Whether it is a shortage of suitable land or challenges with planning in a more complex urban environment, the UK struggles to deliver houses that meet the aspirations of buyers and tenants, at an affordable price, in sufficient quantity. When they have been built, fresh challenges arise in managing them effectively.
Overcoming these challenges requires new solutions to be found, and the digital technology that is already disrupting other sectors of the economy could deliver a similar transformation in the property sector.
“Ensuring that housing projects are successful means meeting the often conflicting needs of economic viability, environmental sustainability and social inclusivity; in other words, making difficult decisions in the context of a myriad of data and context,” says Dominic Thasarathar, construction industry strategist at Autodesk.
He believes that technology trends such as reality capture, gaming engines, and augmented and virtual reality (VR) will play a key role in helping to close the gap between aspiring for a housing project and achieving the end outcome, by thoroughly evaluating “function”.
“Testing and validating hypotheses and evaluating multiple design alternatives in a way that traditionally has been cost-prohibitive, less accurate and with lower fidelity, should help planners and industry respond more effectively,” he adds. “This should help accelerate the planning process, regardless of the complexity of a particular site, deliver better housing, and give developers greater commercial confidence about which projects to progress with.”
Technologies such as VR already have the potential to revolutionise the way people buy homes. With a VR headset you can walk around a house, see how it looks and feels, all without leaving your living room, leading to homes being purchased online without a physical viewing.
Rob Walker, a digital consultant at Prodo, which works on digital transformation with housing associations across the UK, believes “there are perhaps more pressing challenges at hand” in social housing than investing in such forward-looking technologies as VR, “but that doesn’t mean there’s no innovation happening in the sector.
“What’s driving that innovation is the need to make significant cost savings, so while the shape of those innovative solutions looks very different, their impact is no less striking,” he says.
Organisations also need to make actionable sense of the raft of data and information being produced to fuel development, address unpredictability and evolve solutions to meet market pressures and remain competitive. Location technology, such as geographic information systems or GIS, is a key enabler as it lets users analyse huge datasets and share real-time insights based on the location element within the data, which ultimately helps companies to unlock the potential for growth and opens the door to future development.
Another new technology helping to transform the industry is 3D mapping and modelling. Earlier this year the UK’s largest 3D printed masterplan model was unveiled of Barking Riverside, one of Europe’s biggest new housing projects that will deliver more than 10,800 new homes in East London. The scheme, a partnership between the Greater London Authority and housing association L&Q, will also provide 65,000 square metres of commercial space, leisure facilities and schools.
Michelle Greeff, managing director of Hobs Studio, which created the 3D model, says: “3D printing allows the production of models to run considerably faster, while also creating a more accurate and detailed result, through the use of 3D photogrammetry data.
“It’s not just the printing that is a complex process – post-production is also key, with our specialist team adding in final details, to ensure that the model really captures the essence of Barking Riverside,” he says.
Property directors are under increasing pressure to understand the granular detail about their portfolios as real-estate prices increase, and could also benefit from 3D mapping technology.
“Particularly with large estates, many property directors don’t actually know much about their office portfolio other than the total square footage of their buildings,” says Graham Perry, head of intelligent estates management at Styles&Wood Group.
“Using 3D technology, they can measure the size taken up by a single chair in one of their restaurants, or the thickness of a wall, without the need to do in-depth measurements each time they want this information.”
The internet of things (IoT) can create an environment where objects in tenants’ houses are able to communicate with the service company directly, generating efficiencies in property management, as Graeme Wright, chief technology officer for manufacturing, utilities and services at Fujitsu UK and Ireland, explains.
He says: “Rather than deploying someone to assess whether a device is working, that device will be able to send a message about the problem, how serious it is and whether it can be repaired remotely, which is a far cheaper and quicker option.
“Ultimately, the IoT can dramatically improve both productivity and customer satisfaction in the property management sector.”