The 4 Biggest Trends Changing the Future of Home Design

Autumn House, Australia

From lighting that can safeguard your health to First Nations design principles that promote harmony, the places we inhabit are set to be transformed.

Homes that “protect” you from the elements are out and biomimetic design – built environments that aim to increase our connectivity to the natural world and our biological function – is most definitely in. The new frontier in home design is a tale as old as time: nature knows best. And smart home technology may be futuristic but it, too, borrows from Mother Earth. “Contextually aware” houses utilise adaptive design to evolve as we do, with each household a rapidly growing ecosystem.

Biohacking through lighting design

Biohacking through lighting design

The emergence of electricity heralded boundless invention in terms of our ability to bend time to our will with artificial lighting. But the impact of this on our natural circadian rhythms (which for all but the shortest blip in human existence have been driven by daylight and firelight alone) is making us sicker.

The discovery a few decades ago of the existence of intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs) in the human eye led to the understanding of just how dependent we are on the synchronisation of our physiological functions with circadian rhythms. The light that our eyes are exposed to tells our bodies what they should be doing at that time – and disruption in circadian entrainment has been linked to everything from insulin resistance and depression to weight gain, insomnia and digestion problems.

“Before this was discovered, scientists couldn’t understand exactly how our internal clock was being impacted,” explains Dr Wenye Hu, a lecturer in illumination design and head of the Lighting Lab at The University Of Sydney. “They ended up realising that light was by far the biggest contributor.”

Now, lighting design is changing to safeguard us against the health risks of an artificially lit world. The answer? Circadian lighting design, the practice of utilising natural light, as well as smart-lighting solutions across the colour spectrum, to help mimic the conditions humans have evolved to thrive in. “We talk about it in terms of colour temperature,” says Hu, “which sounds like it has to do with heat but actually refers to the description of the colour of the light.”

In short, blue light is better for increasing alertness and productivity and warm yellow or orange light allows our systems to begin their wind-down for sleep, when hormonal and physiological changes vital for optimal health take place. Both commercial and residential lighting design is looking to a range of cutting-edge innovations to mimic millennia of unchanged chronobiology.

This is where Hu’s work comes in. Smart lighting – interconnected lighting systems that have adaptable colour temperatures and can be programmed to certain times of day through your smartphone – are becoming increasingly popular. Revenue in the Australian smart lighting market is expected to grow by 10.47 per cent annually over the next four years, reaching a projected market volume of $714 million by 2027, but Hu says what’s coming next is even more exciting.

Along with research colleagues, she has developed a system in which a home’s blinds, lighting design and schedule can all work in symphony with each other, adjusting access to natural light based on the time of day and the occupant’s specifications. The tech exists, says Hu, it’s just waiting to be integrated by the right industrial partner. Stay tuned.

Letting the outside back in

Autumn House, Australia

“It’s a fancy new phrase for something we’ve actually been focusing on for quite a while,” says Melissa Bright, director and owner of Melbourne-based architectural firm Studio Bright, whose renovation project Autumn House won Australian House of the Year in 2022.

That phrase? Biophilic design, a concept that aims to increase occupant connectivity to nature through the use of light, natural materials, green space and place-sensitive planning. It’s one that has exploded into the lexicon of homeowners throughout Australia and the world to such an extent that Pinterest searches for “biophilic architecture” rose by 150 per cent between 2019 and 2021, prompting the term’s inclusion on the platform’s annual trends and predictions report for 2022.

The design principle is on triumphant display throughout Autumn House – a complex project that came from the desire to overhaul a Victorian terrace without disturbing the majestic mature elm in the backyard. A russet screen rises up to cover the second storey, which in time will be covered in climbing greenery, a gift to the surrounding urban landscape as well as its bees, birds and insects.

Bright says demand for this kind of symbiotic solution is growing exponentially. She believes that COVID and the shift to remote working means we’re asking more from our homes than ever before – including that they make us happier, healthier humans.

