By Robert Hickson 12/03/2018

There’s plenty of innovative thinking around building houses, but less so about communities.

I’ve been writing a series of blogs on the future of construction for the industry transformation initiative. They’ll be appearing on their website over the next few months.

There’s a lot going on in the housing and construction field. It’s not just about increasing the rate at which buildings (particularly houses) can be built, but also improving health and safety (of people and buildings), and raising the productivity of the sector (by, for example, better coordination of activities, and reducing costs).

PrefabNZ is extolling the benefits of prefabrication, which is more common elsewhere.

Flat-pack housing is coming too.  And you thought assembling a bookcase was stressful.

Other innovations are starting to become more common overseas. Houses are being “printed” – although extruded is a better term.


Folding buildings that can be relocated are also popping up.

While robots are taking on bricklaying tasks too.


Monitoring buildings as they go up is also getting automated. Doxel’s robot can be used to spot problems or defects soon after structures go up, rather than finding out about them (a long time) later.

Many other areas of the construction sector are attracting technological improvement too, as illustrated by this market map from CB Insights


Little houses

Design is also becoming more influential. We are seeing the rise of small houses designed to be put in a variety of places.

These include the Wikkelhouse, a dwelling that incorporates advanced cardboard. Adding sections gives you a longer small house.


Ecocapsules” (see the header image) are also being promoted, as are a range of other small dwellings designed to go “off-grid”. Buildings based around shipping containers are also getting more sophisticated.

These all look very attractive. However, are we setting up for a future of “freedom housing”, where small houses start popping up in wild and scenic places with little regard for where the wastes go?

Thinking beyond the house

There’s more to construction than just robots and nifty small house designs. I’m no hippy, but there is plenty of scope for thinking more about how we create better apartments and communities in the future, rather than just better houses that we can locate in splendid isolation from everyone else.

More thought needs to be given to policies, particularly around the future of communities, and urban areas in general. As Bruce Stirling emphasises in The Atlantic, this means more than just creating “smart cities”, which can become mainly just heavily surveilled and data-mined habitats.

Some thinking into the future of social housing is occuring in the UK (Pdf), and our Labour-led government has given an indication of its focus on social housing, but not about communities of the future.

Suburban houses are being re-designed to cater for the changing generations occupying them. But more thought needs to be given to creating and supporting multi-generational communities, such as you see in northern Europe.

Some councils elsewhere are starting to think more imaginatively about helping residents through the suburban planning and building processes. However, we should also be aware of the potential conflicts between (social) housing and preservation of green spaces.

Smarter thinking, too, is required about the wet spaces –  “thinking about water as a resource to live with rather than pushing it away” .

And finally, what about better houses for our little six legged friends? An Australian company has designed a beehive that is easier to get the honey out of, and so encourages more backyard beekeeping.

So lets plan for better communities, not just more houses.

Featured Image: Ecocapsule