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What Future Buildings will Look Like 2021 and Beyond

Throughout industrial history, the most memorable structures have been forged of powerful construction steel, defying gravity, with its highest point peeking through the clouds. As construction and architecture trends change, “grandeur” will not be the goal of designers and builders. In an age of tall buildings, the new title most innovators seek is the title of being the “most efficient.” And this is the summary of what future buildings will look like: efficient in many aspects.

The boom in tall buildings is unprecedented in most developed countries. We’ve come a long way since the world’s first steel skyscraper was constructed. Manhattan, the capital of concrete jungle, was home to 28 skyscrapers that were 700 feet tall or higher in 2004. In the 16 years since then, 13 more super structures were built and 15 more are in construction.

Skyscrapers can place a heavy burden on the environment that is difficult to overcome. Tremendous amounts of energy is required to power lights, elevators and computers in commercial and residential buildings. Heat and waste also add pressure to the surrounding area and need careful considerations and planning. Engineers and architects will need to find creative and innovative ways to address these problems.

Recognizing these challenges, many buildings that are being built emphasize architects taking energy-efficient steps to lessen the environmental consequences of constructing skyscrapers. Aside from that, possible natural calamities and disasters have been closely taken into consideration in building these skyscrapers.

One example is the Shanghai Tower in China. The Shanghai Tower is the second-tallest building in the world which boasts the highest energy rating due to its unique design and shape (which reduces wind loads). The construction team was able to save over 20,000 tons of steel reinforcement thanks to this design feat. The building’s modern design and reliance on renewable energy significantly reduces emissions which is a huge win for China, whose major cities have been heavily polluted for many decades.

What will the future look like for buildings in 2021 and beyond? These key enablers and pillars must be present in future buildings, according to the World Economic Forum.

Key Pillars of Real Estate


Real Estate (which include buildings that will be built in the future) should be lievable and provide suitable habitats for a  rich, culturally vibrant existence. People spend around 90% of their day indoors in large cities which makes buildings crucial in maintaining liveability.

A combination of many factors can contribute to a high quality of life. A good life (at least a good quality of life) includes well-designed buildings and communities, inclusive and human-centric designs (designed for all ages and abilities), and social, community, and recreational facilities that address the needs of citizens.


Real estate should be sustainable and optimized for zero carbon emissions in all aspects, from construction to operation. Real estate assets have a significant environmental impact which accounts for 40% global greenhouse gas emissions, 50% world energy consumption, and 40% of all raw materials. Our efforts to achieve net zero carbon goals will require large-scale energy retrofits to older buildings, and crucially, the renovation or repurposing rather than demolition.


Real estate must also be resilient and capable to adapt to any exigencies that might arise. This includes mitigating the impact of unforeseeable natural and man-made disasters such as climate, financial, and health crises, and to maintain the cultural identity of communities. Assets must be able to withstand many unexpected shocks, and can adapt to changing patterns in work and living throughout their entire life cycle.


Real estate should be affordable with housing, transportation, and other essential services accessible to all. Fair access to quality spaces to live and work is vital for society’s overall health. Access to affordable rents and low home ownership barriers are two aspects of affordability.

Real Estate’s Future: Enablers

According to the World Economic Forum, there are 5 steps to actualize these visions of what the future of real estate and future buildings will look like. We can achieve these goals through:

  1. Innovation and rapid digitalization

Technology will be one the key enablers for the new era in real estate. Data generated by buildings can now be used to make investment, maintenance, and operating decisions. To achieve scale and efficiency, a network of interconnected smart buildings will be required. Data privacy and security must be a priority to ensure that owners and occupants are safe.

  1. A deep pool of talent and knowledge

This is essential for the future vision of buildings and real estate which requires a large talent pool with market knowledge and expertise. The industry needs to have the right mix of C-suite leaders and those who can lead the transformation towards sustainability, resilience, technology, which is why real estate companies must promote diversity and inclusion at work and ensure equal representation.

  1. A business case that is proven to be profitable

While new solutions can be scaled when there are compelling business arguments and a clear return on investment, deployment often gets hampered by a lack of alignment between stakeholders. Investment can be encouraged by creating comprehensive metrics that reward all parties in the value chain. Investors will also benefit from increased transparency and all stakeholders have easy access to market data and performance benchmarks for their perusal.

  1. Greater engagement of stakeholders

Greater engagement is necessary from the stakeholders to make these visions a reality. This includes the real estate community (policy-makers and lenders, investors, tenants and contractors, as well as policy-makers, lenders, landlords, investors, tenants, and so on). To find more effective solutions for industry and city challenges, all stakeholders must work together.

Real estate investors, occupiers and developers will be seen by city governments as partners in shaping the city, which is a role that could prove difficult in a post-COVID world. To foster innovation and create human-centric urban development, it is essential to have meaningful collaborations with civil society and academia.

  1. Strong regulatory frameworks

Supporting flexible zoning, city development plans and standardization of fragmented building codes will help facilitate transition to better built buildings. Moreover, regulation can also be used to drive change. For example, net zero carbon targets can be an effective tool or affordable instrument. In this case, regulation can encourage supply and demand to close market gaps.

The Bottomline

Skyscrapers will be more than “tall buildings” in the future of real-estate. Engineers and architects will focus on creating more efficient buildings. They’ll integrate with smart technology and multifunctionality, and they won’t look like the traditional skyscraper.

The future of buildings and real estate built based upon liveability, sustainability, resiliency, and affordability which could be made possible by the exponential growth in technology, wide pool of talent and knowledge, proven profitable business cases, higher engagement from stakeholders, and stronger regulatory frameworks.





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