• NWD Architects

The sky’s the limit? – future directions of building design

Onwards and upwards is a phrase that could have been coined for the construction industry and its allied design sectors. Burgeoning progress has been made in all construction technologies, both in their assembly methods and material components, and also the in the way designers and architects conceive them. It’s interesting to look back at the advances made over the last three decades – for example, the now common use of Computer Aided Design (CAD) to create plans – but it’s even more intriguing to look forward and speculate what the future holds for architectural design.

The next dimension

With space at a premium in many desirable locations, vertical developments are becoming increasingly popular. Making the most out of vertical space is key to ensuring designers make their most of the available space, especially in urban environments, where land stock can be pricey and scarce. From designing flat drawings on paper, CAD has allowed construction design to leap off the page and become much more immersive. 3D design has allowed images and structures to give clients a very real sense of what a building may look like in reality from all angles, once it’s constructed. By using technology that draws on advancements affiliated to virtual reality, designers can take a concept and create images and experiences that demonstrate exactly what it might feel like to walk around the exterior, or through the building, before construction has even begun.

Virtually with us

We’ve seen virtual reality, or VR, used extensively in the entertainment and leisure sector – particularly in cinema and gaming, for example, where viewers can feel part of the experience by becoming part of the narrative, even if the setting is science-fiction or fantasy. When used in design, the software can balance the limitless possibilities of design with the practicalities of construction. What can you imagine, counterweighted by what construction can achieve? 3D printing too is being used much more widely in the engineering sector. It’s a key part of tutoring programmes in universities and is helping engineers of many disciplines to solve all kinds of problems – from the types and dimensions of material used, to the structure and shape of the buildings they can be used to create.

A material world

The types of material are also changing and this is being driven by a number of factors. Some natural building materials – to take an obvious example, traditional slate roofs – are becoming outmoded and falling out of use, while other changes are being driven by newly-invented elements. For example, the use of various substitutes for underfelt on roofs, which is now more often a breathable membrane. Cladding and panels are used more widely now in large-scale, multistorey construction, which considerably increases the ease and efficiency of the assembly process. Offsite manufacture of components which can then be assembled in situ also contribute for even great efficiency. Thermal blocks have become much lighter in weight over the years – so easier to handle – but their efficiency in thermal transmission and retention has also improved dramatically. This has mainly been due to probably the biggest factor impacting construction these days, the preservation of the environment and the effects of climate change.

Environmental change

Environmental impacts are having a huge an influence on the way we design and built today – this is both for residential homes, and also for industrial, business and retail units too. Homes need to be more environmentally-friendly, they need to be more economical to build and run, and they should have as little impact on their surroundings as possible. They may also need to address new thinking on hybrid working from example, with fewer staff actually onsite and more working, at least part-time, from home. Developers are also looking seriously at the introduction of recycled water schemes into designs, where water collected on site is reused for such tasks as flushing the toilet, or for irrigation. Retail and office units need to be more economical to run too – gone are the days of leaving the lights on throughout the night in retail spaces and offices. It is seen, rightfully, as an extreme waste of a valuable energy resource.

There’s an abundance of new thinking on ways to make construction design more in line with climate change and sustainability, and incorporating these theories into practice is key to the success of building in the future. This fits closely with current thinking on smart cities, where urban developments retain their focus on renewable and recyclable energy within the environment, and design becomes fully-integrated into the wider process.

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