4. Urbanization will sweep the planet.
If there's one thing all our experts were clear about, it's that our world will be significantly more urbanized in 2039. There will be a rise in the number of megacities—urban areas with more than 10 million inhabitants.
Baby boomers will be part of that phenomenon—many empty-nesters are attracted to the manageable charms of the city—but it's the desire of Gen X and Gen Y cohorts to live, work and play in a compact area that's largely fueling the trend. Multifamily residential stands to gain, but companies keen to attract young, educated talent are paying attention, too, and positioning themselves accordingly.
"Some businesses today consider location even more important than compensation in recruitment efforts," said Rick Cleveland, a managing director at Cushman & Wakefield. "That's driving a lot of the trend toward urban areas."
That doesn't mean that any old building on any city block will suffice for the worker of 2039. "The features that older-generation office spaces have, in terms of locations and amenities surrounding or in the facility, don't work for the new-age tenant," said Sicola, who points to companies in Manhattan that are abandoning Midtown for the west edge of the island and buildings that can be retrofit for open infrastructure. "For baby boomers, it was 'live to work,' but Gen Xers are working to live. They like to take breaks, have fun. Incorporating that into the workplace is critical."
5. The much-reported death of the suburbs will prove to be greatly exaggerated.
As important as cities will be, however, suburbs won't simply die. "The suburbs want to become more like urban centers. Millennials want to be there, but in an environment where they can combine their work-and-play lifestyles," said Steven Blank, a former investment banker in real estate finance and now a senior fellow at the Urban Land Institute.
"Mixed-use projects take advantage of that," he added. "We'll see a lot of existing office complexes re-engineered to comprise transient components, rental, retail, office. One example right now is the Time Warner Center, albeit in Manhattan. One tower is the Mandarin Oriental hotel and office space; the second was built as the headquarters of Time Warner. And there's a high-end shopping space, restaurants, condominiums. These are a wave of the future."
Fedrizzi believes that suburbs will aim to replicate the city experience. "The way most of the suburbs will evolve is that there's an interim step; they'll be connected to cities by high speed or light rail, and they'll become walkable communities with a sense of place."
That will require a change in today's "definition of building: newer and bigger. There will be a sense of going back to the past, to a place that's a little more thoughtful," Fedrizzi said.
(Read more: Battle of the smart homes)