And there’s no question that greater exposure to nature does precisely this. A University of Exeter study of 20,000 people found that just 120 minutes per week of immersion in nature had a marked impact on mental and physical health.

In terms of innovation in the space, Bright believes it’s less about jumping on a trend and more about using modern techniques to circle back to the ancient truth that humans can’t exist outside of their natural environment.

“Urban heat load is a massive problem, with black bitumen everywhere in our Australian cities. So designing to keep tree canopies, using green rooftops – which up until recently were a kind of futuristic, way-out thing – this is all becoming more commonplace. Biophilic design is not some high-tech future concept; it’s returning to the understanding of how our cities need to function in harmony with place.”

Ancient wisdom, modern world

Chelsea Station

Dhudhuroa-Yorta Yorta consultant Allan Murray is working on using a train line in Melbourne to tell an ancient story. “What we want to do for the Frankston line is to create a songline,” says Murray, who works for engineering giant WSP, ensuring that Traditional Owners not only have a seat at the table in highlevel planning decisions but also that the story of place and Country is woven into the built environment.

“Community or school groups can hop on and off at each of the stations we’ve worked on and look at some of the cultural outcomes that we’ve achieved then jump back on the train and go to the next station and gather more knowledge about the land that they’re travelling on.”

His goal extends far beyond tick-a-box policy decisions; the goal is to create as many touch points as possible with the cultural significance.

Murray says in recent years “there’s been a huge cultural shift” around people’s appetite for First Nations design principles, which include respect for the land and its spiritual significance, sustainability and harmony with the natural environment and the incorporation of First Nations knowledge, art and cultural practices.

With a deepening commitment to establishing Reconciliation Action Plans in the architecture industry, as well as programs such as BLAKitecture – an annual series of talks exploring all things Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander in the built environment – Murray believes this weaving of culture and Country is trickling into the residential market, too.

“It’s really the architects driving this,” he says. “A lot of firms are reaching out for us to assist them around this cultural design space. We’ve been able to present the high-level concepts of what a building could look like with cultural influence, or a landscape design, even how to implement yarning circles within garden beds and the like.”

Architect Melissa Bright agrees. “Where we’re headed in terms of design and perhaps, on a smaller scale, with our houses, is towards a conversation about designing with Country. Not just the nature aspect but the place itself; honouring the history of that land.”

The walls have AirPods

The walls have AirPods

With voice-activated hubs such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, our houses have been able to hear us for a while. And into the next decade, they’ll actually begin to listen.

“The concept is called the Internet of Things [IoT], a way to describe how everything connects and talks to each other,” explains futurist Dr Keith Suter, managing director of the Global Directions think tank.

“One example I quote in my talks is that you’ll soon have a situation where your car and your refrigerator talk to each other. So the fridge says to the car, ‘We’re running short of milk,’ and the car will say to you, ‘You’ve got to make a detour to buy some milk on the way home.’ And, of course, your car will then reroute you to the nearest carton of milk.”

This kind of whole-house ecosystem is seen as “contextually aware”, a network of devices that not only communicate with each other but learn – and adapt – to their inhabitant’s lifestyle.

The instruments of this not-so-distant future reality appeared in every corner of the International Consumer Electronics Show this year, from a sprinkler that senses the moisture in the earth and reads the weather in order to skip a watering if rain is forecast, to a smart switch that learns your habits and personalises lighting design based on your routine.

This brave new world is not without its risks, cautions Suter. “Data is the new oil. So where information is free, you’re the product. The more you use the internet, the more the internet is using you to gather information about your preferences.”

Ubiquitous connection to the internet also brings with it a host of security and privacy concerns, he says. Burglars might be able to hack your appliances to determine whether you’re home. Or governments and other agencies could have access to untold amounts of personal detail.

And while the recent debut of opensource connectivity standard Matter (a joint project between Apple, Google, Amazon and others) looks to address some of these security concerns by improving the compatibility of smart-home products, it’s still uncertain how that might work.

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SEE ALSO: 10 Trends That Are Changing the Future of Office Design

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