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A future of mobile buildings

Technological innovation, prosperity, social change and mobility, our world is changing fast than ever. Unfortunately, the established ‘take, make & waste’ model is doing so at the expense of our environment. There is a movement afoot to end the linear treatment of resources and shift to a regenerative economic model; a Circular economy; look up Walter R. Stahel, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation or the recent World Economic Forum Report “Towards the circular economy” to find out more.

When this model becomes the norm, and it surely will, as it makes sense on every level, where does this leave the property and construction industry? On first look isn’t good, 20 % of all resource inputs end up as waste, limited material re-use and design for deconstruction. This traditional ‘take, make & waste’ model is arguably already outdated. This blog deals with some ideas of what a circular economic model of property construction and investment could look like…..

Commercial Property
Smart phones, video conferencing and cloud computing means more mobile workers than ever. Will this spell the end for large centralised facilities, will nimble flexible companies emerge and overtake? If commercial property facilities evolve from hot desking into mobile working. Could it be that portable and re-usable office buildings pop up and down around our towns and cities as workloads dictate?

Pioneering examples of portable property assets are already out there; Snoozebox hotels and the basketball stadium from London Olympics albeit now no longer on route to Brazil and looking for a new home. These business models have started a design re-think and a shift away from ‘take, make & waste’ to a more regenerative treatment of resources.

Residential Property
So could residential property ownership models evolve such that instead of moving house, we simply move our home? It is not such an outlandish thought – shipping container architecture is producing a host of portable and relocatable buildings than can be transported at low cost using internationally standardised equipment.

What could such a building look like – perhaps a portable central living core of a bathroom, kitchen, living space and bedroom to which further items such as additional bedrooms, a garage, an office, a gym or studio could be added on and rented only as for the period needed. Residents would simply pay for the services they use with the ownership of the building remaining with the house builder who has the incentive to ensure, flexibility, portability and material recovery and re-use.

Land Ownership & Use
Land is obviously not portable but use could be circular. How will alternative ownership or possession structures emerge? Is usufruct possible? Shorter term flexible ground leases offer an option? How does this impact the planning system? Will we soon see guidance and regulations for temporary buildings, such as those in The Netherlands?

what could a shift to a circular economy mean for centralised waste and power infrastructure? Will properties, commercial or residential, produce any waste in a circular model? Surely not. Will these buildings require external power sources? Could they be self sufficient or even better self serving; selling power or fertiliser to the communities in which they find themselves……

A regenerative or circular approach to buildings offers a stable and long term model for investment. A shift in this direction could see a change from a sales based model to one where ownership is retained by the manufacturer and the service that is desired (office space or a home) is paid for on a usage basis. In a future of depleted natural resources supply chain security will become an increasingly important issue.

Adopting a circular approach in construction through the design and deployment of portable buildings or larger buildings designed for deconstruction means increased profitability on re-use of portable assets and readily available access to the resources or building elements required for tomorrows larger projects.

Brighton shipping containers installation - week 5
Guide to installing export metering for Solar PV