Developing the apartment of the future

  • (c) Lavinia Rusu

New technology, lifestyle trends and environmental pressures: the world is changing fast and consumers with it. What does this mean for the providers of long-stay apartments?

Last month, SAS EUROPE RECHARGE 2018 brought together a group of 120 hospitality leaders to debate and help stimulate collective conversation, innovation and value curation.

Co-hosts Neil Andrew, Associate Director at Dexter Moren Associates and Jonathan Humphries, Chairman and Owner of HoCoSo, reflect on the key outtakes from the ‘Apartment of the Future’ development workshop.

Tech or no tech?
Smart technologies are already being introduced into homes. In the future, automated monitoring for heating, and controls for bathtubs and ovens will become standard. Robots can already vacuum our floors and keep an eye on pets while we are out but this is only the beginning. Technology also enables customisation of decor. Residents can choose digital pictures and ask digital ‘butlers’ to suggest individually tailored activities.

Could we be at risk of peak tech? The digital invasion into every aspect of our lives may lead to a backlash. We are already seeing demand for tech free spaces; this could extend to tech free buildings in extreme cases. Consumers in the future may prioritise face-to-face interaction as an antidote to the digital world placing greater emphasis on the provision of communal areas.

Modular and movable or co-living
While apartment sizes are shrinking consumers’ expectations for amenities remains the same. Modular and movable apartment designs make it possible to have a full kitchen, living and sleeping place in just under 20 sqm.

However, modular apartment design is costly. The jury is out as to whether the benefits outweigh the complexity. The co-living model may be more appealing, offering simple sleeping pods with access to communal space through co-working and co-living areas.

Green living
Environmental pressures are only likely to grow in the future, both in response to legislation and consumer demand. Environmentally friendly materials will become more accessible. Some carpets can already convert carbon to oxygen and porous building materials enable growth of moss and green walls.

Food packaging and waste is reduced through grocery sharing and on-site food production. Energy can be produced and stored on-site using smart windows and solar panels or can even be produced kinetically by gym equipment. There may be some areas where consumer expectations need to be challenged, for example do we really need air conditioning as standard in the northern hemisphere?

Sleep tech
Solutions for insomnia are predicted to be an $80 billion-dollar industry by 2020. Dream machines will monitor sleeping patterns, to enhance sleep quality through sound waves and lighting. Smart beds can regulate body temperature; digital butlers can send reminders to hydrate, sleep and exercise.

But, before we get carried away into the land of nod, it is important to remember the fundamentals of a good night’s sleep: a comfortable bed, the right acoustics and ambient lighting. Light and sound from tech can disturb sleep. Will consumers seek a tech blackout instead?

Virtual reality
More than just a form of entertainment VR can help create a sense of place within communities. Could a virtual space replace the residents’ lounge? Design and research processes can be enhanced through VR with initial prototypes experienced virtually. Hans Meyer, co-founder of Zoku, spoke from a concept developer’s perspective: “with the help of VR, Zoku was able to test a room prototype with consumer groups in 3D and obtain feedback”.

Evolution vs revolution
New technology clearly creates an opportunity for hospitality leaders to improve their product. While these are to be embraced, there is a note of caution. The industry must always be mindful of their customers and any potential backlash against technology overload. It should only be used where it enhances the consumer experience. Partly as a result, we expect change to be in the form of small incremental improvements rather than a dramatic shift.