Every industry I speak to thinks that they are the laggards. They believe that their industry is the least progressive, the one with the most work to do. This is almost never true, except for the construction industry. What would it look like if they were to modernise?
Future construction trends
Regular readers will know that I believe the shape of tomorrow’s economy is much more of a network than a monolith. Distributed resources assembled and connected to deliver against today’s objectives, then reconfigured to meet tomorrow’s needs.
In some ways the construction industry already works like this: each project tends to bring together a different team, and much of the labour and services are contracted. But these relationships tend to be handled in a high-friction, low agility fashion. Information flow is slow, processes are manual, and many mistakes are made.
Imagine a different model. One where the interaction between the major parties was entirely digital, built on a shared set of data and more importantly, processes and principles of operation. Imagine if the contracted labour could be sourced through a similarly digital platform – an Uber for trades, or a Deliveroo for builders.
You post your skills and labour requirements and the system matches it to the available labour, dynamically managing pricing to secure the required labour and balance it against budget. Each contractor would have a persistent digital CV, tracking experience, ratings, qualifications and perhaps any safety infringements.
The future cityscape
While physical objects are becoming increasingly digital, so too are digital objects becoming increasingly physical. The combination of artificial intelligence with a range of new sensing and display technologies means that digital artefacts and devices increasingly interact with us in physical ways: voice and gesture, observation and inference.
Whereas a building management system today might maintain environmental conditions, monitor fire safety, and minimise energy consumption, future systems might be able to wield much greater control and do so in collaboration with other buildings and spaces around them.
Imagine a building that largely builds itself, to the specifications in the design DNA that an architect defines. Imagine it can continuously optimise its internal layout to the needs of its users. Imagine it can collaborate with other nearby intelligences to maximise safety, comfort and utility for the people around it.
In the future our self-driving cars will be navigating their way around self-managing buildings, themselves an ecosystem of smart devices.
The future of city planning: what will our cities be built from?
We name many of the ages of history based on the most advanced materials with which we understood how to work. There was the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, Iron Age etc. Later, we focused on forms of mechanical and later electronic sophistication: Machine Age, Atomic Age, Space Age. Right now you could argue we’re in the Information Age. So what’s next?
Perhaps we might call it the ‘Quantum Age’? In this time we expand our existing comprehension of the world on a sub-atomic scale, and find new applications for this knowledge.
Borophene was only experimentally demonstrated in 2015, which means we have a long way to go before we understand how to produce it at scale and in useful forms. Though what has been learned from the production of graphene will likely help. The same is true of all the other materials and compounds being researched. They will all have a role to play in tomorrow’s world, but only when we learn how to make and use them at scale.
From new materials to new practices, the construction industry has to change. It will change, as the current model is clearly unsustainable.