Smart buildings

The ‘house of the future’ has yet to become the new standard. Refrigerators do not yet keep track of supplies, and mirrors do not yet show us a list of appointments or tasks for the day. But appearances can be deceptive. Smart devices and home automation have crept into our living space unnoticed. Just think of all the information that is in your smartphone, tablet, smart TV, kitchen appliance, automobile, energy meter, game console, or digital watch.

4D printing could allow more flexible construction of homes and offices, including walls that automatically adjust their thickness and porosity to the prevailing weather conditions. There will come a time when houses will not only turn up the heating or air conditioning at the right moment, but will also make sure that our groceries get purchased, the laundry is folded, and a healthy delicious dinner is ready at the right time. Will new technologies help us to change our daily routines and, if so, how will this affect the development of our infrastructure and cities?

Besides making it easier to tailor spaces to fit our personal tastes and fancies, new materials and robotics will allow the same room to be used for different purposes, thus reducing the number of rooms we need to meet our personal requirements. There will also be more sharing of our buildings and houses with other people. What implications does this have for the speed and quality of urbanisation and mobility? Are their downsides to the growing importance of technology? Will we feel at ease in a house fitted with sensors that encroach on our privacy, and by consequence affect our social behaviour, our home environment, and our autonomy? Or will we embrace it and love the comfort it will offer us?

Freely available professional design software and open source design will make it easier for end users to take part in the design and construction process. In many cases, the construction of energy-neutral buildings will be in the end-users’ interest, as they are the ones who will have to foot the bill when they move in. Innovations in energy efficiency, self-generation and storage could quickly become more commonplace as end users start to become more closely involved in construction.