by Pen Stuart

The home is the safe heart of many consumers’ lives, but this can make people overlook the changes that are reshaping the way people live, so it’s worth a closer look. The recent Grand Designs Live expo in London highlighted some of the most exciting things in homes. For me there were three highlights:

The future is sooner than you think: Changes in homes and housebuilding are assumed to be slow, incremental, and fairly dull, but Jaya Skandamoorthy, of the BRE, argued in a talk that when we look abroad this may be about to change. China for instance, needs to build 35 million more homes over five years to cope with urbanisation and falling household size. The sheer scale involved means the government can consider new approaches to building design, size of living space, materials used, and even urban planning itself.

Consumers in control: Closer to home, self-build housing has historically been only about 10% of new builds in the UK, compared to almost half on the continent, but now there seems to be an appetite to increase this proportion – among both governments and individuals. A raft of new policies has been launched in the past months, with the intention of doubling the amount of self-build. This could make housing more affordable, especially for young people who are currently squeezed out of the market. House building may become less constrained by the conservative expectations of developers and builders. This also mirrors the wider trends we’ve seen in other sectors.

Fit buildings to people, not people to buildings: The automated home has been talked about enthusiastically for a long time – where all devices will talk to each other seamlessly and resolve domestic problems invisibly. Grand Designs had a special Automated Home display section. But what struck me was how much this looked like a fairground – something you wander around, enjoy the spectacle, and get back to your real life.

As we say in our Technology 2020 report, people are often unwilling to fundamentally change their behaviours. On the subject of green homes, Hank Dittmar, Chief Executive of The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, noted that new eco homes are often judged to be strange ‘teletubby homes’. Planners have declared in the past ‘the buildings work, but the people don’t’. But this is putting the problem round the wrong way. The Prince’s Foundation Natural House shows significant potential – embodying modern, eco-friendly efficient technology, but looking traditional – as a way to combine sustainability with mass market appeal.

The picture at the top of this post is of a street of ‘Natural Homes’ from the Learning from London blog, and it used with thanks.

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