Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020

Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020
Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020

Embarking on a new decade welcomes the next era of design trends, building innovation and technology. Architects, urban planners, builders and developers will collectively relook at how our built environment responds to social, cultural and environmental shifts — as well as buyer demand. 

Based off industry dialogue and the exploration of new technology in 2019, we’ve compiled a list of building design predictions we’re expecting to see become more prevalent over the next few years.

1. Buyers are becoming more aware of what their home is built of and are driving a market shift for quality over quantity

Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020

Urban has noticed a shift in buyer demand for a more sustainable approach to building design and construction. Buyers are keen to play a more active role in ensuring their home is built to a high standard, using quality, safe and eco-conscious building materials. As home seekers move towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle (including everything from food choices to beauty products), the conversation around harmful toxins and pollutants extends to the construction of their home too. With this sentiment in mind developers are actively marketing the health benefits of their properties, from “low VOC and formaldehyde-free” building materials to above minimum standard insulation for excellent thermal performance. These building choices both boost resident health and wellbeing, as well as lift the value of the home, providing developers with a strong incentive to uplift the quality of their developments in 2020. 

2. Solar technology is being developed for more seamlessly integrated uses

Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020

What was once an arbitrary placement of photovoltaic panels on residential roofing – solar technology has been developed to deliver more seamless integration within our built environment. Northcote’s The General impressed us with cutting edge photovoltaic balustrades, giving the glass a dual purpose, and more aesthetic consideration. In 2020, we’re likely to see greater use of the exciting new paper-thin solar technology used within developments. Scientists have been making thin films out of barium zirconium sulfide (BaZrS3), a material which has exceptional electronic and optical properties. With the ability to absorb light effectively and its light-weight quality, makes the material an ideal option for photovoltaic conduction.

“For many decades, there have been only a handful of semiconductor materials that have been used, with silicon being the dominant material... Our thin films open the door to a new direction in semiconductor research. There’s a chance to explore the potential of a whole new class of materials.”

Hao Zeng, Lead researcher, Professor of Physics, College of Arts and Sciences

3. Communal offerings within apartments are becoming more creative and future-focused

Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020

Apartment-living has seen an increased buyer interest across the board from a varied range of property seekers, from first home buyer and investors to families and downsizers. The demand for apartment living has pushed developers to think of creative ways to accommodate the varying requirements of buyers from each demographic. In recent years, apartment amenities have extended beyond a pool, gym and communal rooftop, to state-of-the-art wellness facilities, on-site cinemas, golf simulation rooms and fully integrated master-planned precincts. A trend we’ve noticed which is likely to continue this year is the emphasis on grass-roots facility offerings - mimicking that of a detached dwelling. This includes communal vegetable patches, living areas, tools sheds, maker spaces, and composting/recycling facilities.

4. Climate change will see a greater emphasis placed on the circular economy and supply chain of building materials and furniture

Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020
Photo credit: Nicholas Failla

Having a green approach to business operation is becoming increasingly important to Australian companies’ strategies – and this approach encompasses the entire lifecycle of a product. Transparency within the supply chain means that the end-user (developer, builder, apartment owner) knows exactly where the materials have been sourced, who manufactured them and how it was transported to the final destination. Current conversation suggests that in the next few years, digital passports will be assigned to products so that buyers can confirm that the materials have been sourced ethically and environmentally consciously – as well as providing more accountability in the manufacturing line. 

"Customers want clarity. It is expected that traceability will continue to become more prevalent and could reach the point where customers will be able to scan a product’s barcode at the point of sale and access data about its entire journey through the supply chain."

Sean Galea-Pace, Supply Chain Digital

Extending further than the supply chain is the circular economy, which looks at the recyclability of the product upon its end of use. This can mean opting for more natural, biodegradable products, or materials that can be repurposed after a building has been demolished.

“We’re transforming the way we think about waste and resource recovery – developing a circular economy will deliver better environmental, social and economic results for Victoria.”

Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio

Good Environmental Choice Australia CEO, Kate Harris, recently had a chat with Urban.com.au about the importance of implementing the circular economy concept here in Australia as a means to mitigate construction waste. Harris suggested that some key drivers towards growth in recycling and upcycling in the construction environment could be incentivising, as well as a shift in dialogue about how upcycling can be beneficial rather than a hindrance to your project. 

