This site is focussed on the future. However, we find that you can’t predict the future unless you understand the past. What will happen over the next 20 years is likely to have echoes in previous societal and technological change. Below, we’ve set out what we consider to be the defining moment in real estate innovation throughout history, and indicate what might be the significant innovations on the horizon.

Real estate innovation throughout history


The development of agriculture in the Levant allowed humans to settle. This paved the way for first established communities, and the birth of real estate.

First city

Damascus is considered to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world. Now more than half of the world’s population live in urban areas.

Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid, one of the Seven Wonders of the World was the world's tallest structure until 1300 when Lincoln Cathedral was built.


Popularised by the Romans, ‘opus caementicum’ went out of favour until the industrial era. Today, concrete is one of the most widely used substances in the world.

First town in the UK

Originally inhabited by the Celts, Colchester is considered to be the first town in the UK.

First road in the UK

The Fosse Way was the first road in Britain, laid out as part of the Roman infrastructure. The pattern of Roman roads is thought to have implications for wealth and the location of cities which is still relevant today.

First Cathedral

According to scholars, Etchmiadzin Cathedra in Armenia, was the world’s first cathedral. Religious buildings have until relatively recently been among the largest and most important structures created by man.

First University (World)

The oldest existing university is thought to be the University of Karueein, Morocco. Seats of learning have long attracted commercial uses and trade.


During the expansion of the Carolingian dynasty, Charles Martel granted nobles land in return for an oath of loyalty to his cause. This was the foundation of the feudal property ownership system.

First freehold ownership

The term was first used in the Doomsday book - meaning full outright ownership of the land. Land ownership become the source of aristocratic wealth and power.

First University (UK)

No distinct foundation date is known, but the first records of teaching at the University of Oxford date back to 1096, widely regarded as the oldest university in the UK. The university remains key to the city’s success.

Building Regs

The earliest records of building regulations date back to 1189, where petty nuisances between neighbours were resolved using a basic set of rules.

Magna Carta

"The Great Charter of Liberties" was agreed by King John and his barons. Magna Carta limited the King's power - the first time royalty was subject to the law and not operating above it. It paved the way for our modern legal system.

First coffee shop

The first coffee shops in the UK opened in Oxford and London in the same year. Coffee houses soon became centres of business, debate and gossip. Many institutes such the London Stock Exchange and Lloyds of London trace their roots back to these early venues.

Great Fire of London

The fire started in a bakery on Pudding Lane, lasted for five days and destroyed much of the City of London. The decision not to implement Christopher Wren’s plan for a European style rebuild was a pivotal point in London’s history.

Window Tax

The window tax was perhaps an early incarnation of the rating system, which quantified tax based on property attributes. Many homeowners choose to brick up windows to avoid paying it.

First purpose built office building (Whitehall)

The Old Admiralty was the first purpose-built office building in Great Britain. It represented a shift toward more organised working practices, driven by a new age of corporations.

OS Maps

Commenced as an exercise to map Scotland following the Jacobite uprising, OS maps emerged as a gold standard for cartography. Over time more layers have been added, and in recent years satellite imagery enables much more detailed appraisal of real estate.


Pioneered in the mid eighteenth century, the discovery of electricity enabled lighting, heating and the modern computer age.

First factory UK

Opened by Richard Arkwright the Cromford Mill was the first factory to run day and night, with two 12-hour shifts. Providing capacity for 200 workers, Arkwright was one of the first to build onsite accommodation.

First Department Store

Harding Howell & Co opened its doors in Pall Mall to provide Londoners with a contemporary selection of fashionable goods. Shopping was promoted as a leisure activity rather than a necessity.

First Industrial Revolution

The first industrial revolution took place between 1760 - 1840. It represented a shift from an agrarian economy to a manufacturing economy. It was the catalyst for mass urbanisation as people flocked to new manufacturing cities to find work.

Arc Light

Candles and gas lamps make way for Humphry Davy's first commercial viable light bulb called the Arc Light. This meant that factories could now be open all day and night and offices could be designed with deeper floorplates.

Locomotion No. 1 makes first trip

The first steam locomotion built by George Stephenson carried 550 passengers 5 miles. Within 50 years some cities had tripled in size.

British Rail

The London to Birmingham rail line opens, allowing for fast travel between the two major cities and further stimulating economic development

Plate glass

The Chance Brothers developed plate glass which allowed window panes to be produced at a much cheaper rate, greatly reducing construction costs.

