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Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment to 2050

A Foresight Approach to Construction and Development


Edited by

Tim Dixon, John Connaughton and Stuart Green

University of Reading, UK














Editorial Board


Tim Dixon is Professor of Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment at the University of Reading (School of the Built Environment). With more than 30 years’ experience in education, training and research in the built environment, he leads the Sustainability in the Built Environment network at the University of Reading and is co‐director of the TSBE doctoral training centre (Technologies for a Sustainable Built Environment). He has co‐led major UK research council research projects on brownfield land and urban retrofit, and is currently working with local and regional partners to develop a Reading 2050 smart and sustainable city vision, which also connected with the UK BIS Future Cities Foresight Programme. Recently he has worked on funded research projects on smart cities and big data, smart and sustainable districts, and social sustainability for housebuilders. Tim is a member of the Climate Change Berkshire Group, and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smart Cities and UK Stakeholders’ Group on Smart Cities. He is also a member of the editorial boards of four leading international real‐estate journals, a member of the Advisory Board for Local Economy, a member of the review panel for Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, a mentor for the Villiers Park Educational Trust, and a member of the review panels of EPSRC and the RICS Research Paper Series. He was also a member of the international scientific committee for the national Visions and Pathways 2040 Australia project on cities. He has written more than 100 papers and books about the built environment.

John Connaughton is Head of Construction Management and Engineering and Professor of Sustainable Construction at the University of Reading (School of the Built Environment). John has worked in the construction sector for over 37 years, 30 of which have been spent in management and related consultancy. Prior to joining the University of Reading in 2012, John was a partner in Davis Langdon, one of the world’s largest construction cost and project management companies, where he has spent most of his professional career. He was head of the firm’s management consulting group from 2005 and has worked extensively on improving construction procurement and management processes. He was lead author on a range of industry guides produced by the UK Construction Industry Board following the Latham Review of UK Construction in 1994, and was one of the founding members of the UK Board of the Movement for Innovation (M4I). His involvement in sustainability in construction dates from the mid‐1980s when he was involved in the UK Department of Energy’s Passive Solar Design Studies Programme, and subsequently was responsible for the development of Davis Langdon’s Sustainability Services, with a particular focus on material resource efficiency. At the University of Reading, John is currently involved in funded research on new models of construction procurement and on energy use in office buildings. He is currently Chair of the Executive Board of the UK Construction Industry Research and Information Association.

Stuart Green is Professor of Construction Management in the School of the Built Environment at the University of Reading, UK. Stuart enjoys extensive policy connectivity within the UK construction sector and is frequently invited to contribute to industry debates. From 2007 to 2013 Stuart served as a core commissioner with the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 which provided assurance to the Olympic Board and the public on how the delivery agencies performed against their sustainability commitments. From 2011 to 2016 he chaired the Chartered Institute of Building’s Innovation and Research Panel. Stuart has extensive experience of construction‐related research leadership and has been principal investigator on Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) research awards totalling in excess of £7.5 million. Stuart originally studied civil engineering at the University of Birmingham. Following graduation in 1979 he worked for a national contractor on a range of construction projects throughout the UK. He was subsequently seconded for a year to an engineering consultancy where he gained the necessary design experience to become a chartered engineer. Stuart returned to academia to study for a master’s degree at Heriot‐Watt University in Edinburgh, prior to joining the University of Reading as a lecturer in 1987. He completed his PhD in 1996 and was promoted to professor in 2002. While based in Reading he has travelled extensively and has held numerous international advisory and consultancy roles in a variety of different locations. He is a visiting professor at Chongqing University and Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology, China.

List of Contributors

Janet F. Barlow

Modassar Chaudry

Phil Coker

Joe Doak

Ian J. Ewart

Lorraine Farrelly

Andy Ford

Aaron Gillich

Jim Hall

Gerard Healey

Adrian J. Hickford

Will Hughes

Graeme D. Larsen

Robert Nicholls

Gavin Parker

Li Shao

Constance Smith

Stefan Thor Smith

Bob Thompson

Jacopo Torriti

Martino Tran

Jorn van de Wetering

Geoff Watson

Saffron Woodcraft

Note on Contributors

Professor Janet F. Barlow is in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading and does research in urban meteorology, natural ventilation and renewable energy. She was a Board member of the International Association for Urban Climate, and is currently on the Steering Committee for the UK Wind Engineering Society. She is also on the Met Office Scientific Advisory Committee.

