Almost every rendering of the future includes predictions about how and where people will live, with varying degrees of accuracy. While some of the following next-generation housing movements are just as big, smart, and weird as we imagined they'd be, plenty of new trends prize simplicity above all. Here are 10 examples of housing that may end up becoming tomorrow’s standard.
1. Tiny Houses
You know a housing movement has entered the mainstream when it receives its very own popular-on-Netflix documentary and is the subject of several reality shows. Yet the philosophy that underpins the trend is actually quite sensible: tiny houses (usually under 500 square feet) have reduced environmental impacts and cut down on costs, which translates to more discretionary income for their owners. Small houses have, of course, been around for a very long time, but gained popularity in America again in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. (In the five decades prior to 2008, there was a steady increase in home size, even though families were getting smaller.)
In 1967, Danish writer Bodil Graae published an article titled “Every Child Should Have 100 Parents”—her own interpretation of the age-old adage, "It takes a village to raise a child." Shortly after, modern “cohousing”—communities where many families share common areas and household responsibilities— was born. Since then, the trend has slowly gained steam throughout Europe; there are also currently several dozen cohousing outposts in the United States. New York magazine's Robert Sullivan covered the trend in 2009, noting that children are brought up "as if life were a giant, never-ending playdate," and that the tight-knit communities are also helpful to anyone grieving or dealing with a serious illness. There are, of course, less touchy-feely benefits, too: These groups of residences often serve as an exercise in specialization and efficiency.
3. Shipping Container Homes
These abodes—which are exactly what they sound like—have materialized all over the world, but are particularly popular in parts of Europe and on the American West Coast. Officially born in 1987 out of Philip C. Clark’s patent for a “method of converting one or more steel shipping containers into a habitable building,” shipping container homes (frequently considered part of the larger “cargotecture” movement) can range from small, one-container houses to LEGO-stacked, multi-container luxury homes. Proponents of shipping container-built houses tend to emphasize their sustainability and affordability—though they do tend to get quite chilly in winter and toasty in the summer. For this reason, their overall efficiency has been disputed.
4. Passive Houses
"Passive house" doesn't refer to a specific style—instead, it's a term that speaks to a rigorous dedication to energy efficiency. A movement that originated in Sweden in 1988, and then spread to the rest of Scandinavia and some German-speaking countries (where it’s known as Passivhaus), passive houses meet demanding efficiency standards for heating and cooling, energy consumption, and air leakage, using, on average, about one-fourth of the energy of traditional homes. The aim is to keep indoor climates livable without active temperature controlling systems, such as air conditioners and radiators. Not surprisingly, passive houses tend to have much lower energy costs and are great for anyone suffering from allergies, or someone who lives in an area with low air quality, since the buildings are usually air-tight. Exterior air is filtered through a ventilator instead of entering directly through open windows.
The original and most famous capsule apartment building is Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower, which opened in 1972. Today, it's pretty barren, and most of its 140 compartment-sized living spaces are either vacant or used for storage. Still, capsule hotels remain popular in Japan, and small “capsule” apartments have recently caught on in crowded Chinese cities like Beijing and Wuhan, where rent is high and space is at a premium. (These tend to be less like actual capsules and more like tiny rooms.) New York City is currently in the process of getting its first “micro-apartments,” although the focus for residents is less on cost-cutting (the 300-square-foot living spaces will still run renters $2000 to $3000 a month) and more on space efficiency. The building will feature plenty of common-area amenities, such as a gym, a cafe, a rooftop, and conference rooms. Think of it as a slightly fancier dorm for grownups.
6. Kit Homes
Some-assembly-required houses gained popularity in the United States in the early 20th century, before falling out of vogue after World War II. Today, however, kit home companies are once again springing up all over the world. New options for customizable kit homes include some of the other trends covered on this list, including tiny houses and shipping container dwellings.
7. Urban Rooftop Homes
On select rooftops in Hengyang and Zhuzhou, China, you’ll find buildings that would be right at home in any suburb—complete with yards and fences—plopped on top of large buildings. The Hengyang development features 25 villas on top of a shopping mall (though the Chinese government has disputed their legality). A development in Zhuzhou, also built on top of a mall, features four large villas that are currently being used as offices. Rooftop houses have popped up in crowded cities across the United States as well, including several swanky penthouse homes in New York City. A living space called the LoftCube has been built explicitly for rooftop placement. Perhaps the most extreme version of rooftop living, however, is in Beijing, where professor/potential Bond villain Zhang Lin has built a rooftop mountain lair atop a 26-story apartment building. Not surprisingly, the legality of his rooftop residence has been called into question.
8. Adaptive Reuse Homes
Most of the time, "adaptive reuse" means converting buildings that we no longer need into housing, which is something the whole world needs more of. In the United States, factories, warehouses, barns, and old churches are popular settings for reuse housing, but less obvious targets, such as grain silos and water towers, have gotten the adaptive reuse treatment too. There are plenty of benefits to investing in adaptive reuse homes, including reducing urban sprawl, rejuvenating abandoned eyesores, and preserving historical landmark buildings.
9. Green Roof Homes
Also known as “living roof homes,” green roof homes borrow from a pretty ancient tradition. Dwellings were topped off with vegetation, which is a great (and natural) way to provide insulation and control interior temperatures. These days, the numerous environmental benefits—including the fact that these roofs reduce stormwater runoff, lower greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions, can last longer than traditional roofs, and can be used for urban farming—have helped green-roof technologies regain their former popularity. Urban environments have the most to gain from roofs with plant life, where green space is limited and traditional roofs, made from concrete and asphalt, can create so-called “heat islands.” Rooftop farms are rapidly springing up all over the world, especially in space-limited Asian cities such as Singapore, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.
10. 3D Printed Homes
Chinese 3D printing construction company WinSun successfully put up a 5-story apartment, an 11,840 square-foot villa, and 10 small houses in a single day using quick-drying cement and recycled industrialized waste. The process isn’t just fast—it’s also becoming cheaper and more energy-efficient. Although these early prototypes are still decorative, there’s little doubt that folks will be able to live in 3D printed houses in the very near future. University of Southern California engineering professor Behrokh Khoshnevis is even in the process of perfecting a system that would print out homes, complete with insulation and plumbing, in under a day.