Buildings of the future will be 100% recyclable, totally flexible and highly sophisticated - so who is going to design them?

Simon Sturgis

Searching for a zero carbon future has focused our thinking on how buildings are made, where they come from and their disposal. It is said that in nature there is no waste, which suggests total resource efficiency.

The current cycle of making, using and disposing of buildings is entirely counter to this principle. If we move onto a zero carbon trajectory for the life of buildings, then we have to change the way we make them. We will need to think of a building as an evolving process, rather than a box to be finished at a point in time.

Future buildings will be made of components that are 100% recyclable, either directly by re-using them “as is”, or indirectly, as in “use what you have to make what you will have”.

Total flexibility will be fundamental, buildings will be capable of being changed, dismantled, moved and reassembled

Waste from consumable items will be used to manufacture building materials, and power this fabrication process. Total flexibility will be fundamental, buildings will be capable of being changed, dismantled, moved and reassembled. We have achieved this with a building in Slough, moving a 35,000ft2 building a mile with substantial material, carbon and cost savings.

What sort of industrial processes will be needed to deliver buildings capable of constant change and evolution? Traditional processes are linear producing materials that are cut and assembled with ensuing waste. 3D printing is the closest we get to zero waste. You use only the exact quantity you need to make something. Add that to ideas of “self assembly”, reuse, and renewable materials, and you are closing in on a true zero carbon building typology.

So who will design these buildings? The basic processes for zero carbon assembly, enabling 100% reuse, will be highly sophisticated. This points to the likes of advanced product designers and intelligent software. Assembling these elements into actual buildings will be determined by the spaces available, and the collective intelligence of the occupants.

They will decide and communicate their requirements through AI/human interface, ensuring what is required is what is delivered. Because total flexibility is inherent, change can be easily achieved. Environmental issues such as insulation, waterproofing and airtightness would respond to locality. To ensure beauty, and a human element, artists will creatively influence the design process.

What of traditional architects and engineers who are today’s building designers? If they don’t adapt to the new zero carbon reality, like Kodak they will be consigned to history.

Simon Sturgis is managing director of Sturgis Carbon Profiling