Dr Modassar Chaudry is a Senior Research Fellow in the School of Engineering at Cardiff University. His expertise covers a range of energy topics, in particular modelling (optimisation) and analysis of gas, electricity and heating supply systems. He has co‐authored a number book chapters and journal papers on integrated energy network modelling and analysis.

Dr Phil Coker is a Lecturer in Renewable Energy in the School of the Built Environment, University of Reading. Following 15 years as an engineer in the UK gas industry, he has spent the last decade researching the impacts of variability in low‐carbon energy systems. Current projects range from helping the system operator respond to increased intermittent renewables, through assessing the system value of hydrogen to supporting development of a commercial vehicle‐to‐grid solution.

Joe Doak is Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Development at the University of Reading. He has undertaken major research into the formulation and implementation of regional, strategic and local planning policies, and was a senior planning officer at county and district levels of UK local government.

Dr Ian J. Ewart is an anthropologist and engineer, and currently Lecturer in Digital Technologies in the School of the Built Environment, University of Reading. His research focus is on the perception and application of technologies, the practices these influence, and how these inform the real, social experience of the world.

Professor Lorraine Farrelly is an architect and head of the new Architecture School at the University of Reading. The ambition for the new School is to relate the education experience to current professional practices in architecture, and to develop a collaborative education model that positions architecture within the built environment professions. She has written several books considering relationships between architecture and urban design.

Professor Andy Ford is the Director of Research at London South Bank University. He has worked extensively on innovative building throughout his career and contributed to many award‐winning designs. Andy is the founder of Fulcrum Consulting. Andy’s long‐term interest in knowledge transfer led to academia in 2013 following the sale of Fulcrum Consulting to Mott MacDonald.

Dr Aaron Gillich has a BEng in Aerospace Engineering from Carleton University, an MSc in Astronomy and Physics from St Mary’s University, and a PhD in Architecture from the University of Cambridge. He is currently a Senior Lecturer at London South Bank University. His research focuses on the energy trilemma of delivering a low‐cost, low‐carbon, secure energy system.

Professor Jim Hall is Director of the Environmental Change Institute and Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on management of climate‐related risks in infrastructure systems, in particular relating to various dimensions of water security, including flooding and water scarcity. He leads the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), which has developed the world’s first national infrastructure simulation models for appraisal of national infrastructure investment and risks. His book The Future of National Infrastructure: A System of Systems Approach was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016.

Dr Gerard Healey is a sustainable built environment practitioner with over 10 years’ experience. He has worked for design firm Arup and currently is Manager – Sustainable Campus Design for the University of Melbourne. Gerard’s PhD investigated socio‐technical transitions for sustainability and he brings this multi‐disciplinary perspective to his practice.

Adrian J. Hickford is Senior Research Assistant in the Transportation Research Group at the University of Southampton. As well as his recent work on implementing strategic change to infrastructure provision, he has been involved in a number of projects aiming to increase the use of sustainable travel, and enhanced practices of traffic accident data gathering and use.

Professor Will Hughes is Professor of Construction Management and Economics at the School of the Built Environment, University of Reading. His research is positioned in the construction sector, focusing on the business of construction in relation to contracting, management, organisation and procurement. His current research is on modelling construction procurement decisions and contributing to national and international standards drafting.

Dr Graeme D. Larsen is an Associate Professor in Construction Management and Innovation at the University of Reading. He held the position of School Director of PhD Research Studies at the School of the Built Environment for 8 years. Dr Larsen is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB). His research interests include innovation diffusion, networks of firms, sustainability, communication networks, innovative methods in niche markets and sports venues. Dr Larsen has secured funding for research projects with such names as Silverstone Circuits Limited, published over 30 research articles and successfully supervised a number of PhD candidates.

Professor Robert Nicholls is Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton. His research is focused on coastal impacts and adaptation to climate change from local to global scales. More broadly, he is also interested in integrated assessment problems analysing complex systems subject to multiple drivers such as infrastructure.

Professor Gavin Parker is Professor of Planning Studies at the University of Reading, UK and for a period he was a director of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). He is a chartered town planner and researcher who has written extensively on planning, land and citizenship. His books include Key Concepts in Planning (Sage, 2012), written with Joe Doak.

