A famous quote by Benjamin Franklin says that death and taxes are the only two things about which we can be certain. As anyone who has attempted to predict the future will tell you, it’s a quote that contains some truth. Whether we’re trying to determine the direction of our own lives or taking an educated guess at what might happen at a broader social level, the future has a habit of throwing us a few curveballs.
Future-proofing when it comes to buildings is often treated with a degree of scepticism for that very reason. Many predictions that shaped planning and building styles in previous decades now look redundant. Few people saw such a rapid shift towards remote and hybrid working as has happened over the past couple of years. Cities built for cars were once seen as the future, now they’re something urban centres are looking to move away from.
With all that in mind, can a building ever be truly future-proof?
What is future-proofing?
Future-proofing is a wide term that has adopted a range of different meanings in different contexts. In regard to buildings, future-proofing is a process that aims to maximise the whole-life value of the building, whatever changes an unpredictable future may bring.
The future-proofing process begins by asking what might happen in the life of the building and how likely those changes are. Also, what would the impact of those changes be. If you were to take measures to future-proof against those changes, how much would it cost? Are those costs worth bearing for the security it might give or are they unrealistic?
The assessment process should be a continuous exercise involving a range of different professionals, from the client to designers, suppliers and contractors as well as end-users. In this sense, future-proofing acts in a similar way to carrying out a risk assessment.
In fact, future-proofing is an old and established technique that can be as involved as required.
Why is it important?
Future-proofing has been part of building and design practice for some time, but over recent years it has taken on a new urgency. Growing concern about the environment, the pandemic and the stresses that may be caused by climate change are shining a new spotlight on how we think about buildings.
This may include looking at how buildings can lower their carbon footprint, as well as how buildings will cope with more extreme weather patterns and improving hygiene factors. Adapting to climate change is also likely to mean that the way people live, work, shop and travel will all change. This will have an impact on how buildings are used and what they’re needed for. Rising energy costs, legislative changes, social attitudes and wider considerations about the local environment can all change how the building may be used or perceived.
Isn’t this just crystal ball-gazing?
In some ways, yes it is. There is always room for error and misjudgment when it comes to predictions about the future. However, future-proofing is based on much more than just idle speculation. It takes a hard look at current trends, analyses the data and consults as much in-depth research as possible to reach its conclusions.
It’s important to remember that budgets for buildings are not limitless, so any future-proofing measures that are taken will need to have a strong basis in likely outcomes.
Flexibility is key
With so much uncertainty, architects and construction companies are increasingly incorporating flexibility into their buildings. Even the most accurate predictions can soon become redundant with the arrival of a disruptive advance in technology, or a radical sudden shift in how we work. If buildings are to remain relevant despite rapid changes, then flexibility is crucial.
Building with longevity in mind
While future-proofing can never be an exact science it can help to create buildings that are created to last. Any building represents a substantial investment, so ensuring that it’s fit for purpose for a considerable amount of time is a key priority.
By following a thorough future-proofing process you can create buildings that are flexible, sustainable and able to adapt to changing times.
At Woodbourne Group, we are focused on building environments that we can all thrive in. Future proofing is always a key item on our agenda.