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Blog by Suzy Jones

Why a house builder needs a Future Lab…

25 February 2021

It took 50,000 years for humans to reach a population of 1 billion, but just over a decade to add the latest billion, from 6.5 billion in 2005 to 7.5 billion in 2017. Populations are ever increasing and the behaviour of our expanding species is having a significant impact on the Earth.

The scale and speed of our planetary impact, known as the Great Acceleration, can be seen across a vast range of things from what we eat, to where we live and how we move around.

World population

The Great Acceleration has resulted in a global technological revolution, thriving wealthy cities, improved farming, and tremendous medical advances extending life expectancy from 50 to 80 years in less than a century1. All that being said, the Great Acceleration has been a filthy undertaking, our impact on the Biosphere has created a new geological epoch - the Anthropocene - a term widely popularised in 2000 by the Dutch, Nobel Prize-winning, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen2. This epoch, defined by human impact, arguably began on 16 July 1945 - the date the Manhattan Project reached its dramatic conclusion, and created a clear man-made line in our geology. From this point forwards the changes humans have made, and continue to make, to the Biosphere - the parts of the Earth that are inhabited by living things3 - are preserved in the geology, chemistry and biology of our planet.

Future Digital Cities - image (c) Mark Jones

As a result of our own ingenuity, and ability to shape and influence our surroundings on these extraordinary scales, humanity faces multiple, increasingly complex challenges affecting our planetary systems and societal structures, including climate change, species extinction, ecological damage, and the widespread advancement and adoption of emerging technologies. Edgar Morin4 coined the term ‘polycrisis’ to be able to conceptualise the multitude of challenges we are witnessing. The current challenges resulting from the Great Acceleration are all human-made, and it is therefore within the scope of humanity to be able to provide systemic solutions that can begin to deal with the significant challenges of our time5. As we begin to accept ourselves, and the things we produce (fuel, food, architecture, infrastructure, belongings), as part of, rather than separate to, Earth systems, we have an opportunity to use our collective ingenuity to shape an alternative future which nurtures this concept and the people, places and planetary systems within it.

As house builders, place makers and creators of communities our capacity to resolve the complex polycrisis outlined above is obviously limited. We do however contribute to the built environment which is currently responsible for over 45% of the UK’s carbon emissions6, we also make things which last a very long time, directly shape the world around us and have the potential to influence the way in which large numbers of people live out their lives. The role of the home is changing, we have an opportunity to ensure that the future of the home embraces the opportunities provided by the Great Acceleration whilst dramatically reducing the fall out.

In The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler’s sequel to Future Shock, the author predicted that the home would ‘assume a startling new importance’ in the information age we are now firmly a part of, becoming ‘a central unit in the society of tomorrow – a unit with enhanced rather than diminished economic, medical, educational and social functions’. In William Gibson’s essay Will we have computer chips in our head for Time magazine in 2000, the speculative fiction writer eloquently described our adoption of computation in every part of our lives, especially our homes, as the final stage in realising a dispersed type of cyborg or transhuman - ‘You won’t need smart goo in your brain, because your fridge and your toothbrush will be very smart indeed, enormously smart, and they will be there for you, constantly and always.

House by Urban Splash Town House

40 years after Toffler’s proposition and 20 years after Gibson’s prediction of a transhuman home, in the midst of a global pandemic, our homes have become a refuge, a place to feel safe and secure, but also a place to work, to socialise, to exercise, to meet with your doctor, to learn, and play and to shop. It’s a trajectory we have been destined to follow for a while, slowly centralising our activities and underpinning them with the required digital and cultural infrastructure, but the Covid pandemic has amplified, accelerated and facilitated the adoption of this new reality. Alongside the accelerated adoption of technological solutions the appreciation of our interdependence with, and reliance upon, nature and natural systems has become increasingly poignant. An enduring question is how do we embrace the benefits of technology whilst addressing the imbalance we have created with nature?

As house builders, at a pivotal point in the history of the planet and the role of the home, we are ideally placed to have a significant impact on the ways in which housing and the creation of communities can address the global grand challenges which constitute the polycrisis Morin describes. The future is by no means pre-determined, nor are the challenges we face inert, we have the glorious job of continuously looking beyond the horizon at the ways in which we can help shape the future into something which supports us all to Live well by design® in a constantly changing world, whilst ensuring future generations are able to do the same.


1 Gaia Vince, Adventures in the Anthropocene, 2014. P3.
2 Gaia Vince, Adventures in the Anthropocene, 2014. P7.
3 Oxford English Dictionary, 2005
4 Edgar Morin - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Morin
5 Dr Vincent Walsh, 2020.
6 Source - UKRI

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