Professor Li Shao is based at the School of Construction Management and Engineering at the University of Reading, UK. He is a Director of the EPSRC Engineering Doctorate Centre Technologies for Sustainable Built Environments. He specialises in building energy management and climate change adaptation, including the integration of green space in the built environment.

Dr Constance Smith is a Hallsworth Research Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. She works on the anthropology of urban planning and architecture. She has conducted extensive fieldwork in African cities and, more recently, on urban change and placemaking in London.

Dr Stefan Thor Smith is a Lecturer in Energy Systems and the Built Environment within the School of the Built Environment, University of Reading. His research is focused on energy use and climate within an urban context, anthropogenic influence on urban environments and resilience of city infrastructure to climate change.

Bob Thompson is a Director of Remit Consulting specialising in research and strategy, with a special interest in the impact of technological change on all aspects of real estate. Recent publications include The Building Machine (Parkside, 2014), The Role of Cloud Computing in Commercial Property (with Andrew Waller, RICS, 2011) and The Role of Social Media in Property (RICS, 2009). In total, he has produced over 250 publications across all channels since 1985.

Dr Jacopo Torriti is an Associate Professor in Energy Economics and Policy in the School of the Built Environment at the University of Reading, with previous roles at the London School of Economics, University of Surrey, European University Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author of more than 50 publications in the area of energy demand, economics and policy, including the book Peak Energy Demand and Demand Side Response, and sits on DEFRA’S Economics Advisory Panel.

Dr Martino Tran is Assistant Professor in Urban Systems at the University of British Columbia and Research Associate at the University of Oxford. He has broad interests in complexity, resilience and risk, and has published widely on modelling the performance of future technology and infrastructure. He has advised governments and industry on major infrastructure investments in energy and transport.

Dr Jorn van de Wetering is a Lecturer in Real Estate Appraisal at Real Estate & Planning in the Henley Business School at the University of Reading. He holds a PhD in Real Estate Economics. His research interests include property market adoption patterns of eco‐certification and the financial performance of environmentally and energy‐efficient office space.

Geoff Watson is a Senior Research Assistant in the Infrastructure Research Group in the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton. He is working on the modelling of future infrastructure requirements for the UK solid waste sector. He also contributed to the infrastructure chapter on the second UK Climate Change Risk Assessment. He has also been involved in research in waste mechanics and rail infrastructure.

Saffron Woodcraft is a Research Associate at the Institute for Global Prosperity at UCL. She leads the Institute’s research on developing new models and measures of sustainable local prosperity in East London. She has conducted extensive academic and applied fieldwork with communities and built environment professionals engaged in large‐scale urban development and regeneration programmes. She is a PhD candidate in anthropology at UCL, where her research focuses on London’s Olympic regeneration legacy and new communities. Saffron co‐founded of Social Life, a social enterprise established to examine how local communities are affected by urban development and regeneration.

Foreword by Sir Terry Farrell1

In downtown Newcastle, the city where I lived during my teens and twenties, a commemorative pavement inscription honours the 19th century builder and developer Richard Grainger. The words of dedication read ‘The past is my present to your future’, which expresses the city’s gratitude to him as he knew that what we do in the present affects the quality of life for future generations. This quote echoes the 1987 Brundtland Report’s definition of sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs’ (Brundtland Report, 1987: 16). This far‐reaching report has directed and shaped sustainability agendas and goals for 30 years and is also known as Our Common Future. I feel this subtitle to be increasingly more relevant to all of us living in a globalised and interconnected world, but perhaps for the professionals working within the built environment is it particularly significant. As the report states:

Our Common Future is not a prediction of ever increasing environmental decay, poverty, and hardship in an ever more polluted world among ever decreasing resources. We see instead the possibility for a new era of economic growth, one that must be based on policies that sustain and expand the environmental resource base. And we believe such growth to be absolutely essential to relieve the great poverty that is deepening in much of the developing world.’ (Brundtland Report, 1987: 11)

The significance for today’s globalised and multidisciplinary built environment community of developers, architects, master planners, engineers, construction industries and occupancy managers is that collaborative work practice has become more established to a point where a range of different professionals can work together with a unified and coordinated vision of a sustainable future. Connectivity between and amongst specialist teams is an approach we valued in the government initiated Farrell Review (2014), which drew together a multidisciplinary team to consider the present and future state of British architecture and masterplanning. Described as an example of ‘futures thinking’, the Farrell Review used an approach outlined in the introductory chapter to this book of collecting input to see what was going on, analysing what seemed to be happening, interpreting what was really happening and then prospecting or recommending ideas for improvement.

