The construction of legacies

Technology is having a major impact on how we live and work in the built environment – and our buildings will need to respond. The sooner we embrace this change as designers and occupiers, the less disruptive the transition will be.

Growing populations are necessitating a radical rethink of energy sources and distribution, water conservation and our approach to transportation networks. The scale of this change means that our built environment needs to work harder, more efficiently and be adaptable to different patterns of use. While this is reasonably straightforward to apply in planning new cities and conurbations, we are facing a challenge: upgrading existing buildings and infrastructure to improve capacity, flexibility and manageability while they remain in use.

Introducing innovative ways of working into historic properties is particularly challenging, especially in the commercial sector. Delivering flexibility, quality of environment and space efficiency within the constraints of a building designed to an out-of-date set of standards requires careful and collaborative thinking by all stakeholders.

Best-in-class flexible working spaces are very agile with the ability to adapt to different working styles. The number of desks with screens and keyboards is decided by work patterns, with the remainder of the spaces being breakout areas, meeting rooms, cafés, quiet corners and collaborative team spaces of various configurations. Such spaces are proven to be hugely successful and tend to generate an efficient but creative and dynamic atmosphere.

This approach will soon become the norm in the commercial world and over time will also migrate to the public sector as well as educational establishments. The connectivity of networks within and surrounding buildings, smart networks and information superhighways, will enable data collection and the ‘internet of things’ to be our tool for improvement – technology that evolves and learns about human behaviour to improve efficiency in design. As collaborative working matures, in effect the global village becomes our immediate team.

Learning from buildings themselves how to improve design and delivery is a truly circular feed. On top of this, to tackle energy shortages and climate change, we need to optimise energy usage in neighbouring developments, sharing resources via smart networks for optimum efficiency. For example, homes need more energy at night, workplaces during the day, so the solar energy harvested from any shared surfaces can be directed when and where needed.

We need to learn to manage our resources more effectively, and in terms of building design this especially means a focus on more passive methods – the organisation of spaces and creating a hard working envelope rather than introducing large energy consumers. We must deliver adaptable buildings that can be changed as needs evolve and develop.

Thriving rather than just living; and living successfully with less. An absolutely achievable aim.