What does the future of construction look like?
The world is changing at a rapid, dizzying pace and it can be difficult to predict what 2023 might look like, let alone further ahead. With Covid-19 now hopefully disappearing into the rear-view mirror, the construction industry is slowly clambering to its feet and we are beginning to look ahead at what a post-pandemic world might look like.
But what if we were to cast our gaze even further afield? What might the construction industry look like in twenty or thirty years and how might recent events help to reshape it, for better or for worse?
The near future
While it might be tempting to jump straight to cities on Mars, we’ll need to begin much closer to home by addressing a looming crisis that we are so far struggling to address. The effects of climate change are already having a devastating effect on the planet, and how we tackle the problem will need to involve major changes across every industry, especially construction.
According to the UK Green Building Council, around 10% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions are linked to the construction industry and that figure will almost certainly need to be reduced soon if the UK hopes to reach its carbon-neutral ambition by 2050.
Much of this will need to come from the use of more sustainable materials and, with the production of cement being responsible for 8% of the overall global CO2 emissions, you can see why. This may include more recycled materials but also more efficient ways in which existing materials are manufactured.
Buildings themselves will also need to become much more sustainable and pivot towards more climate-smart, low, and clean energy consumption. Lighting and heating will almost certainly need to be overhauled, especially in larger buildings that have a habit of draining energy.
Perhaps one factor that is often overlooked in how we will use our buildings in the future is how we will see more multi-functional construction projects as a way of reducing overall energy use. If our current work from home attitude continues and perhaps even expands, we may begin to see a reduction in office space or efforts to adapt them for other uses.
It’s perfectly conceivable that by 2050 very few jobs on building sites will be done by humans. With the pace of development in automation, it’s difficult to see how technology won’t have advanced to the point within 30 years where robots construct most of our new buildings using a wide variety of techniques.
Drones may be used to fly above building sites to make accurate assessments of progress, which can be linked directly with robots on the ground.
Of course, humans won’t be completely redundant and will most likely still be used in a supervisory capacity. Virtual Reality is already being used in the construction industry, mainly to improve design, safety, and training and to avoid costly overruns, but with the technology rapidly improving, it’s likely we will see it become a much more integrated part of the process.
If we want to go a little Robocop-esque, we may even see humans using robot exoskeletons that will enable them to move enormous loads single-handed. That might sound a little far-fetched, but with the Guardian XO already in production, the future is much closer than you might think.
At this point in the future, steel and cement may well be ancient relics that are rarely, if ever used. By 2050 we will have almost certainly developed new sustainable materials and a clear improvement on what we use today. Most experts agree that by this stage the construction industry will be utilising 3D and 4D printing that will be able able to produce building components quickly and efficiently in a fraction of the time that we do today.
When we begin to look even further ahead, things do become a little more difficult. If you compare the construction industry in 1922 and 2022, while we use some of the same materials and methods of construction, things have changed drastically. The use of computer technology has completely revolutionised how we build and we are now moving at a blistering rate of change.
With city populations continuing to boom, whatever major changes occur within the construction industry will likely focus on these metropolises. When we think this far ahead, we are often basing our predictions on what we’ve seen in movies and on TV but this tends to bring up plenty of questions. How tall can skyscrapers really go? Will we use urban farming to provide food for a world population that looks set to pass 9 billion by 2050? How will future construction intertwine with futuristic transportation? And are we really heading for a dystopian future and Blade Runner-like cities as is usually foretold?
The world currently stands at the edge of a period of great change. If we hope to successfully combat the effects of climate change, every industry will need to transform itself and this is particularly true for the construction industry. We may already be past the point of expensive and energy-intensive vanity projects and the future will almost certainly involve buildings that are both green and able to function in a variety of ways. The way we build will dramatically change in the coming years as we adapt to a new world, and the construction industry will need to be at the forefront of that.
We are experiencing a period of deep uncertainty but we mustn’t forget the astonishing ingenuity that has occurred in the last few hundred years. The future may seem vague and at times unnerving, but how and what we build should be an exciting prospect for years to come. The construction jobs market is at a similarly exciting stage as the industry adapts to environmental pressures and technology and materials change with it. There are jobs that are just emerging and those that are yet to be created and those jobs are the future of the industry.