The power of futures thinking may not be in the solutions we gain from horizon scanning. The micro management of potential future scenarios will not be what guarantees sustainable futures, but the connectivity, communication and creativity inherent in the cross‐connectivity of many hands and minds working together is. As an immersive practitioner, I am action‐orientated yet I am also stimulated by the evolution of my thoughts and ideas when I work across disciplines and with others from the built environment community. Like many others, I am stimulated by the cross‐fertilisation of ideas as I dip in and out of the parallel universes of academia and industry. I feel that in some ways my voice and observations can hold a valued place in these other realities and, in turn, I am energised by the work being done in other disciplines, professions and fields.

Perhaps inherent in the notion of this philosophy of futures thinking is the belief that we can still control our destiny and our dominant place in the natural world. Many great scientists and thinkers recognise that change is part of a natural order. The natural plant and animal world thrives on change and adaptation, as humankind has also done for 200,000 years. However, I return to the point of the process of working together being perhaps more of an enabler of a sustainable future than the possible tangible outcomes we strive for, as explained by John Thakara, who celebrates the value of our connectivity when we look ahead together as:

‘When change and innovation are no longer about finely crafted “visions” and the promise of a better reality described in some grand design for some future place and time. Change is more likely to happen when people re‐connect – with each other, and with the biosphere – in rich, real‐world, contexts.’ (Thakara, 2016)

What we have craved for the past 200 years is some certainty that we are going to live comfortably and forever. But, as Colin Fournier believes, is there a ‘necessary unpredictability of change’ (Fournier, 2011: 9–11) so can we think our way out of the challenges of the unknown? Despite the abundance of literature on sustainability there is little that fully captures the messy complexity of the predicaments and possibilities we face, but the efforts and skills that work towards the capture and analysis are significant as we are unified in thinking and acting upon our common future.

Cities are made by many different people, whether they are organic cities like London, ‘artificial’ cities such as Milton Keynes or cities formed under governance like Paris. Each built environment continues to evolve by incorporating and utilising technology, assessment tools, frameworks, strategies, policies, local and global economies, and the relationship of its inhabitants with their places of work, study and family. The ability to adapt and thrive is held in our propensity to think across cultures and beyond past socio‐economic models.

So, who are the built environment clients? In a world of finite resources, increasing numbers of urban and world population, climate change, food shortages, unstable global economics, volatile political governance and the mitigation of migration, one client is undeniably the future generation. The other ‘client’ is Earth’s ecosystem as we begin to embed the natural environment and resource stewardship into our built environment planning, design, build and habitation through such innovations as closed‐loop technology systems or urban greening.

Many of the fine essays in this book are a testament to biocultural knowledge, hard and soft scientific expertise, and a belief that connectivity and creativity play an ever more valuable role in reaching the 2050 carbon‐reduction targets. But maybe it is time to flip the perspective around completely and view humankind as the client of Earth’s ecosystem? As Austrian architect and artist Hunderwasser wrote in the 1970s we should behave like a good guest of nature. What is clear is that the fusion of eco‐centric social and technological innovation and activity makes sense economically, environmentally and socially. Improving the quality of urban life for ordinary people is an exciting and multifaceted task for modern‐day built environment visionaries.


  1. Brundtland Commission (1987) Our Common Future: Report of the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  2. Farrell, T. (2014) The Farrell Review of Architecture and the Built Environment. Available at: (accessed February 2017).
  3. Fournier, C. (2011) The Legacy of Post‐Modernism, in Farrell, T. (ed.) Interiors and the Legacy of Post‐Modernism. Laurence King.
  4. Thakara, J. (2016) Manifesto For Utopias Are Over: Cities Are Living Systems, John Thakara blog, September 19. Available at:‐bioregion/manifesto‐for‐utopias‐are‐over‐cities‐are‐living‐systems/ (accessed February 2017).



The inspiration for this book came through our increasing realisation that there was a deficit in current thinking about how not only the built environment, but also the real estate (or property), construction and development sectors could, and should, evolve now and into the future. As we sit at the cusp of a hugely important time for the world, both environmentally and politically, it is tempting to think that just solving the short‐term problems that we face is enough to soak up and even nullify our capacity to think and act. Yet this ignores the importance of the long‐term view and thinking about the sort of world we, and our children and grand‐children, want to inhabit in 2050 and beyond. In a sense, the importance of overcoming the disconnection that exists between relatively short‐term political and planning perspectives and longer‐term environmental change has never been greater. We strongly believe that futures thinking and foresight need to be part of this movement and change in our thinking.