Safety Elevator

Elish Otis designed the first safety elevator. Buildings could suddenly be built to much greater heights.

Bassemer Process

Henry Bessemer patents the Bessemer Process which allowed for large quantities of cheap high grade steel production enabling the first skyscrapers to be built.

Metropolitan Railway launched

The Metropolitan Railway is opened and provides services between Paddington and Farringdon. The line extended to the Middlesex countryside which opened up the development of new suburbs dubbed 'metroland'.

Joseph Bazalgette sewers

Bazalgette designed a network of 82 miles of enclosed underground brick sewers, as well as 1,100 miles of street sewers to eliminate raw sewage that was accumulating in densely occupied areas.

RICS Founded

The founding of the RICS ensured consistent service from surveyors across the UK. It now plays a role in shaping the future of the sector as it adapts to focus on new technologies and the changing role of the surveyor.

First Council Housing

The first council to build housing as an integrated policy was the Liverpool Corporation. The first project to complete was St Martin's Cottages in Ashfield Street, Vauxhall

Second Industrial Revolution

The second industrial revolution took place between 1870 - 1914 and is often referred to as the Technological Revolution. It ushered in an age of electrical innovation that included the telephone, the lightbulb, radio, electric railroads and Henry Ford’s production lines.

Reinforced concrete

Ernest Ransome patents a system for creating reinforced concrete making skyscrapers cheaper to build and commercially viable.

First local authority

The Local Government Act in 1894 imposed a standardised system of local government in England, introduced elected county councils and created local planning policies across the UK.

First Cinema

The first cinema in the UK opened on Regent Street. 54 people turned up and paid a shilling to watch a 40 second silent film by the Lumiere brothers. The cinema ushered in a new dawn of entertainment for the masses.

First Air Conditioning Unit

Air conditioning improved the working conditions in offices and enabled year round working in hot countries.

World’s first reinforced concrete skyscaper

The Ingalls Building in Ohio was the world’s first reinforced concrete skyscraper.

First Garden City

The garden city of Letchworth is created. Founded by the Garden City Movement, a method of urban planning devised by Sir Ebenezer Howard. The New Towns movement took on the mantel of post-war development at scale.

First Fridges

The first fridges for home use were invented in 1913 but adoption was slow, by 1959 only 13% of homes in Britain had refrigerators.

C&W Founded

Just over 100 years, Cushman & Wakefield was founded by brothers in law, Clydesdale Cushman and Bernard Wakefield. Today it operates in over 70 countries, and employs c. 50,000 people.

First International airport

Hounslow Heath Aerodrome was the first airport to schedule international flights. Air transport has reduced the relevance of distance in the world, and enabled modern international business and trade.

LPA 1925

Introduced by Lord Birkenhead as part of a wider package of legislative reform, the Law of Property Act 1925 was intended to simplify English property law, reducing legal estates to freeholds and leaseholds.

First pre-fab house (UK)

The demand for housing in post-war Britain created the need for fast and affordable construction. Built to a new design standard created by the  Ministry of Works, the government rolled out a programme of pre-fabricated construction. Whilst intended as temporary, many of still survive. 

First New Town

Intended to alleviate housing shortages in the post-war period, the New Towns movement was established in 1946. Stevenage was the first town to be created. 

First Supermarket

Premier Supermarkets opened the UK's first supermarket in Streatham, South London. For the first time it meant that people could get all of their groceries in one location. This marked the beginning of the end for traditional independent grocers and butchers who were unable to compete on price and convenience.

L&T Act 1954

The Landlord & Tenant Act 1954 revolutionised the relationship between the parties to a lease, and granted the latter security of tenure following expiry.

Southdale Mall opens

The first modern climate controlled shopping mall, designed by Victor Gruen, opens in Minnesota. It changed the way that Americans shopped forever through combining food offerings with retail offerings.

First REIT

President Eisenhower signed Public Law 86-779 which allowed for REITs to be created. The American Realty Trust was founded by Thomas J. Broyhill, and became the first REIT.

First conference call

Conference calling allows businesses to communicate with each other across the globe. It greatly reduced the amount of traveling required for meetings and meant that people could work more flexibly.

