All posts by Lucy Ingham

Could this be the future of urban housing?

We’ve seen the future of urban housing, and it’s definitely modular. Dutch startup WOODstacker is developing wooden stackable buildings that are sustainable, quick to build and make for stylish but apparently affordable housing.

It’s no secret that our exploding population has led to a significant shortage in housing. The financial crisis had resulted in millions flocking to cities in search of work, and has left many living in less-than-ideal situations.

But while some solutions have been put forward, these are often entirely conceptual and rarely make their way into reality. WOODstacker, however, seems set to break the mould, having been selected for Amsterdam-based Rockstart’s Smart Energy Accelerator programme.

The brainchild of mechanical engineer Theo Bouwman and architect Jurrian Knijtijzer, WOODstacker units are rectangular in shape so that they can be easily slotted together to form larger structures. This makes them quick to build, meaning they could be vital in situations such as natural disasters where there is a sudden demand for new housing. “The 21st century is a fast and flexible time,” says WOODstacker managing partner Jurrian Knijtijzer. “We’re bring the normally slow and static real estate up to speed.”

The company says the units, which are built of wood and natural materials, are completely sustainable and very durable. It also reckons that the materials make WOODstacker healthier to live in than other modular, chemical-containing structures. And with increasing concerns about the health implications of airborne chemicals and nanoparticles, that could be a big selling point.

“We believe in [building] a cleaner and better world. The building industry is responsible for ¾ of the material consumption and 40% of the energy usage,” says Knijtijzer. “With the use of ecological materials and state of the art technology we can change this.”

With so many young people living in cities, WOODstacker could be ideal as urban housing for the under 35s. Two modules put together would create a 45m² one-bedroom apartment with a separate lounge and kitchen diner; a level of luxury that is rare for many city dwellers.

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The wooden design also has some aesthetic benefits that could make for attractive affordable housing. With a wooden finish there is no need for carpet, paint or wallpaper, so a WOODstacker apartment could be very cheap to decorate.

It’s not just housing that WOODstacker could be used for; the company thinks they would be perfect for everything from hotels or holiday homes to healthcare or nursery units.

But of course all of this is reliant on the availability of appropriate land. Cities might be crying out for more affordable housing but space is still an issue. We reckon WOODstacker might be able to make use of empty spaces such as old multi-storey car parks and industrial sites, but this would only work for certain areas.  Until cities figure out a way to create more ground space, the appearance of solutions such as WOODstacker will be patchy at best.


Images courtesy of WOODstacker.


Amazon knows what you’re going to order

The internet has changed the way we buy things forever, but if Amazon has anything to do with it this is just the beginning. The megaretailer has filed a patent for something its calling “anticipatory shipping”; an algorithm-based technology that starts shipping you goods before you’ve even ordered them.

This might sound like something out of Minority Report, but Amazon’s vast collection of user data enables it to predict consumer demand with a fair level of accuracy. By combining information such as your wish list, previous orders or shopping basket contents with creepier data such as how long your cursor hovers over certain items, the company could anticipate what you want before you even click ‘buy’.

This could involve shipping certain popular products to specific areas before leaving them at nearby depots or on delivery trucks until a customer decides to buy. By then, the product would have already made most of the journey so wouldn’t have far to go to complete its journey.

In theory, this technology could be great for shoppers; imagine if while browsing you saw that the latest box set or headphones you wanted were in your area and available for delivery within hours. But it could go horribly wrong – if the algorithm’s predictions are off Amazon could wind up with a stack of products in the wrong part of its delivery chain and would be forced to discount or gift them to shift the excess.

Equally, companies need to be very careful about using prediction technologies on consumers. This approach can be really exciting to use, with the most successful example being Google Now, which can predict your behavior based on past activities with a surprising level of accuracy.

But if a company’s practices creep you out you’re far less likely to want to use it, even if it’s offering you attractive delivery options on a product you want. It’s all about making the service feel helpful without being invasive, and we’re betting this is something Amazon is pretty good at.

This patent is the latest plan by Amazon to eliminate the last barrier to total retail domination: shipping times. While online retailers have lured a lot of us away from physical shops thanks to factors such as price, the benefit of having an item as soon as you purchase it is the one advantage physical shops have over online stores.

But it seems like Amazon is hell-bent on changing this, with same-day deliveries already implemented in many areas and plans for drone deliveries underway. The company hasn’t said how much time it thinks anticipatory shipping will save, but rest assured if it can shave time off the delivery, it will.

We’re not convinced about anticipatory shipping being the complete solution, but sooner or later a technology will arrive that gives online orders near-instantaneous shipping times, and when that happens online retail’s domination will be complete.


Image courtesy of Luke Dorny.