Where are the design opportunities in the home of the future?

Everything from climate change to growing inequality is affecting the way homes need to be conceived and designers are rising to these new challenges.

Television ownership in the UK stood at just 36% in 1956 – five years later, three quarters of households had TV sets.

Homes have always shifted in line with technological advancements and cultural development. The television’s successful evolution into essential home device is a good example of both. As the world looks to the future in 2021, external influences like climate change, sustainability and accessibility are beginning to shape the functionality of our homes.

“Solar energy makes me stubbornly optimistic about the future”

There are already plenty of opportunities for designers when it comes to the home of the future – research and design consultancy Space10’s co-founder Simon Caspersen believes – as there are so many issues that need addressing.

“We are in the middle of an accelerating climate crisis, we experience growing inequality, rising loneliness, lack of access to affordable homes, an age boom is underway, air and noise pollution in every major city, many still lack access to reliable electricity and so forth,” he says.

Space10’s latest project, a book called The Ideal City, is a “celebration of solutions” to these problems, and helps gives an idea of how the home of tomorrow will plug into city-wide endeavours such as water harvesting (collecting rainwater where it lands) while taking advantage of widespread renewable energy sources. “Technological advances in solar energy are just one remarkable example that makes me stubbornly optimistic about the future,” Caspersen says.

Other work from the team, like the Urban Village Project suggests the home of the future might be modular, meaning houses could adapt to their inhabitants’ needs as they grow through different life stages, instead of the other way around. A pre-fabricated building solution would also drive down costs.

BETA House, The Ideal City, page 137. Photo by Ossip Van Duivenbode

“‘I have read the terms and conditions’ is humanity’s biggest collective lie”

In the optimal case, the home of the future will look less “futuristic” than popular culture has planned, Caspersen says. Think less chrome plating and robots, and more smart devices. “To me a smart home is not defined by how advanced the technology in the home is, but how smart the solutions are to create a better everyday life for both people and the planet,” he explains.

Technology for the sake of technology could be actively harmful for a home setting of the future, he continues. “More than looking at the tech itself and what it can do for us, I believe it’s more important than ever to look at the company and business model behind that product or service,” says Caspersen.

With privacy continually “under attack”, he says it will be good practice to interrogate the thinking behind these products, more so than we do now. “I still believe our home should be a place where we can feel safe and secure, a sanctuary that can provide the privacy and freedom to be ourselves, so we have become a lot more critical about what we invite in. ‘I have read the terms and conditions’ for example, is humanity’s biggest collective lie.”

The design of save! Graphic courtesy of EOOS

“A new chapter in sustainable wastewater management”

Intelligent technology – rather than the “smart” tech we’re currently used to – could have the biggest positive impact on the house of the future.

All areas of the home are beginning to be rethought, even the toilet. This one, produced by Swiss bathroom specialist Laufen in collaboration with Austrian design studio EOOS, shows how human waste can be reused. Called the “save!” toilet, it separates urine from faeces, which the company says “opens a new chapter in sustainable wastewater management”. “With save! we are not just proposing a new toilet, we are doing our part to introduce a systemic change to the way our whole sanitation infrastructure is set up,” says Cristiane Kopp, sustainability manager at Laufen.

The collected, separated urine can be repurposed into fertilizer for agriculture. Since the separation happens passively in the toilet bowl, no change in user behaviour is needed. This ticks multiple boxes, Laufen says. Valuable nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus can be recovered and reused, effectively closing the nutrient cycle. Additionally, it prevents nitrogen and phosphorus from entering natural waters through wastewater. The excess of those nutrients in coastal waters are a significant contributor to ocean “deadzones”, Laufen explains.

save! Photo by Laufen

The Home of 2030

While many of the innovations that will define our future homes are in the works now, the challenge will be convincing consumers of the benefits, encouraging adoption and ensuring affordability. As Kopp explains, the save! toilet and its conencted technical solutions are focused on new buildings because of the higher costs associated with older ones.

Within this context, it is often one of two things that stand in the way of such big transitions: people’s resistance to change a deeply anchored behaviour, or investors’ reluctance to bear the costs and the risks associated with investing in new technology,” she explains, adding that the public and private sector will need to come together to create the necessary incentives that drive technology like this forward.  

But how far away is the home of the future really? The Design Council’s Home of 2030 initiative encourages us to look at the near future. A public consultation by the organisation revealed the most desired qualities for the home of the future are low running costs and reliability. It is only much further down the list that things like smart tech come into question, which seems to reinforce the emphasis of “intelligent” over “smart”.

The winners of the competition of the same name, also run by the Design Council and the UK government provide insight into what our homes could look like in less than a decade. One winner, Connector Housing by Openstudio explores a modular solution to the home, which could help support different life requirements better and for longer.

A “connector” is a “flexible vertical unit”, the studio says, which can accommodate stairs, a lift, shared communal or work spaces or storage. Spaces can be “entirely re-customised” in response to changing occupant needs,” Openstudio says, including formulations for age-friendly and multi-generational layouts.

Urban Think Tank, The Ideal City, page 73

“You can’t realise utopia in a single flash”

The Design Council’s research focuses on the emotional requirements of the home, as well as physical. Feeling comfortable, safe and supported are highlighted as being particularly important, while physical needs are things like keeping occupants warm and dry.

The home of the future will need to provide both to be successful, the organisation says. Openstudio’s Connector Housing looks to do this in an adaptable and evolving way.

For Space10’s Caspersen people’s emotional needs in the home will differ greatly, but that this isn’t a reason to not strive for it all the same. He references the words of architect Bjarke Ingels, the author of the foreword for The Ideal City, who says: “Utopia is a literary invention of a place so perfect that it can’t exist in reality.

“Of course, you can’t realise utopia in a single flash. What we can do, however, is make sure that every time you are called upon to design a building or an urban space, you have to make this little fragment of the world more like the way you wish the world to be.”

Hide Comments (2)Show Comments (2)
  • Dean August 9, 2021 at 10:03 am

    An interesting read, thanks. However, the urine-diverting toilet is certainly not a new idea.

  • Neil Littman August 16, 2021 at 7:03 pm

    Something that I was recently made aware of is that solar energy can also be created from a new type of roof tile which is less intrusive than fitting solar panels over the top of an existing roof. I live in a conservation area so would be interested to see how this could work and it seems a natural progression if you are going to get your roof replaced.

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