First message on the internet

UCLA student Charley Kilne attempts to send 'login' using the first link on the ARPANET. The system crashed after "l" and "o" is sent, making "lo" the first message ever sent.

First mobile phone call made

Martin Cooper, a senior engineer at Motorola, calls a rival telecommunications company to inform them that he was speaking via a mobile phone. This marks the beginning of mobile working.

First UK shopping centre (Modern)

Opened in 1964, the Bull Ring in Birmingham was the first modern shopping mall in the UK, and at the time the largest in Europe. For the first time, consumers could spend the day shopping in a climate controlled shopping environment.

Third Industrial Revolution

The third industrial revolution began in 1947 with the invention of the transistor. It brought about some of the largest technological and societal changes ever seen, and in many ways defined our modern workplace and lifestyles. What will the fourth industrial revolution deliver?

Enterprise Zones (Canary Wharf)

After the closure of the docks in 1980, the London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was formed in 1981, before Enterprise Zone status was granted the following year for the Isle of Dogs. London's third commercial centre, Canary Wharf rose the ashes of the former docks.

English Heritage (Founding)

Originally formed as a part of the British Government, English Heritage was responsible for heritage protection as well as directly managing a range of historic properties. It has since been split into English Heritage (charitable trust) and Historic England, the latter retaining the statutory and protection functions.

First online order made

Jane Snowball, a 72 year old pensioner, becomes the first person to use a business-to-consumer shopping system. She orders eggs, margarine and cornflakes. It is now possible to purchase almost anything online.

World Wide Web invented

Tim Berners Lee invents the World Wide Web. Originally a niche project, the web now defines global connectivity.

Compulsory Registration of Land (1990)

From this point onwards,transfers of qualifying interests were required to be registered. The central registry created certainty and investability. Looking forwards it also houses a huge public data set, which enables numerous proptech applications.

Mobile Email

Bellsouth and IBM released the first smartphone with email capability. For the first time emails could be sent on the move, enabling a more agile workforce with the ability to work anywhere.

World Wide Web becomes free

CERN announced that the World Wide Web would be available for free to anyone. This kick starts the online revolution.

The first online transaction

The first encrypted online transaction is made when Dan Kohn sells a CD of Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales to a friend in Philadelphia for $12.48. E-commerce now accounts for almost 12% of all global retail sales.

Virtual Building

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was one of the first buildings to be designed using a virtual build process. This paved the way for the BIM systems.

The Channel Tunnel

With the development of the Channel Tunnel, Britain's connectivity to Europe changed forever. Travel by train remains the fastest way to travel abroad, having factored the transfer and security waiting times at airports.

Google Maps

The first iteration of Google Maps allowed people to easily navigate cities and replaced physical maps. However, satellite and street view were arguably bigger developments, allowing for remote assessment of properties across the world from the comfort of one's office.

Cloud Computing Launched

Amazon launch Amazon Web Services, the first commercially available cloud computing service. This removed the requirement for server rooms in offices and provide a new model for software deployment.


Blockchain was created by the anonymous 'Satoshi Nakamoto' to serve as the public transaction ledger of bitcoin. Blockchain-enabled smart contracts will likely lay the foundations for the future of real estate transactions

First multi-storey shed (UK)

The first multi-storey warehouse in the UK was built in Heathrow by Brixton. Land pressures and the subsequent emergence of last mile delivery requirements, combined with warehouse automation continue to exert pressure to build upwards.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents the convergence of the physical, digital and biological worlds. Economists at the World Economic Forum believe that the coming wave of digital automation, big data and AI will transform our society and economy in the same way as previous industrial revolutions.

First drone delivery of package

Amazon successfully delivered a TV streaming stick and a bag of popcorn directly to the garden of a customer in Cambridge.

First 3d Printed House

The home was printed in 54 hours and took a further four months for contractors to add windows, doors and the roof. 3D printing offers the prospect of mcuh reduced construction times, and build to order offices and homes assembled from pre-fabricated components.


Virgin Hyperloop estimate that the first hyperloop will be ready for cargo and passengers by 2021. Hyperloop will travel at an estimated 670 miles per hour meaning that it will as quick to travel between London and Manchester as it currently takes to travel between the City and the West End.

Phase 1 of HS2 opens

The high speed railway will provide quicker connections between London and Birmingham. High speed rail will lead to a greater convergence of city eocsystems, and open the prospect of long distance commuting.

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