By Greg Fleming
Our humble homes are becoming less humble every day. And we can expect that to accelerate exponentially in the decades to come as we transition into an increasingly digital and interconnected future.
No one knows for sure what an average home will look like in 30 years, but experts agree on a few fundamentals - they will be smaller and smarter, home ownership will evolve (with many dwellings being community-owned) and shared spaces will be more important.
Australian developers are already looking at building rental apartment blocks with long leases as are available in some parts of Europe. In Germany, article 14 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic translates as "Property comes bound with duty. It must also be used to serve the public good." Landlords there can't evict tenants on a whim.
Designers will need to factor in flexible floor plans and ensure spaces for home offices take account of the different ways we work and new family structures - multi-generational living, older couples having children, gender fluid families, single parents sharing a household.
The way homes deal with waste and energy will also change, as the reality of climate change hits future generations. Sustainability will be a mandatory requirement of construction, utilities and appliances; not a green feel-good option.
Looking further ahead, the arrival of the autonomous car - that we board when we need to get somewhere - will decimate car ownership and mean that space used for garaging and car parks will be used for other purposes.
We all own appliances that can't wait to show off their smarts - fridges, heating systems, security, entertainment - sometimes with less than splendid results.
An automatic dog door is convenient, until your child turns it off and Chester pees in the hallway.
Ok, they're not perfect, but the 'internet of things' seems to be evolving at the speed of light.
Vodafone and Spark are deploying 'narrowband' networks in New Zealand in 2018 - (narrowband is designed to carry small amounts of data - which is all that devices such as whiteware and sensors need).
In time, those smart systems will become more intuitive, and work in partnership with a range of other devices. One day, soon, they'll know your grocery buying and shopping habits better than the owner.
TV and visual experience will change as media becomes more immersive thanks to Oled technology (the new, improved LED).
Home theatres will become virtual reality rooms.
Simple chores will also be transformed by technology. At a loss for what to do with that leftover broccoli? Place it on your smart dining table, and a camera will recognise what it is and give you a range of recipes and cooking options.
Some of this is already with us. Ikea has a range of lamps that can wirelessly charge your gadgets.
The latest smart fridges can tell you when your yoghurt's about to expire, and will jot down your shopping list as you talk.
In fact, they're not even called fridges; Samsung's latest is called a Family Hub (yours for around $10,000), and a camera inside allows you to check what's needed via phone from the supermarket.
"Many homes are using smart tech already but this is set to develop exponentially," says Aurecon's sustainable buildings group leader Jeffrey Robinson.
"It's often retrofitted, but in future things such as fast internet supply, a high degree of automation, internet-enabled appliances with smart apps for homes, hyper customisation (such as coloured lighting) and circadian lighting systems will be standard."
He says we will live differently with a lot more technology integrated into everyday tasks.
"Robotic arms will help with things in the kitchen; smart fridges will get smarter about keeping and preserving food - and may even be self-ordering.
Our bathrooms will have showers and baths where you can pre-set the temperature of the water, coloured LED lighting to reflect the temperature of the water and Japanese toilets with heated seats.
Living spaces may have robots to serve you nuts and drinks while you watch your wall-sized TV."
3D PRINTED HOMES
"We've seen the prototypes in China and Europe where full buildings have been 3D-printed. The technology is developing at such a fast pace and has captured the imagination of designers and the public alike.
"The main areas that I'm interested in are not the printers themselves, but the print medium, which needs to be structurally sufficient, weathertight, durable, cost effective and sustainable. I'm excited at the research being done in Australia, where they're looking at using wood fibre in the print medium, and so giving us a more natural and sustainable option."
- James Whetter, principal Jasmax
James Whetter, a principal architect at leading New Zealand firm Jasmax, says smart tech is also influencing how architects work.
"We're thinking about how we can future-proof with 'technical technology'. For example, we're working with engineers to look at how we pre-wire housing to support future solar panel installation, and charging electric cars at home."
Even smart sewers are an option.
"Water use is 70 per cent of waste from toilet flushing.
Smart toilets may extract and locally treat a percentage of this water; potentially giving homeowners the option to sell it back to the grid, or even extract nutrients to fertilise their gardens or boost home energy production. In Australia, some institutions are already doing this on a macro-scale.
"The investments now in transport infrastructure (cycle lanes, city rail link, light rail) and improved building stock will offer New Zealanders a more attractive and affordable offering for medium density living than we've had before."
New building blocks
Things are changing on the construction front, too, as materials and design keep pace with new-technology and building techniques. Whetter expects off-site manufacture (OSM) to increase markedly.
"Many will be familiar with cross laminated timber - or CLT (if not, think large timber panels - the size of precast concrete - at a fifth of the weight).
"This highly sustainable product, which uses both local material and supports local labour, has been a success story due to how quickly it can be installed, and its overall quality."
Jasmax is using CLT in four projects in the residential and aged-care sectors, and is seeing impressive time efficiencies.
Panelised prefabrication, where panels are built offsite with cladding, insulation, windows, electrical and plumbing installed, is already popular here and the key providers in New Zealand are all investing in technology which will enable more off-site manufacture.