The construction and development sectors matter because the built environment, or the buildings and hard infrastructure we see in our cities and urban areas, matter too. In our world, both construction and real estate play a big role in contributing to carbon emissions and resource depletion, but the deployment of new technologies, the emergence of new business and financial models, and changing professional roles in the built environment are also a vital means of ensuring we use and manage the sectors to make a positive difference in achieving a sustainable future by 2050.

However, we face huge challenges in tacking these issues at scale. Although many heralded the Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015 as a huge step forwards, as governments agreed to limit warming to well below 2 degrees, the following statistic gives us a sense of the huge challenges which still remain: based on expected GDP growth of approximately 3% each year and the requirement to stay within the 2 degrees warming target, on average countries will need to reduce their carbon intensity (tCO2/$m GDP) by 6.5% every year from now to 2100.

To achieve this sort of reduction target requires us to mobilise action within the built environment in a concerted and orchestrated way. Thinking ‘across scales’, so we understand the lessons already learned that apply at building scale, neighbourhood level and city level, and between those scales is therefore vital to understand how the real estate and construction and development sectors need to change. Moreover, to tackle the ‘wicked’, complex and interrelated problems surrounding climate change and resource depletion we also need to think about how we can overcome the fragmented and often complex nature of the construction and real‐estate sectors. In what are essentially ‘conservative’ industry sectors, which are often criticised as lacking ‘innovation’, it is also important to understand how we need to change ourselves, and ‘walk the talk’ in client‐led advice, and in our professional and academic roles. This also means not only adopting a truly interdisciplinary‐led approach to our understanding of the future of the built environment, which interweaves a range of disciplines in a common thread of expert‐led knowledge and research, but also creating the space to produce solutions which truly are ‘sustainable’, ‘smart’ and ‘resilient’, as well as scalable.

This book also comes at a time when we have restructured our thinking in a new, overarching School of the Built Environment at the University of Reading, which brings together the long‐established Department of Construction Management and Engineering with a new Department of Architecture. The School of the Built Environment is an interdisciplinary centre of excellence in research and education with a strong orientation towards societal aspirations for a more sustainable built environment, and with strong links to other departments at the University of Reading (including Real Estate and Planning and Meteorology). Expertise in sustainability ranges across the scales from individual buildings to city‐scale urban metabolism, and our coverage includes thermal and energy simulation of buildings, the impact of urban microclimate on energy demand, indoor environment quality and green infrastructure, and our work on smart cities extends from innovation diffusion to the implications of emerging digital technologies for evolving patterns of sustainable living.

Our other, related, inspiration for this book was to develop a project which brought together the range of experts with whom we work with at University of Reading and in our new School of the Built Environment, together with other international academic experts and practitioners. The aim is to focus on a common goal: thinking about how we can transition to a sustainable built environment to 2050, what is influencing and inhibiting change to this goal, and what the future might look and feel like. This book therefore focuses on three key dimensions to future change in the built environment to 2050:

  • sustainability and the built environment
  • changing professional practice
  • transformative technologies and innovation.

Primarily using a foresight‐based approach, but with a more qualitative and ‘provocative’ practitioner‐based element to supplement the specific thinking on professional practice, the chapters seek to focus on both construction and development issues as key elements in the built environment to 2050. Thinking about the future in a fresh and innovative way has never been more important. As Nicholas Taleb wrote:

‘If the past, by bringing surprises, did not resemble the past previous to it (what I call the past's past), then why should our future resemble our current past?’

We hope you enjoy reading the book.



Tim Dixon would like to thank all his family for their love, patience and support during the writing of this book. He would also like to thank his colleagues and all the contributors to the book for their hard work, without whom the project would not have been possible. Finally, he would like to dedicate the book to his first friend and mentor at Reading: Professor Peter Byrne, Real Estate and Planning, University of Reading (1946–2015), who had a keen interest in technology applications in real estate.

John Connaughton is grateful for the valuable contributions made by all those involved in this book, both directly – as co‐editors, authors and those involved in production and publication – and indirectly – as supportive family, friends and colleagues.

Tim Dixon, John Connaughton and Stuart Green, February 2017 (University of Reading).