If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last few months, it’s that the world can change at a moment’s notice. While there will certainly be more surprises to come in the future, a few things are certain; among them, population and climate change. How will we change the way we build to tackle these challenges, and can we maintain fire safety in the buildings of the future?
A Changing Population
The world’s population is ageing. The number of over 60s is projected to reach nearly 2.1 billion by 2050 – outnumbering people aged 10-24 by approximately 100 million. Population ageing is the inevitable result of development. Generally, humans enjoy better healthcare, lower mortality and morbidity rates, better education and improved chances of survival.
Fertility rates are falling, too. People are having fewer children on average, pushing the average global age even higher.
A lot of this is really good news – better health and survival of our species into old age is a fantastic achievement – but it’s loaded with challenges. How do we care for an ageing society? How do we fund pensions? And importantly, how do we ensure independent living for ageing bodies?
The Solution? More Accessible Buildings
With age comes slower or reduced mobility. We’re already seeing many more housing developments being created with accessibility as the primary focus, to help seniors live independent lives. Building regulations now specify accessibility requirements for this very reason.
Some developers are even opting for kerb-free streets, lined with luxurious bungalows – envisioning a possible future of accessible suburbs.
In denser areas, expect to see fewer stairs in public spaces, wider entrances and shallow ramps – as well as a greater number of large elevators in multistorey buildings. Open-plan will become widespread in new developments and future buildings will rely more on compartmentation from fire curtains as a result.
Ageing affects hearing and vision, too; signage and public address systems will have to adapt accordingly. Adaptations will have to extend to everything, from public transport to restaurants and bars. These changes will give accessibility and inclusivity to disabled people of all ages too, giving more people than ever the opportunity to work, travel and enjoy public spaces.
A Changing Climate
The grim spectre of climate change is currently in the shadow of a global pandemic. It won’t stay there for too long, though; just because emissions from transport have been significantly cut doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. In fact, it’s highlighted just how important food production is and how fragile infrastructure can become in a crisis.
Climate change is happening, and we’re not able to reverse the damage – so it’s inevitable that at some stage, we’ll have to face new daily living challenges wrought by it.
Rising temperatures could make conventional buildings unpleasant (or impossible) to inhabit without air conditioning – even in places where air conditioning is rarely needed at present. Building design will have to change to make cooling sustainable; because the cruel irony of air conditioning is that it actually contributes to further warming through its astronomically high energy usage.
One of the possibilities we’ve touched on is the creation of underground cities to shield us from extreme weather, blistering heat and unbreathable air – but in the timescale we’re looking at for climate impact, we may not have the time or resources to achieve this.
Fire Safety in Enclosed Spaces
In the buildings and complex structures of the future, fire safety will be more important than ever. A population with reduced mobility and age-related disabilities will need proper safeguarding from structure fires – which could be running rampant as climate change makes wildfires more common.
At Coopers Fire, we’re always developing our products to keep us at the cutting edge of fire safety. To find out more about our products and services, or to enrol in one of our educational training courses, call us on 02392 454 405 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.