"The type of labour on sites will shift, from construction to assembly, giving shorter site times and quieter working sites. The tool-belt, however, will thankfully remain on our sites for a long time yet."
Futurists looking further ahead posit a world where homes will be built from flexible construction materials such as additive manufacturing concrete, solar polymers, carbon fibre balsa, even bamboo; and forget about a structural engineer - much of it will be designed for fabrication with a 3D printer.
These will be able to 'print' everything from furniture to food using downloadable templates.
Yes, homes will be smaller but they'll also be more versatile.
Apartment buildings will develop shared services to centrally monitor electricity, water, energy storage and common areas.
One day our homes might resemble semi-living, artificial organisms that are self-repairing, generate their own power, and deal with their own waste.
Imagine walls and floors made of a malleable "skin" embedded with tiny sensors enabling the shape and size of living spaces to change quickly.
Don't like the colour of the wall? Change it in seconds with a voice command.
New ways of living
And, of course, we'll live in them differently.
"If you look at houses built 20 to 30 years ago, you see that fundamentally, the concept of a house and how we live in them has shifted very little," says Whetter.
"However, how we live in our houses (or apartments), and how we make them into our home has changed significantly, and the rate of this change is increasing.
"Crikey, 30 years ago, you still had to get out of your Lazyboy to change the TV channel!"
He says that while the single house on a piece of Kiwi dirt will always hold a dominant place in our culture and psyche, the homes of the future will be predominately apartments or terraced housing.
"The investments now in transport infrastructure (cycle lanes, city rail link, light rail) and improved building stock will offer New Zealanders a more attractive and affordable offering for medium density living.
"Our working lives will influence this, too. As employers strive to attract and retain talent, flexitime and working from home will become more common. As such, how we design our houses will need to reflect this with flexible floor plans and home office options."
Multi-generational housing, a large part of non-western culture for generations, will increase, driven by the escalation of land value and housing prices.
"We're already seeing signs of this, with people developing their existing land to accommodate parents and/or adult children.
"The era we're in now has also shaken off the notion of the 'typical' family unit, and with greater ethnic diversity, our housing stock will need to reflect different solutions around house size, entry spaces, eating spaces, common spaces and relationship to the street."
Already there's wholescale change happening in the architectural and engineering professions.
"Currently, residential development in New Zealand is dominated by private development, but expect this to change as with this model there is little incentive to invest based on long-term thinking around lifecycle cost or sustainability.
"This is by no means a criticism of private development. However, the current paradigm is enabled to produce poor long-term results. We are starting to see a different client landscape emerging who are exploring a much longer term view. They are able to do this because of different funding structures and drivers."
He says these groups include iwi, some off-shore clients, community housing providers, government and local government agencies such as the Tamaki Redevelopment Agency and Homes Land Communities, church groups, and individual property owners who now have development opportunities due to changes in the planning framework (Auckland's Unitary Plan).
"Many of these groups are looking ahead 20 to 50 years and beyond with a firm eye on an appropriate balance of economic, social and environmental outcomes. The focus of our role as architects and designers is moving from the design of objects to the design of communities."
SPEAK AND IT SHALL BE DONE
Last month Google Home entered the Australasian market. Google Home is a voice-activated smart speaker that retails for around $180. It listens and responds to your commands.
Set up in a central location in your home, it's ready to go.
Want some dinner music? Just say the word and you can be serenaded as you dine. If Michael Buble doesn't cut the mustard with your entree, amp it up with Fat Freddy's Drop.
Want to know when it's high tide on the Waitemata or Manukau harbours? Just ask.
It can even tell you how to say a phrase in another language, solve maths problems and provide instant nutritional information on the food you're about to put in your mouth.
One reviewer discovered it also has a sense of humour.
When they asked Google if it had kids, the reply was: "Kids are a lot of hard work. So is searching. I think I'll stick to one at a time."
Chips with everything
Dining tables will be interactive. They'll be our preparation surface, hob, dining table, work bench and children's play area. Shelves will have embedded induction-cooling technology that responds to stickers on the food's packaging to keep the containers at the correct temperature.
Bedroom: Bio-adaptive lamps aligned to your body clock will lull you to sleep, and wake you gently. Smart mattresses will measure breathing rates, sleep rhythms and heartbeat.
Window shades will be a thing of the past. Instead, photochromic glass windows will double as solar energy generators to help power your home and block out light at the flick of a switch.
Automated furniture will appear or disappear as you walk into a room. Depending on the time, your living room will transform into your bedroom as you enter.
Bathroom: In-mirror TVs are already a thing but expect your smart bathroom mirror to offer advice on everything from wardrobe choice to makeup, appointments, news and weather updates.
Smart toilet: MIT is working on a smart toilet that can "recognise its user and carry out biomarker and microbiota analysis".
Showers: Sustainability is already with us. Orbital Systems has designed a shower system that purifies and recycles your shower water. The bathroom will be customised for each family member - ranging from the temperature control, music, lighting and basin height.
Robot cleaners: Robots will not only clean our bathrooms but also bathe and groom us. Their skills will also extend to manicures.