Skip to main content
Close contact information
Get in touch

Josef Hargrave

Global foresight manager

Phone icon +44 (0) 20 7636 1531
Close contact information

Foresight Trends 2019

Seven trends that will shape cities in 2019

  • No spam, ever. Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Change is constant

Yes, change is constant. But you could be forgiven for thinking that the past 12 months have seen more than their fair share. Economic, social and political shifts have seen rulebooks discarded and old assumptions cast aside. Technology too has evolved rapidly: visibly in the case of Tesla’s Gigafactory or Amazon’s drone deliveries, and more subtly in the proliferation of blockchain or advances in robotics. And of course, our climate has continued to change, both violently and quietly, but perhaps no longer surprisingly.

The speed of change can be shocking. Artificial Intelligence with machine learning, for example, is advancing so rapidly that we estimate that our industry is now just months away from serious disruption. And yet — to rephrase William Gibson — the pace of change is unevenly distributed: despite all our advances, some 1.3 billion people are still without access to electricity.

To help us think ahead, we asked each of our team members to share their thoughts on the trends they think will shape our work in the months ahead. Below are a few things to look out for as we navigate an increasingly uncertain, volatile and fast-changing world. If there is anything you want to share — or if you have a project or challenge you want us to help with — then please get in touch at

1. Enabling positive returns

Our understanding of ‘sustainability’ continues to expand and deepen. For built environment professionals, sustainable design now needs to incorporate circular economy principles, user health and wellbeing, planetary boundaries, systems interactions and lifecycle implications. In 2019, we will see a focus on making this complex set of ‘requirements’ easier to understand and implement, so that a new paradigm for sustainable design can emerge, which is both practical and profitable. A core focus will be the concept of regenerative design, where solutions are designed to actively heal or reverse negative externalities, while amplifying positive impacts.

In a world where change offers such vast challenges and opportunities, it is more important than ever to try and understand the forces, trends and issues likely to shape our future.

Josef Hargrave
Associate Director, Global Foresight Manager

2. Power to the people

User-centred design and the human ‘experience’ are now a standard part of our vocabulary and our portfolio of work, driven by a growing focus on health and wellbeing and a recognition of social, economic and environmental outcomes. This has also opened the door for communities to play a much more active role in the design and planning of the built environment.

Supported by the rapid proliferation of digital platforms and mobile services, communities can now help to run part of their city, determine the fate of an upcoming development, or support the delivery of city services. This trend has already seen projects cancelled, designs redrawn and new opportunities created.

In 2019, the built environment community will need to take greater note of this. We must look to mobilise citizens to better understand their needs and ensure designs are considerate of the local social context, recognising that community adoption is critical to the long-term sustainability of our work.

3. Speed versus sustainability

Global retail patterns will continue to increase mobile purchases and mobile payments. Only in 2018, retail e-commerce sales worldwide amounted to US$ 2.8 trillion, a figure which is expected to double by 2021. This is coupled with a desire for convenience, where consumers expect to receive their orders within a highly specified window of time and space. The new normal will be deliveries to a live location (such as a personal phone), delivery within a pre-booked 10-minute time window, or delivery in less than an hour after ordering. The consequence will be a significant global and local increase in the demand for and movement of small- to medium-sized parcels. This will put growing pressure on companies, cities and districts to rethink how goods can be moved in a more efficient and sustainable manner. In turn, this will open the door for greater automation, consolidation, and more direct incentives for consumers to sacrifice speed and convenience for lower carbon and less congestion.

4. The predictably unpredictable consumer

Digital lifestyles, algorithm-controlled content, and ongoing (virtual) globalisation are creating a consumer base that is increasingly diverse and subject to radical individualism. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all or ‘standard’ individual at the local level, but instead networked clusters of people, who are grouped by interest and attitude. For a sector like retail, this means a proliferation of smaller companies that target niche consumer groups through social-media based algorithms, coupled with a diversification of shop sizes and sales channels, and move away from traditional store formats. In 2019, companies that succeed will allow consumers to build, maintain and create their own – highly personal – portfolio of brands. This extreme diversification of attitudes and behaviours makes social trends less predictable and platforms that network people more powerful. We, as a business, need to better understand niche groups and building products and services beyond a ‘one size fits all’.

5. Bridges born in fabric

Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, machine vision and robotics will continue to foster a multitude of advances in manufacturing, fabrication and construction. From robotically-welded formwork to bendable concrete, there are now hundreds of solutions that challenge our perception of how we can use, shape and apply materials and components for the design and construction of buildings and infrastructure. In 2019, our challenges as designers will be to find, recognise and apply these innovations to our work. ‘Downstream’ innovations by fabricators or contractors can make it hard for designers to see the options available, making it more likely that we will miss opportunities and choose ‘standard’ approaches over innovative alternatives. And yet, clients now expect more performance, complex shapes, less material use, no increase in waste, higher adaptability, and faster build time. Digital fabrication can enable us to deliver this, but it requires us to engage much more with the makers; the people and organisations that are reimagining how things are made.

6. Urban food for thought

The next year will see a continued focus on the sustainability of our global food system. Research and communications on carbon emissions and water consumption associated with food and over production are leading to a palatable shift in peoples' understanding of the impact of food choices on the environment. This trend is set to continue, with more offices and workplaces actively encouraging people to eat healthier food with lower environmental impacts. This is coupled with advances in affordable and efficient technology for smallscale urban food production. For example, new installations in disused urban spaces such as salad production in London’s underground network. In 2019, more food production will take place inside the city, with the connection between food, energy and water becoming an increasingly urban issue. The key question is whether emerging economies will follow this trend, or whether a continued increase in living standards and income will ultimately lead to more demand for meat and other high-impact produce.

7. End of an economy cycle, not

There has been increased international discussion on the timing and scale of the next global recession. Brexit, trade wars, and a slowdown of the Chinese economy increase the probability of a global recession. And yet, among economists, there is still no agreed set of data or indicators to understand what causes a recession. The interconnectedness of nations, markets and business makes it increasingly harder to understand and predict how one part of the system may influence another. All of this will make 2019 a year where continued political and economic uncertainty are highly likely. For our firm, this reconfirms the importance of our aims in helping us inform decisions in a world where clarity and direction are increasingly hard to come by.