What you should know about Chris Anderson is that he’s not a home builder, and he’ll be the first to tell you he knows practically zip about construction and real estate development. Still, Anderson, who first made a name for himself reporting on invention—and is now doing it—may change home building.
It’s odd to think that a man,whose focus is on drones and 3D printing, may alter the way people make a living and become consumers, which in turn could change home building. Why? Because what he’s doing could radically change what things, including labor, cost.
Anderson invented Wired magazine, and his written explorations on automation and digital technologies, the Internet of things, and open-source development and production are the stuff of books that look at the ways goods and services now come to and captivate consumer markets today, free of infrastructural and cost constraints that choke so many of our businesses and industries.
Anderson believes that technology and automation are inexorably changing the basic building blocks of how the economy works. Still, his brand of futurism is neither pie-in-the-sky nor of a dystopia of masses of workers put out of their jobs by robots.
Instead, he sees people—you-and-me kind of people—stirring ourselves into socio-scientific cocktails that consist of measures of entrepreneurialism, invention, collaboration, and micro-marketing, a concoction that adds up to new, super-resilient cottage industries. Anderson calls this the “Maker” economy, a robust and growing ecosystem of garage-band style businesses, each able to turn conventional notions of overheads and input costs on their heads. As a proof of concept, Anderson himself invented—with the help of an open-source network of wizards and co-enthusiasts—an unmanned aerial vehicle business called DIY Drones, whose potential uses on residential construction jobsites—land acquisition planning, inspections, materials and product deliveries, etc.—stretch to the limits of one’s imagination.
We were lucky enough to have Anderson keynote BUILDER and Metrostudy’s 2014 Housing Leadership Summit (HLS) in Southern California. While there’s a “pre-practical” level to scenarios about where technologies such as 3D printing will lead, there’s also a down-to-earth reality to his message.
One idea that struck home with the HLS audience came in the form of unvarnished parental guidance.
“If you have a child below the age of 10 in your household, buy her or him a 3D printer,” Anderson urged. The inexpensive 3D printer models available today are the equivalent of a desktop computer in homes a generation ago. “Very likely, your children won’t follow the directions and produce others’ ideas. Instead, they’ll explore the capabilities of the device in ways that we did as kids playing with personal computers. They’re the ones who’ll ultimately decide what role these devices will have in our lives and in business.”
That idea relates to another of Anderson’s comments about how home builders need to “future-proof” homes if they’re going to appeal to buyers whose lives and needs from a home are a series of fast-moving parts.
What Anderson is getting at is that the guts of a home in the form of wiring, water flow, and other operational networks need to be able to factor for technologies’ accelerated pace, and adapt to and accommodate what becomes available as microprocessor chips and sensors become ever cheaper and more powerful at the same time.
When Anderson advises builders to future-proof their homes, what he’s really saying is to build homes that appeal to young people. When he suggests buying your kids a 3D printer, what he means is that young talent and fresh blood in home building is the only way builders will figure out how to future-proof a home for technology, for flexibility, for community, and for financial prudence. Sort of what the American dream is all about.