As sci-fi author William Gibson wrote, ‘the future is already here – it’s just unevenly distributed’.

So even in the murky outlook at the beginning of 2009, we can see the glimmering outlines of the technologies that will emerge by 2019. We can look beyond zero carbon to positive energy buildings, visualise the next generation of super-intelligent facades or imagine the potential of ‘freeform’ construction.

But other innovations will be just as crucial in 2019 – and the recession puts them in clearer focus. With workloads at best flat and more likely declining, the industry will have the spare capacity to examine the issues that can be overlooked when there are more projects to deliver and schemes to price than skilled staff.

The BRE’s Lean Construction programme was already reporting a steep increase in calls and enquiries at the tail end of last year. Those contractors that were once happy to live off the good times are realising that 2009 will finally be the year to squeeze waste and inefficiencies out of the construction process, from double-handling materials to poor access planning.

The recessionary breathing space is a chance to examine issues such as the CIOB’s research on project time management, culminating in a code of practice later this year. Then there are initiatives like BAM Construct’s pilot workplace health scheme. Yes, it involves some expense, but the real resource required is management time. That’s one industry asset that will be in greater supply in 2009 – and the long-term health of the industry could benefit from it.

Technologically speaking, the industry has a bright future. By 2019, construction should be playing its part in delivering the society and services we will need in a carbon-critical world. But to take advantage of the new opportunities opening up after the recession, we can use the downturn to update some internal processes.