Will peo­ple ever em­brace mod­u­lar liv­ing?

The Irish Times - Thursday - Property - - The Market - Damian Flana­gan

Ire­cently at­tended a lec­ture in Ed­in­burgh given by a Ja­panese pro­fes­sor of ro­bot­ics, who had pi­o­neered the devel­op­ment of ma­rine ro­bot­ics and even cre­ated a ro­botic dol­phin.

I dis­cov­ered that ro­bot­ics has now reached a tip­ping point where it is more eco­nom­i­cal to use a ro­bot to do many jobs than the cheap­est worker in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try.

Some pre­dict that in the next 30 years up to 50 per cent of jobs will be re­placed by ro­bots. The coming of ro­bots has been much her­alded from the 1960s on­wards, but when you see the lat­est de­vel­op­ments – such as the Asimo Ro­bot which can walk up and down stairs and kick a foot­ball – then you have to con­cede that the time is fast ap­proach­ing when ro­bots will start ap­pear­ing in our own homes.

If such su­per-mod­ern tech­nol­ogy is about to rev­o­lu­tionise our lives, then it would be odd if our houses them­selves did not un­dergo a tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion. What will our homes of the fu­ture look like and what will be dif­fer­ent from to­day?

One form of hous­ing which could rev­o­lu­tionise our fu­ture is mod­u­lar hous­ing – pre­fra­bi­cated units con­structed in fac­to­ries with all the lat­est en­ergy-sav­ing de­vices (so­lar pan­els, smart en­ergy sys­tems) in­cor­po­rated into the man­u­fac­tur­ing process and then quickly as­sem­bled on site.

Short-term gains

Mod­u­lar hous­ing would seem to have a lot go­ing for it: many see this as a key means of help­ing to re­solve the hous­ing cri­sis lead­ing to the mass con­struc­tion of homes at con­sid­er­ably quicker rates – and po­ten­tially lower costs – than tra­di­tional bricks, blocks and mor­tar con­struc­tions.

But it is not with­out its prob­lems. It is un­clear, for ex­am­ple, what the life­span of such struc­tures would be, and whether lend­ing banks might be hes­i­tant to of­fer stan­dard loans as se­cu­rity.

Where they might at­tract more in­vest­ment is from land­lords look­ing to of­fer them as rental ac­com­mo­da­tion, hop­ing to re­coup their ini­tial out­lay in rental re­turns within a rel­a­tively short term.

But then there is the key ques­tion: do peo­ple ac­tu­ally want to live in them?

Cu­ri­ous phe­nom­e­non

It is a cu­ri­ous phe­nom­e­non with ro­bots, but the more hu­man-like ro­bots be­come (or an­i­mal-like in the case of ro­bot pets) the more we are drawn to­wards them. Yet there is a cer­tain point of hu­man-like sim­i­lar­ity where we sud­denly

‘‘ It would be odd if our houses them­selves did not un­dergo a tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion

be­come freaked out, where ro­bots threaten to un­der­mine our own sense of iden­tity.

A key to de­ter­min­ing the suc­cess of mod­u­lar hous­ing is not just con­sid­er­ing the cheap­ness and ef­fi­ciency of con­struc­tion, but the de­gree to which peo­ple are able to stop think­ing of them as mass-pro­duced dis­pos­able units and more as in­di­vid­u­alised homes.

There is no rea­son to think we could not en­joy a fu­ture where our per­son­alised ro­bot greets us at our mod­u­lar unit home.

In such a Blade Run­ner- es­que world, the dan­ger is not so much that the ro­bots will rebel against us, but rather that we will per­form our own psy­cho­log­i­cal re­bel­lion against a style of liv­ing not suf­fi­ciently grounded in a sense of in­di­vid­u­al­ity and our yearn­ing for historical con­ti­nu­ity.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: IS­TOCK­PHOTO/GETTY

Mod­u­lar hous­ing: per­cieved by many as a key means of solv­ing the hous­ing short­age, it is not with­out its short­com­ings.

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