The rate of change of change will certainly increase in the future, but technology is unlikely to be its main driver. Rather, it will be the government's gradual tightening of the Building Regulations, and the demand for automated houses to assist the elderly to maintain their independence and to preserve the leisure time of those working 40-plus hours a week.
The picture is more complex than that, of course. When it comes to houses, we should never underestimate the cultural and economic drag in this country. In Britain, land is so overpriced relative to the rest of Europe that the houses built on it tend to be less sophisticated. And buyers, who inevitably sink most of their capital in their home, want the safest designs possible: as a rule of thumb, a house designed by an architect retails for 10% less than a standard housetype of the same size. But what about skills shortages and prefabrication? If you're making a production run of module in a factory, why not maximise your return by designing the smartest, most beautiful product possible?
How these economic, scientific and social forces get resolved is anyone's guess; the diagram on this page describes a future in which the people of Britain have embraced high-tech houses as enthusiastically as local and central government have embraced environmentalism.
It is my second week on this site and my turn to drive the pool car. They operate this scheme to cut down on fuel costs; it also means that you can guarantee a parking space. The only problem was that Gary forgot his swipe card again and we had to go back for it. You can’t get on the site without the card; all your skills and work history are on it. I decided to go into the gym before work this morning. Now that there is not so much lifting, I have to watch the waistline. Time was, you had to carry materials all over the site and I was forever putting my back out. I wasn’t the only one either. It’s amazing how many projects used to get held up because guys were off with back problems. The robotic lifter does most of the hard work these days and the 3D drawings mean we place our gear exactly where its supposed to go. I decided to go from the gym straight to the site as the site showers are much better than the ones at the gym. I always feel much better after a hot shower and it’s a great feeling putting on clean site clothes (complete with the company logo). I dropped off yesterday’s togs with the site laundry service – and remembered how I used to hate going home in dirty clothes, covered in dust. I have the top health and safety qualification, including first-aider, which helps keep the project insurance cost down. Not that there is much call for my first aid skills these days – I have not been on a site where there has been accident for a few years now. On my way to the site cafe, I noticed Sarah didn’t have her ear defenders with her. I gave her a nudge to make sure she grabbed them before starting work. The guys don’t mind if I give them a nudge as its my job to make sure everyone has the right kit. They also know that if the inspector spots them the whole team is liable for a fine. Incidentally, half the workforce are women now – what a change that has made to the attitude of the place. Time for breakfast. I haven’t done enough in the gym to have a cooked breakfast although the chef does a great fry-up – none of that grease with everything. When you leave the cafe, you have to swipe your card again so that they can log how many hours you’ve worked. You can’t cheat, as if you go over your limit without clearing it with the manager, the card won’t let you on site next time. Not that I really need to work overtime these days. They pay me enough to put something in to my pension fund every month and they also pay for a health scheme, which makes me feel that bit more secure, especially with the family. Well, better get to it. There have been quite a few changes on the sites in the last few years but the work doesn’t do itself yet! The above might not be a realistic picture of how a site operates now. But there is no reason this scenario couldn’t become a reality in a few years’ time. To an office worker, the facilities described here – wearing clean clothes to and from work, having access to good quality food in a clean environment – are standard. Why should it be any different for construction workers? Peter Rogers