As society changes, so must the places where we live

We build for the future but can only do so with knowledge of the present. This is a permanent handicap in architecture. And nowhere does it matter more than housing; the most numerous, intimate and quotidian of building types.

There is at least one thing we do know about the future, barring plague, disaster or nuclear war: as people born now get older they will enter different life stages. The life stage poised to be a major influence on housing demand is the 18-34 age group – generation Y or the Millennials. ADAM Urbanism in partnership with Grainger, the UK’s largest listed residential property company, thought the social trends in this age group would be the most likely to reveal the needs for tomorrow’s home.

We engaged researcher Lily Bernheimer, of Space Works Consulting, to look into research information, academic studies and other publications. Some key trends emerged.

Declining commuting and end of dormitory suburbs The daily commute is in decline, so the dormitory suburbs built for previous generations of commuters will soon be a thing of the past. Homeworking employees are the fastest growing workforce segment. Millennials will spend more time where they live, leading to stronger local communities grouped around local services like cafés, crèches and shared office facilities. Suburbs will be places of work and play as well as sleep.

Mega-commuting is good for the environment and the economy Millennials moving from major work centres as a result of flexible digitalized labour will live further out and make longer, less frequent commutes. This new pattern of ‘mega-commuting’ and ‘micro-commuting’ (working from home or a local work hub) has brought about a decrease in miles travelled to work. Transport network congestion is threatening future British economic development, which mega/micro-commuting will help alleviate.

Strong, vibrant and increasingly popular second and third tier cities This transition will be reinforced as both major cities and first-tier suburbs become too expensive. There will be an exodus to second and third tier cities, resulting in a further boost for regional towns. Public-transport-loving Millennials will prefer cities and town centres because they are well-connected and walkable as well as affordable. This will reshape our geography with a more even spread of population and wealth across the regions.

Public transport in: cars out Millennials are giving up cars, which should prompt more investment in public transport. Transport hubs with facilities and landscaping will become places where people will be happy to spend time, and public transport itself will provide ample space for working and socialising.

The sharing economy takes socialising out of the home Homes will become places of rest and work rather than socialising. Communal facilities will play a larger role and the shared urban environment will be increasingly important. Extending the success of the ‘sharing economy’ model from the transport and workspace sectors to the residential and leisure sectors will be an innovative area of growth. We can expect to see individual dining rooms, gardens, and leisure equipment replaced by shared facilities attached to residential developments, leisure centres, and parks.

Solo-living stagnated; shared housing is on the rise Living alone is no longer on the rise as more Millennials opt to live with friends and family. Reports that over 30% of people now live alone have been exaggerated from misunderstood data. Only 10% of 25-44 year-olds and 4% of 16-24 year-olds now live alone. Shared households of unrelated adults will grow and we will see a growing demand for housing to accommodate this sector. House builders may build in flexible units that can be up-sized into a house for an extended family or down-sized into individual apartments.

The countryside colonised by the over 50s Millennials are living and renting in cities for longer, but may move into the countryside in later life, where they will home-work and ‘mega’ commute less frequently. This will ageing rural population will need transport, healthcare and other services. 

ADAM Urbanism’s Tomorrow’s Home: Emerging social trends and their impact on the built environment has been shortlisted for the RIBA President’s Awards for Outstanding Practice-located Research