built in 2020 - Pictures and stories of tomorrow for building in the future

Production of a comprehensive picture of tomorrow's building using research into future trends, the societal framework and political developments in the building sector.

Content Description




"built in 2020" explores possible developments in living and building in the year 2020 by analysing existing trends and prognoses in areas from lifestyle to technologies, from vital statistics to the fridge of tomorrow. The results were compiled through interviews with experts such as building owners, futurists, trend experts, planners, architects and building experts and transformed into a future scenario comprising collage and stories on building theme.

Trends in building and living

Socio-economic factors and technological developments have a decisive influence on the building and living styles of tomorrow.

Thus we took important ideas and influences for "built in 2020" out of the basic scenario "austria 2020", which was created within the research project SU2 - "infrastructure and its influence on cultural landscape". After studying trade journals, books, prognoses, the internet and the outcomes of interviews with external experts, the results were structured within the following themes:

  • trends in society and politics
  • demographic trends
  • trends in technology
  • trends in mobility and infrastructure and
  • trends in work

trends in society and politics

Information and knowledge will become the capital of the future and will govern wealth and the capacity to compete in society. Individual chances of success will not be the same for all and will depend on access to information and knowledge. The dependence on information and communication technologies will split society into two groups: well-informed and ill-informed people. The overcoming of this "digital gap" stands as one of the main challenges for politics in the future.

The trend towards individualisation in society means a more independent, but also more self-sufficient way of living for more and more people. At the same time isolation, and with it a longing for new forms of community living, increases. The state steps back from influencing this transformation process, so it is expected rather that a new "civil society" will overcome this social distancing.

Due to this change, the building industry will start to act in a global capacity as a real estate company. Public funding of social housing will be reduced. As a result, apartments will become more expensive, and the building industry will respond with increasing cost efficiency in building and in the service of buildings. In future, then, there will be more differentiation than today in terms of what the building industry has to offer.

demographic trends

In the next 20 years large demographic changes are expected which will have a great influence on the building sector of tomorrow. As the number of people over sixty years of age continues to rise, a future market will emerge in this section of society and their lifestyles. On the other hand, the group of young people is decreasing in number. Strikingly, there will be an enormous increase in households by 2020, although the population is not growing dramatically. People will move further into the suburbs of agglomerations. A new life in the countryside will be possible only for a few.

trends in technology

Cost efficient technologies and systems, innovative housing technology, and to some extent, environmental improvements in the building industry are all expected for the next few years. Prefabrication and modular building components will increase especially. The increasing use of information and communication technologies and of "smart" technology will be another feature of future housing. The realisation of a greener housing industry will be subject to initiating more energy-efficient building technologies and the wider use of renewable raw materials.

trends in mobility and infrastructure

In the future we will live in a society where people are more mobile, not only physically, but also in electronic ways. Normal structures of time and space break down with information and communication technologies and, in many areas, replace physical mobility. New economic and social structures, the poor quality of our built environment and increasing demands in the field of leisure time will result in an even higher mobility of life.
But Austria will still not have a flexible 'American' way of living. Our transportation systems will still be very much orientated around centres: agglomerations will be served by high quality transport infrastructures, whereas in the periphery, infrastructure will come under pressure because of population decline. The possibilities offered by developments in information and communication technologies (teleworking, homeworking) will not correct this trend for the good of the periphery.

trends in work

With the development towards a service, knowledge and communication based society, great opportunities in the job market are to be expected. New fields and forms of work, new working hours and new work places will arise.
These changes influence the living and building styles of tomorrow. New technologies make working from home possible. Living and working will merge together. The labour market should not be the main driving force any more behind a choice of residence.

Experts are not sure how fast these changes will take place. Many workers in 2020 will still be involved in traditional professions, but have more flexibility of work time and work place.

what more?

The forms of housing that exist in the future will reflect versatile and individual lifestyles. Flexibility will also be important in housing. Those apartments which can be adapted to different lifestyles will be preferred. Quality of life will be more and more defined by the quality of housing, which includes open spaces belonging to the house itself and the possibility for recreation and leisure in the surrounding area.

A particular challenge for the future will be what to do with old houses of the post-war period. This will lead to a renovation boom, but also to demolition and new buildings.

The conditions for building in the future

the conditions for tomorrow's building patterns were developed from the following assumptions:

  • our society will become older but remain active
  • we are living between city and countryside
  • we live alone or with one other person
  • still true: we are born to move
  • we work longer and in new ways
  • everyone is responsible for themselves
  • and there will be more efficiency-increasing technologies.

Rules for building and living in the future

Two basic conclusions which go to define the image of the future "built in 2020" could be drawn from these assumptions:

One is that "the patchwork of lifestyles leads to a patchwork of architectures". The variety of lifestyles will result in stronger plurality and individuality in the future. The other one is, that "there will be ecological optimisation in new buildings but what about sustainability?" Environmental improvements are certainly expected in the energy and material efficiency of future buildings, with lower energy consumption, increased use of renewable resources and, in some areas, use of building materials with lower environmental impacts. Due to technical developments and cost competition within the building sector, the average future building in Austria may reach low energy standards or probably even passive house standards in the next 20 years. But if factors such as the entire lifecycle of buildings and their components, the additional resource demand of transporting building materials over long distances, waste disposal or the closing of regional materials cycles are considered, the future building industry will not be sustainable.