“It is reframing it as ‘resource recovery’. If we start to see it differently, we’ll use it differently.”

Kate Harris, Good Environmental Choice Australia CEO (Listen to the podcast here)

5. Passivhaus design is becoming more popular among Australian homeowners

Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020

The year 2019 saw the launch of Australia’s first Passivhaus apartment building, The Fern, delivered by Steele Associates. Passivhaus design has proven to be a viable option for all parties – from its attractive financial savings for buyers (they can expect practically zero utility bills), to its environmentally-conscious energy-saving techniques and health benefits (including exceptional ventilation, insulation and thermal bridging).

“Passivhaus takes sustainable development to the next level, using proven building physics to create healthy living spaces that stay cool in summer and warm in winter with ultra-low energy use.”

Oliver Steele, Steele Associates Director

With benefits that attract buyer demand and support developer’s commitments to environmental sustainability, it is likely we could see a rise in Passivhaus designed apartments in the pipeline for 2020.

6. Biophilic design is just as integral in commercial development as it is in residential

Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020

Similar to Passivhaus design, Biophilic design is the human-centric approach to building design, by creating spaces which support the health and wellbeing of its residents. This can include promoting natural light and airflow, integrating urban greening through blurred indoor-outdoor distinction, adaptable floor-plans, and more. Last year, Elenberg Fraser designed an exciting new ‘non-office, office’ called Market Lane.

In Market Lane, biophilic design has been applied in ways where there is a direct relationship to nature in space. Landscape is the obvious one, however here we go far beyond a few scattered pots, this is seriously dense planting, undulating in height and form to create usable spaces of varying levels of intimacy.”

Vicki Karavasil, Elenberg Fraser

In addition to landscaping, Market Lane features a central void which allows air to circulate freely, tracked air quality and lighting sensitive to the circadian rhythm. 

“What needs to be understood, is that some of these strategies may cost more upfront, however in the long-run if they have huge benefits which can retain the major tenants who value wellness high in their company identity, and can in effect have economic benefits through the ability to adapt and control of building services based on occupant needs and patterns.”

Vicki Karavasil, Elenberg Fraser

7. Retrofitting and repurposing of older buildings remains a viable option 

Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020

Australia’s cities are enriched with a unique tapestry of architecture and history, so where buildings can be preserved, it is often a desirable option to do so. With a future focus on climate change and environmental sustainability, the 'take, make and dispose' ideology is a concept that needs to change immediately if we want to see our planet regenerate any time soon.

By upcycling building materials such as bricks, or historic facades, we can extend a material’s lifecycle, as well as reducing carbon emissions that would be used in the production of the brand new equivalent material. 

While entire building retrofits are costly and challenging, salvaging perfectly sound materials and preserving the unique quality of Australia’s historic architecture remains popular among architects, due to the unique quality of the finished result, and the ability to eliminate significant wastage.

“Upcycling adds value by transforming or reinventing an otherwise-disposable item into something of higher quality.”

William McDonough, Founding Principal of William McDonough + Partners

8. Carparking and car-use is likely to be reconsidered within both residential development and urban design

Urban’s 8 building design predictions for 2020

With the rising popularity of car-sharing, taxi service apps and public transport upgrades, car use in Australia is changing drastically. This is encouraging designers and urban planners to relook at how car parking is integrated within our cities and apartment buildings. Nightingale Housing made a bold decision to avoid creating car parking spaces, and instead provide residents with a carsharing membership, which was approved by Moreland City Council as an appropriate solution. In the City of Melbourne, despite having more than 215,000 parking spaces available, approximately one-third are not used every day

Over the course of 2020, we are expecting to see further developments in the introduction of electric car charging facilities, integration of car-sharing and innovative repurposing of disused parking spaces

Olivia Round

Olivia Round

Olivia Round is the Features Editor of urban.com.au. Olivia specialises in news reporting, in-depth editorial content and video + podcast interviews with industry experts.

Sustainability Design 2020 trends


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