Attributes of Buildings of the Future and Their Impact on Workplace Design

The fourth installment of our series of articles on the future of work.

Image courtesy of CallisonRTKL.

This is the fourth article in our series on the Workplace of the Future. The first article featured A Brief History of the Workplace of the Future. Part 2 highlighted the workforce and the third installment featured the commute. We now focus on the physical home of the office: the building!

Buildings are by far the most permanent part of the workplace. With an average lifespan of about 80 years, many buildings outlive the occupants they serve.

Recent construction trends favor wild designs, featuring buildings that push the boundaries of engineering, market return and consumer popularity. Buildings are also redefining height limitations; at least eight of the world’s tallest buildings are planned to top out within the next five years.

While new buildings showcase cutting-edge technological, engineering and architectural innovations, existing buildings make up the majority of the built landscape now and will continue to do so long into the future. As the typical building requires a refresh approximately every forty years, building retrofits and repositioning are an important factor in the future of buildings and workplaces.

In addition to adopting and normalizing the design innovations of the most forward-thinking buildings, there will be a continued emphasis on reducing energy, water usage and costs.

In Ten Years

A few themes dominate the next ten years. The private sector will take on greater responsibility for protecting the environment; building ownership will find ways to generate additional revenue through building design and management; live/work concepts will continue to become wildly popular, and technology will enable smaller, more effective footprints.

Long-term cost savings from sustainable and energy-efficient design will increase even as the initial cost of implementation decreases. What are now cutting-edge ideas, such as energy-generating algal facades, air-purifying interior finishes and autonomous energy generation, will become commonplace. We will also see biomimetic, biophilic, and bioreceptive design techniques continue to expand.

Buildings and end users will generate less waste, consume less outside energy and generate more energy onsite, reducing environmental impact, saving money and decreasing reliance on public utilities. This shift will place added responsibility on property owners to maintain onsite infrastructure elements including water filtration, energy capture and waste disposal.

Development in the next ten years will be positioned for convenience and accessibility, and the live/work model will become more widespread in new construction and renovations. We will see ownership maximize the value of built assets, and multi-tenant, multi-use buildings will replace owner-occupied buildings to promote flexibility and ease of modification.

Integration of technology into building systems will reduce required space for HVAC and utility equipment and the power required to operate them. Technology will also change the ways in which occupants interact with the built environment. End-user devices will continue to become smaller, reducing plug loads and further limiting the need for energy generation and cooling capacity.

We’ll see buildings become more customizable and responsive to occupant needs. Smart building technology will slowly become the norm for new construction, allowing worker preferences to determine ambient temperature, lighting levels and beyond. Built environments will increase reliance on computerization, allowing for more mainstream applications of remote work and virtual reality.

Impact on Workplace Design

  • Rethinking the lease and the building: Changes in tenant demands and building revenue mean that buildings will become better suited to occupant needs and developer expectations. The lease will be rethought with simplified terms, shorter duraction and on-demand offices.
  • Changing use over time: Designers and developers will shift towards more generic standards and simple modules that can be quickly adapted to fit tenant requirements as needs change.
  • High-tech, high-touch: High-definition video will become ubiquitous, making it easier to collaborate from afar and making security less visible and intrusive. Highly connected wearable tech will enable control of spaces via sensor systems.
  • Dominance of the smart office: Buildings with software/application-based control systems will become mainstream. Building maintenance teams will become increasingly technologically-savvy.
  • Reducing Environmental Impact: Environmentally-friendly practices will be commonplace, leading to reduced reliance on systems such as LEED and BREEAM; ratings will be supplanted by wellness-oriented programs with a heavy focus on building-integrated health management and strong organizational polices such as WELL, Fitwel, SHINE, etc.

In Twenty-Five Years

Farther into the future, we see substantial flexibility in the definition of the built environment and the ways in which it serves occupants.

By 2050, an additional 30 million buildings (over 120 billion SF) will be required; however, many existing buildings will still be in use with modifications to reshape the way they function. The extensive quantity of new and renovated buildings will likely result in a rethinking of urban and suburban infrastructure and development models.

Building design and architecture will be able to respond directly to environmental threats. Construction and building operations may be engineered to reverse negative environmental impacts. We will likely see buildings that generate more energy than they use, clean the atmosphere through unique finishes and design elements, treat water used onsite and more.

As sea levels continue to rise, we may see floating buildings emerge and development patterns change as developers seek to avoid 100- and 500-year floodplains. In coastal locations susceptible to sea level rise, our cities will optimize infrastructure to meet demand while preventing disaster.

Underwater buildings will make strides forward. Currently largely confined to the luxury hospitality market and tourist attractions, Samsung predicts sub-aquatic communities powered by solar energy and ocean wave energy in the coming years.

The concentration of populations in urban areas will influence new construction and increase the speed and height of development. Designers will push the limits of vertical architecture to create skyscrapers large enough to function as self-contained cities. Futurist Ian Pearson projects buildings up to 18 miles high (8,000 stories); for comparison, the Burj Khalifa is a mere 160 stories.

The Internet of Things will continue to impact infrastructure, as well. Futurist Thomas Frey notes the possibility of over 100 trillion sensors 20 years from today, changing the way we design, operate and measure just about everything. Increased technological integration means that buildings and infrastructure will likely be able to charge devices, carry communications and generate energy.

Impact on Workplace Design

  • Elevator design changes dramatically: Ultra high-rise buildings will require an extensive rethinking of the ways in which people travel throughout a building. Elevators will look to technologies for high-speed train travel, such as magnetic levitation and pneumatic tube transportation for inspiration and speed.
  • Spaceports for parking and delivery: Ultra high-rise buildings will be easier to access from the air than from the ground. This requires rethinking parking and loading docks to accommodate flying cars and drone deliveries.
  • Environmental positioning: Climate change and rising sea levels will strongly influence population distribution and building development.
  • Consolidated urban areas: Concentrated development and ultra high-rise projects in urban areas will reduce the need for sprawl.
  • Self-contained infrastructure: Infrastructure will be concentrated inside buildings or development sites to create self-contained urban centers.
  • Autonomous energy generation occurs worldwide: As technological integration increases, buildings and infrastructure will be able to charge devices and communicate with other systems.

What if…

We continue to explore the less likely, but still possible “what ifs”:

… Earth becomes uninhabitable and we colonize Mars?

… new and innovative materials and methods completely redefine the way we build?

… a massive global security scare (or artificial intelligence) reduces our reliance on technology?

… building underground becomes safer and more affordable than building above ground?

We live in a rapidly changing world, and while we can predict some trends, all we truly know is that buildings will continue to evolve and that their evolution will impact the ways in which we plan and use workplaces.

Our next issue will bring together the concepts of worker, commute, and building, providing a holistic look at the Future of Work.

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