The Future of Residential Design

Over the past several years, I have written about specific trends within the field of residential design. These ideas together reflect the major forces that affect our profession, and the built environment.

For instance, the U.S. population is expanding while land is in finite supply. This may be obvious, but it has significant implications. With more restrictive zoning regulations and slow-growth initiatives, undeveloped land will become prohibitively expensive. Firms that focus on urban infill, adaptive reuse and Brownfield restoration, however, will be poised to capitalize on this new trend.

Mixed-use developments that combine residential and commercial properties also will gain market share. Higher-density projects of all types will become the norm. The automobile, and the requirements for roads and parking lots, will become a smaller determinant in the configuration of future developments, while wetlands and nature-enhancing features will play a greater role as the amount of untouched land is reduced.

Another force affecting our business is the aging population. Housing that embraces universal design will become the standard. Accommodations that allow the elderly to remain in their residences for longer periods of time will be expected. Such features will need to be seamlessly incorporated into the overall design, and not appear as tacked-on afterthoughts.

Furthermore, advances in high-speed Internet, satellite and cell-phone coverage in rural areas will free some people from living in or near large metropolitan areas, which will have great appeal for those who can afford high-quality custom homes. Developers will need to carefully analyze these factors before they purchase land, however, as all rural areas will not be equally advanced or desirable.

Human beings have an innate desire to be part of a community. Historically this occurred naturally, but with an increasingly mobile society, people will seek out other similar forms of community. Developers that build a sense of place into their projects will stand to gain more customers than those that focus only on bedroom subdivisions. Shops, recreational facilities, parks, churches and neighborhood centers all help to reinforce a sense of community that increasingly will be desired.

On the construction front, mass customization will replace labor-intensive construction. Many people want commodities that express their individualism, are refreshingly new and yet do not cost much. In the consumer product market this is fairly easy to accommodate, but in housing, historically it has not been as simple.

With the advancement of computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing, entire components of a house can be built in a factory from electronic drawings, and shipped to a site for final erection. Once all of the parts arrive, the on-site contractor, using a crane and a few employees, will be able to assemble the building in a few days.

Factory-built components have the potential to reduce the cost of construction. Combining this process with CAD/CAM, designers can create the same designs electronically that the assembly lines can build. This will allow homeowners to acquire one-of-a-kind design solutions at more affordable prices. Design firms that embrace these concepts will become clear leaders in this new housing market.

One final note: After three fulfilling years as a columnist for Residential Design & Build, this is my final article. Rarely does one get an opportunity to express oneself in a national forum such as this, and it has been a great privilege to do so. Thank you to the many readers who provided feedback, and the staff at Residential Design & Build who gave me the opportunity to pursue my passion for writing about residential design.