Department of Energy

Buildings of the Future

September 6, 2016

You are here

Vision for Future Buildings

What should buildings look like in 100 years? Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory made a blueprint for buildings that are more comfortable, efficient and intelligent than today. | Video by PNNL.

BUILDINGS USE A LOT OF ENERGY. THIS PLAN WILL CHANGE THAT.

The buildings of today account for 40% of energy consumption and 38% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Our country is making progress towards improving the efficiency of buildings, but what if we could fast-forward 100 years--what would buildings be like then?

At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, we have defined an achievable vision for future buildings. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and guided by the collective views of our forward-thinking partners, the newly developed framework will help guide the evolution of American buildings.

Our framework includes five key focus points: Occupants, Building Systems, Utilities, Community and Environment. Each focus area has defined goals and conceptualized the functions or capabilities of future buildings. A technical document that outlines these focus points in greater detail will be published soon.

Here’s our vision for buildings of the future. 

1. OCCUPANTS

Portable or wearable devices help personalize thermal comfort, reducing the need for space heating and cooling while maintaining air quality. Integrated central systems and local devices ensure buildings consume only the energy and resources they need by learning occupant behavior, increasing personal comfort and workplace productivity. Building-wide or city-wide intelligent applications exchange data to maximize energy efficiency. Quantified health benefits are aggregated via biometric data from building occupants, all while preserving personal privacy.

2. BUILDING SYSTEMS

Because they are designed modularly, buildings of the future are easily reconfigured and upgraded to accommodate various needs, adapt to changing conditions and improve the performance of the building itself. Building envelopes (including walls, floors, ceilings and windows) embrace responsive and dynamic materials to provide complex functions such as generating energy, collecting water, controlling light, regulating indoor temperature, or filtering air, resulting in zero greenhouse gas emissions over the building’s service life. Building components have smart, adaptive, highly efficient and integrated systems that are easier to connect, update, grow and adapt.

3. UTILITIES

Both centralized and decentralized networks provide common critical infrastructure, such as power, water and waste. Neighbors are connected and share or trade building services and resources, such as energy generation and storage, waste-heat recovery, water purification, onsite waste treatment and localized air-cleaning. With shared resources, peak loads are reduced by 50%. Remaining demand is purchased at the lowest available price. In addition, buildings are prepared for extreme environmental conditions. They take advantage of low-tech and distributed solutions and rely on local resources to operate during catastrophic events.

4. COMMUNITY

Multifunctional buildings accommodate the needs of changing demographics, such as an aging population, while providing services to enhance work-life balance. A multi-modal transportation network connects buildings and integrates walking and biking with new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles. With reduced need for roadways and parking, more land is available for pedestrians and greenery that performs onsite ecological functions. Energy efficiency is measured holistically and is 100% transparent, being also reflected in the market value of buildings.

5. ENVIRONMENT 

Resources are harvested onsite for heating, cooling, lighting and electricity before utilizing infrastructure sources. Buildings are tied to the broader cycle of the region, including water cycles, nutrient loads and manufacturing, resulting in an 80% reduction in imported water consumption and improved biodiversity. The environmental performance of buildings is constantly sensed, controlled and measured for aggregated impact to the micro- and macro-environments.

These focus points are a framework for public and private sector leaders as they advance research and development today. This is our future, and we must plan for it now. Join our network and find out how you can get involved at futurebuildings.pnnl.gov.

Editor's Note: This post was provided by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, one of the Department of Energy's 17 National Labs