And the house of the future will be more "put together" than traditionally built (brick by brick), because prefabrication of building materials will increase.

Pictures and stories of the future

So we developed a dense and comprehensive picture of building in the future. And this picture is multi-coloured. It is made up of various pictures which, when put together, form one picture. The main statement is that the "house of the future" means variety. One single "house of the future" does not exist, rather a lot of "houses of the future". We described them with six types of home. None of them offers a sharp image, but each makes a socio-cultural statement.

The smart home incorporates an increased level of new technologies. But only smart and simple technologies are expected to have wide success. Matthias Horx, a German trend expert, talks about "KISS technology: keep it simple and stupid." Smart homes will lead to a high quality of living, but perfect smart homes will be used only by the upper classes, built in desirable locations.

The standard home will be the equivalent of the standard home of today, but will be defined much more by economic efficiency, since there will be a reduction in public funds in coming years. This will be the future middle class building. High efficiency is the golden rule when building and maintaining a standard home.

The future increase in prefabrication in the building industry will be reflected in the catalogue home. With catalogue modules everything is possible: from homes for singles and family homes to new forms of cohabitation. There will be co-operation with related industry sectors, such as that of household equipment. A well-known Swedish furniture manufacturer, for example, is already developing a new housing line. Housing will become an all-inclusive offer and will be affordable for almost everyone.

No homes will be one result of future developments in society and politics. They are identified by virtual addresses and constitute a completely new trend in housing. They will arise with the new information and communication technologies in the new labour and economy worlds. Mobile homes, hotels, "hometels", new forms of hostels and community homes will come under the term "no homes". Their location will probably be outside high quality infrastructure areas. The extreme form of 'no homes' will be represented by extremely disadvantaged people who have neither a physical nor a virtual address.

Low level homes will develop out of houses where people do not have the money for their maintenance. This sector will include low quality suburban estates without good infrastructure, urban islands with negative economic prospects, and also many late 20th Century single family houses. These low level homes are far below the future standard home. High quality communication technology and other digital equipment will hardly be found in these 'homes'. Their residents will be from socially disadvantaged classes.

The opposite of no homes and low level homes will be hwl - homes without limits, the most exclusive way of living in the future. They will conform to the highest imaginable standards of housing and will be found in the most attractive places. Besides their exclusivity, hwl´s are characterised by one feature: the way in which they will develop cannot be forecasted, because they are constantly orientated towards the ultimate in feasibility; they can, therefore, not be planned.

These forms of living were illustrated by collages and life stories of the future. The stories were written by our team as subjective tales. The story-tellers describe the world and everyday life in the year 2020, focussing on housing.

Workshop with experts

The scenario "built in 2020" was modified during a workshop featuring "e3building", the information network of the Austrian housing industry, in which experts in the field of architecture, planning, contracting, manufacturing and financing participated.

Strategies for building in the future

At the end of the project, strategies for building in the future were formulated for relevant political areas.

Building in the future should reflect variety, which means that all varying interests should be considered.

Research and development

Forward-looking building needs investment in research and development. This means development and carrying out of pilot projects, analysis in areas of social science - such as user needs and behaviour - and research into modular building systems.

Besides this, it is important to develop specialised information and communication technologies for living and working areas. These should be user-orientated.

The creation of an interdisciplinary research initiative which could take responsibility for the implementation of research and pilot projects would be ideal.

Housing politics is location politics

Future concepts in building should go hand in hand with high quality location factors, e.g. the accessibility of a high quality transport infrastructure, proximity to shops, other services and work places, a positive climate in the surrounding areas and high quality recreation facilities. It is an ambitious task to combine housing policy with location policy and the instruments of investment and planning which are a part of it.

Sustainable development

A further aim should be progression towards a sustainable building industry through supporting research into renewable resources and their use, and through the creation of economic incentives with the certification of sustainable buildings.

Planning and variety

Variety in building and living could be achieved through a new planning culture. Landscape planners, urban planners, space planners and interior designers should work together with the building industry.

Building projects with a special focus or theme could also help to increase variety in building. Planners and developers should try to realise such projects. Different forms of financing and evaluation need to be mixed and used in different areas. Through this, the creation of social ghettos ("poor" and "rich" areas) can be avoided.

The future was yesterday!

One of the main, and possibly the most important, results of this project was the realisation that:

a high quality house of the future must be a modern house of the present

because the house of the future is being built today.

Project Partners

Austrian Institute of Ecology:

  • DI Karin Walch, Project leader
  • Robert Lechner, stellvertretende Projektleitung
  • DI Inge Schrattenecker
  • DI Manfred Koblmüller
  • Petra Oswald
  • Mag. Susanne Geissler
  • DI Georg Tappeiner
  • Robert Korab
  • Mag. Bernhard Huber
  • Mag. Philipp Sutter


DI Karin Walch
Austrian Institute of Ecology
Seidengasse 13
A 1070 Wien
Tel: +43 1 5236105-18
Fax: +43 1 523 58 43
E-Mail: walch@ecology.at