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These trends will shape future cities of the Middle East

The future of housing will be shaped by digital transformation, renewable energy integration, and the ability to adapt to evolving needs and aspirations.

These trends will shape future cities of the Middle East
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

Imagine living in an apartment and only having to take five minutes to walk to the local library or a coffee shop, a clinic, a hardware store, grocery stores, an easy drive to your office and a park with a hiking trail, a 15-minute ride away.

Ideally, cities would be designed so anyone can reach home and everyday destinations or run errands without sitting in traffic and feeling suffocated by the concrete jungle. 

As populations continue to grow in the Middle East, the importance of urban planning becomes even more critical. 

With the rise of urbanization, there’s an urgency to prioritize innovative architectural designs to meet the increasing demand for housing while minimizing environmental impact. Housing is undergoing significant transformations due to technological advancements, changing demographics, and sustainability concerns.

The future of housing encompasses various aspects. To explore this, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation (MBRCGI) and the Mohammed bin Rashid Housing Establishment launched the House of the Future initiative, inviting professionals to envision sustainable smart houses that meet future generations’ needs.

According to UN-Habitat, 40% of the world population will need access to affordable housing to cater to the growing middle class in the next ten years, while in the GCC, more than 75% of the population is already living in urban areas, Ahmed Bukhash, Founder of Archidentity says, “the challenge is critical to the future of sustainable development.”

While affordability is a factor to consider, more trends at play give us a glimpse into the future of housing. 

“We have seen a demand for eco-friendly properties, such as Masdar City, in Q1 2023. Within this dynamic landscape and alongside a growing population that relies on digitalization for all its needs, digital transformation plays a crucial role, with the need to reach customers on digital devices, offering personalized recommendations, data analysis, market insights, and enhanced consumer experience, says Ari Kesisoglu, President at Property Finder. 

Agreeing with this, Abdul Redha Abu Al Hassan, Executive Director of Roads & Transport Authority, says automation, energy-saving, and smart technology will govern the future of cities and housing. 

“The future of housing will look very different from what we see today,” he adds. Significant challenges will shape the future of housing within the region. “Demographically, 55% of the world is living in urbanized cities and projected to grow further in the next few years.”

However, with the rising levels of urbanization and real estate, other issues must be addressed while looking for future development. 


According to Al Hassan, some of the significant challenges that developers and architects will face in designing for the next generation of urban housing is the reduction of developable lands within the city’s urban center coupled with increased vehicular traffic that will cause significant strain on the city’s infrastructure. “As concerns about climate change continue, there is also a growing focus on creating more sustainable and carbon-efficient homes.” 

It is crucial to factor in the carbon footprint of construction – with concrete accounting for 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide – when considering the future of housing. Bukhash suggests a reliance on technology, such as AI models and digital twins, while planning for the future. “Studying our heritage through 3D models has provided us with a wealth of knowledge to confront issues and innovative ways to reduce carbon emissions,” he adds. “In the past, the country’s population lived a zero-waste lifestyle with no air-conditioning, achieved by utilizing innovative cooling systems to retain the cool air and expel heat.” Such examples provide solutions to local and global issues. 


City planners would need more flexible housing designs accommodating changing needs. 

As per Al Hassan’s analysis, sustainability will be a crucial focus; therefore, integrating renewable energy sources and technologies to reduce energy consumption and waste is critical. 

“As the population ages and housing prices continue to rise, there is a growing demand for more affordable and flexible housing design, capable of easy modification for a change in needs. Whether making it easier for the elders to safely and comfortably navigate their homes, easily convertible indoor-outdoor space, or accommodate future family members without requiring a major renovation,” he says.

There is a need for flexibility in the design of cities as well. According to Bukhash, it is critical to ensure that the future affordable housing models transform into environmentally friendly, flexible, and rapid construction systems to lessen the strain on the infrastructure of cities in terms of electricity and water demands and accommodate the entire lifecycle of their tenants. 

“In envisioning the future of housing, we must prioritize innovative designs that cater to different life stages. Flexible structures will adapt to the evolving needs of different people and foster closer-knit communities,” says H.E. Huda AlHashimi, Deputy Minister of Cabinet Affairs for Strategic Affairs. She adds that technological advances like smart homes with automation and AI will enhance convenience, sustainability, and security. But they will also improve inclusivity and accessibility, enabling more inclusive communities.


Traditional architectural practices can provide innovative solutions to reduce carbon emissions and ensure thermal comfort. A perfect future for Charles Walker, Director of Zaha Hadid Architects, will involve energy-efficient homes serving as workplaces, existing within a “biodiverse environment,” and supporting changing lifestyles. “Old paradigms are failing and no longer aligned to contemporary lifestyles and societal values,” adds Walker.

Integrating renewable energy, flexible spaces, rewilding, and multi-functional designs will be crucial. 

As per Walker, the future of housing will be driven by four pillars – energy efficiency, workplace adaptability, biodiversity integration, and lifestyle support—offering sustainable and user-centric solutions that align with evolving needs and aspirations.

It is necessary to encourage designs incorporating lighter and more cost-effective materials while prioritizing sustainability. 

“We hope and expect the focus to center upon the continued improvement to achieve and sustain net zero emissions for urban and affordable housing,” says Micael Calatrava, CEO of Calatrava International. 

He explains how the development of smart cities is already seeing an increase in city-center housing and green living. “Collaboration with planners and attention to master planning must allow future infrastructure and transport support to make living locations and spaces more desirable. Commute times are important in general well-being, and not all housing should gravitate to the suburbs.” 

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Rachel Clare McGrath Dawson is a Senior Correspondent at Fast Company Middle East. More

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