Building for the future – what’s driving change in UK housing design?

Epwin Group, a leading manufacturer and supplier of PVC-U windows, doors and fascia systems, has announced the launch of a research project examining what factors are driving change in UK housing design and build.

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he research, named Building for the Future, surveyed British architects and specifiers asking them what they feel is influencing the design and build of the homes we live in, and how these factors will affect new-build housing over the coming decade.

Building for the Future focuses on the nine most significant findings, which include climate change, BIM and skills shortages in the UK construction industry.

Here, Andrew Reid, Commercial Sales Director at Epwin’s Window Systems division – which includes leading brands such as Profile 22, Swish and Spectus – discusses the research.

“Looking to the future and anticipating design trends is important to us as a business, so we thought it would be interesting to see what the design community feels will affect the design and build of British homes over the coming decade.

“Obviously the way our homes look and perform changes over time, but why? The reasons for these shifts are ever-changing and evolving, so what will be having a significant impact in the near future? We asked British architects this very question in 2017.

“A wide range of factors came up, however, for the purposes of this project we concentrated on the nine most significant; those which were viewed by the design community as being the most influential.

“Some 70% of the architects we spoke to raised the issue of increasing urban populations, and it will mean for properties being built in our towns and cities. A number of respondents commented that demand is driving down quality and this is a situation which is only going to get worse.

“One respondent said that they can see a time when properties are built like student accommodation, where those desperate to get on the housing ladder can purchase a space which would include shared facilities.

“Some view the pressure on space in our urban areas as one of the great challenges facing the design and build community; how to service demand whilst retaining design integrity and creating spaces that are both pleasant to live in and affordable to purchase.

“It has been acknowledged for some time that access to green spaces in urban environments improves the mental and physical wellbeing of residents, and 30% of survey respondents feel that this will be a significant factor in housing design over the coming years.

“One architect commented that the push for increased density is having an adverse effect on open spaces in our cities, but that this must be balanced against the critical need for access to green spaces. This may require shrewd thinking and intelligent design, but it is not impossible to achieve. Some designers are starting to build greenery into developments, such as vertical gardens and large urban roof gardens, whilst biophilic design, the concept of bringing nature into the built environment, is an interesting emerging design trend.

“Almost 50% of respondents mentioned advances in technology, and innovation in sustainable building materials and products, as potentially having a significant impact on the way our homes look and perform in the near future.

“Green technologies are already becoming commonplace within homes, with architects designing the likes of solar panels, ground source heat pumps and rainwater harvesting systems into some new-build housing.

“One respondent commented that technological advances are allowing the design community to design houses to be more efficient and have a lower environmental impact, and these homes are also more pleasant places to live, creating warmer environments and saving residents money on heating bills. With homeowners and architects becoming more environmentally aware, this is an already significant trend which is set to gather pace.

“The potential impact of skills shortages on the construction of our homes cropped up time and time again, with nearly a fifth of respondents raising it as a significant issue. The construction sector may be extremely important to the UK economy, but it’s an industry in crisis as it is not receiving the necessary investment to plug a skills gap that looks set to widen over the next decade.

“Many construction workers are of retirement age, and it’s an industry with a poor image, not attracting enough new workers into the sector. With an ageing workforce and a poor pipeline of young people, the construction industry looks certain to face a skills crisis in the near future.

“But what will this mean for new-build homes? Some believe that the lack of a skilled workforce will inevitably limit construction options, and could lead to more basic and less diverse housing. A number of respondents also mentioned the possible impact of Brexit and the discontinuation of freedom of movement.

“Just over 15% of respondents raised technological advances in architecture as having a significant influence on the industry. In fact, many believe that technology is changing architecture. The world of computational design means that architects are pursuing new frontiers, and BIM is creating its own digital revolution in UK construction. Currently half of all architectural practices are using BIM, but in the years to come, undoubtedly, everyone will be using it.

“The research has unearthed some real concerns from the design community, and it seems that challenges lie ahead, but these are framed against innovation and technological advances and a definite sense that good design will always be at the heart of delivering successful communities.”

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