Trends in the built environment come and go; what will never change is the underpinning fabric of why the built environment exists in the first place. From the dawn of man right up to today, humans have sought – and will always seek – safe spaces in which to collaborate, innovate and communicate.
It’s the job of our sector to help customers push the boundaries of what is possible within these spaces and, in turn, it is our responsibility to future-proof the buildings and places we create. We may not be able to predict the next technological innovation, but we should always ensure we offer the flexibility to adapt to it.
To some extent, we do this already. For example, when the final, transformational piece in the puzzle of our redevelopment of Victoria – Nova – was first planned, the iPhone had not been invented. And yet, in this new world of digital connectivity, Nova is a busy, vibrant, digitally savvy landmark.
The bigger trends are not hard to identify: more connectivity, more flexibility, more adaptability. But what about the future trends?
In almost every other sector of UK business, from cars to pharmaceuticals and logistics to retail, research and development are prioritised as key areas of focus. Millions – if not billions – are spent on R&D each year. Innovation and the need to stay ahead of the curve drive success across the corporate landscape.
Experience, innovation and analysis
The ethos behind property is no different. However, as an industry, we don’t yet spend a comparable amount on R&D. Experience, innovation and analysis should form the cornerstone of the built environment to ensure that we are never caught unawares by a trend that matters to the people for whom we build. This doesn’t yet happen on a wide enough scale.
Without R&D, we can never truly know what our customers will seek to find before they come to us and ask for it. By any business standard, that’s too late. The big technological conglomerates of today’s world don’t wait to find out what their customers are looking for: they tell them what it is they want and where they can find it.
Contactless payment, built-in GPS and 4G did not become prevalent because individual customers wrote to Apple or BMW or Vodafone. Instead, these companies gave their customers what they didn’t yet know they wanted and now can’t live without.
Up until now, an office has meant four walls and a predetermined number of desks. I’d be willing to bet that the four-walls concept will stay — but the number of desks, or desks at all, is already up for discussion. So too is the technology on those desks, and almost everything else.
It’s our job, as developers and custodians of the built environment, to drive these discussions and set the agenda – not just to wait and see what the outcome is before we respond.