.

But it is clear that there is a leading edge among those firms that have the needs of the future inhabitant firmly at the heart of their design processes. This is keenly demonstrated by several of this year’s Housing Design Awards winners, whose skill in finding new and broader market appeal should encourage the wider industry. This the basis for better development which will feed through into better reputation, more satisfied customers and ultimately improved performance.

The trends shaping the market

The Future Foundation has identified a number of key trends that should be shaping the way that homebuilders plan and build, based on our analysis of social and consumer changes and forecasting. As you might expect, award winners represented in this publication have already developed schemes that take into account at least one and more of these trends. The hope is that this type of sociologically-based thinking, now made more concrete in the realities of these schemes, will inspire others. Five specific trends identify themselves as being instrumental in the thinking behind most developments reviewed in this publication. My aim here is to simply to describe them briefly, as a starting point for thinking about why these schemes are in the vanguard, based as they are on meeting the needs of tomorrow’s home buyer and inhabitant, as much as today’s - or ‘future proofed‘, rather than constrained by past conventions.

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