Across the world, there is a significant drive for energy efficiency and a net zero carbon footprint within the construction industry, making buildings more sustainable and energy efficient.
Extending beyond simply the environment, also incorporating health and wellbeing of people, the sustainable route certainly promotes long-term benefits for landlords, owners, and tenants, including such aspects as savings on building costs, increased employee productivity, and even potentially fewer people having to take sick leave.
From housing, shops, railway stations to office blocks, a worldwide diverification is approaching between those countries embracing centralised, smart cities and those who are falling behind. However, it’s not just a technological impact that smart cities will possess, they are and will be instrumental in developing the communities surrounding them. After all, a growing smart city requires a broad spectrum of assets, such as a mix of health and wellbeing, ease of mobility, access to restaurants and supermarkets, and other services.
Building designs and construction is also becoming slicker. Think of it as a giant Lego set, as less material is being used and becoming modular. Once its purpose is served, a building could easily be dismantled and shaped into something else. For example, the recent football stadium in Qatar, which is built from shipping containers, will soon be dismantled and used for other functions such as residential, shopping, or even schools.
The obvious global gulf in digital adoption is also adding impetus to this is the need in countries such as South Africa, where things must change for the country to become future-ready. While worldwide budgets will always be a challenge, achieving net zero and embracing smart will be critical elements in this regard.
Most likely, the private sector will drive this demand ahead of government abilities.
Evolving the engineering practices
As construction projects have become more complex in terms of futuristic design concepts, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, engineers and architects are beginning to collaborate and adopt digitally driven tools.
Now, such shifts have facilitated work in virtual environments, reviewing and signing off designs and construction remotely, and have witnessed improved results, reduced overhead costs, improving worker safety, and even allowing for a better work-life balance.
Design with a difference
AI (Artificial intelligence) continues to grow in use, whilst becoming more sophisticated in all industries. Used in engineering software for generative design, material selection, and robotic process automation, AI generally adopts machine learning which plays to the strengths of machines who are better and faster than humans in coming up hundreds of solutions to a problem. Driving efficiency and costs savings.
However, do not fear! Machines can only take instructions from us. Therefore, the solutions and accuracy provided by the software are only as good as the information we input.
The process of Generative design is becoming increasingly popular. Where an engineer or designer enters certain constraints to a problem (eg size, weight, strength), and requests the computer to provide options. AI is then applied to materials selection, code compliance, and even any other contributing factor related to the problem.
Codefying the process
As any architect or engineer knows, despite the obvious benefits of AI, design is an iterative process. As the tech evolves, so do to the core skills required and the engineering language used. Generally, programming skills and understanding of digital workflows now go hand in hand with the traditional Maths and Physics requirements for the desirable workforce.
Looking beyond the software technology, engineers are constantly seeking low-carbon building materials to reduce the carbon footprint of global construction. For example, advances in concrete technology are providing solutions to help the construction sector work towards its target of net zero carbon emissions.
In this area, embodied carbon has become a significant factor in minimising the detrimental environmental impact of structures. It can be defined as the carbon footprint of a building or infrastructure project before it becomes operational. This is primarily associated with the different life cycle stages: material extraction, manufacturing and production, construction, damage and repair during service life, and end-of-life considerations.
When it comes to the sustainability of buildings, resilient and redundant systems become a massive influencing factor.
Climate change increasingly makes severe weather events more likely, increasing the risk of flooding and wind damage. It is the responsibility of engineers to design with this in mind and future proof buildings for any such future events.
Aiding in this regard are concepts such as advanced model-based deliverables, integration of multiple services with core structural engineering, and the use of new materials and high-performance fabrics.
Resilience in construction has witnessed an increase in how smart buildings can also help in reduce the carbon footprint of the human race.
Global energy utilisation is high on every government’s agenda and as concerns increase, the need for smart building growth is a major and growing factor.