The building and construction industry is one of the largest in the global economy, with approximately $10 trillion spent on construction-related goods and services each year.
But it is also disproportionately destructive as one of the most energy-consuming polluting industries on the planet.
According to figures published on the USCAD.com website in July of this year, the global construction industry is still responsible for 38 percent of CO2 emissions, 23 percent of air pollution, 40 percent of water pollution, 50 percent from landfill waste, 21 percent from natural resource depletion and 40 percent from energy use.
These are not new figures. It’s not like the construction industry has suddenly fallen on a path of self-destruction.
In Las Vegas in 2019, a conference held by the software company Autodesk said the construction and manufacturing industries were hugely wasteful and among the biggest polluters in the world.
And in 2021, the big picture for the world’s future took another hit when delegates at COP 26 admitted they were nowhere near meeting previously set goals to curb global warming.
“Our theory of how we transform the AEC (Architectural Engineering and Construction) industry has not changed. We really want to bring you (new) industrial methods and processes,” said Andrew Anagnost, CEO of Autodesk on the sidelines of the Autodesk University 2022 conference in New Orleans.
Anagnost said data and technology were available to help make the industry more environmentally efficient and less wasteful.
There are already companies that provide digital information that can predict possible flaws in plans before they become reality, and even how much material is needed, and yet Anagnost said there were still companies that were not using the information.
“The biggest waste you see in the AEC ecosystem is the people who make it up along the way.”
Rather, he said the manufacturing industry generally stuck to its plans so that the end product was what was intended from the start.
“That kind of precision needs to evolve into the AEC industry. And that’s why you see us building these things that come together from both sides. And when that work is done, we think we will have had an impact on how these industries work. Until then, they still remake and undo at a rate that, you know, is unparalleled in other industries,” he added.
But it’s not all bad news, there are efforts to reduce the amount of waste using cloud-based technology, and it’s the Middle East that seems to be embracing this technology.
TURN BUILDINGS INTO DATA FARMS
The good news is that the Middle East has been largely cleaned up, according to Naji Atallah, head of construction and manufacturing at Autodesk Middle East.
Speaking to Arab News, he said the reason for the improvement was a factor that had always been there.
He said construction in the region was generally based on greenfield land, thereby eliminating the need to factor in existing structures, which could incur additional costs.
“There is no significant legacy of buildings, bridges and roads that need to be maintained,” he explained, adding that the construction industry in the region was effectively working on a “blank canvas,” allowing developers to place sustainability at the forefront of your projects. Projects
“If I look at probably all the megaprojects in the region, sustainability has been one of the big goals that they see.”
“We’ve seen a shift (in the Gulf region) from we want everything delivered tomorrow, to we want things delivered in a better way.”
Pointing to Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea project and Dubai’s Museum of the Future, he said there is now more effort to ensure a sustainable approach to these projects.
And through the use of software technology, developers have been able to create structures that use less energy and materials in their construction by using information gathered from predictive models that show designers how a structure will behave even before it’s built.
The digitization of the construction industry, if embraced, could potentially revolutionize the way it works, from reducing waste, reducing pollution, and cutting costs.
“Sensors are so cheap now,” Atallah said, “that they could be put on every new structure, we don’t even need to know what, or if they’re going to be used, and collect all kinds of information.”
That information, he said, could be used to predict any structural problems, how to improve fuel economy, to name two, but not just for that structure, but for future projects as well.
This data, he said, could become a commodity that could be sold to help improve future projects.
BRIDGING THE GAP
Imagine a building, in fact any structure, that from the moment it is completed, starts collecting data that can be used to address problems before the human eye detects them and aid in future new construction.
It sounds futuristic, but the truth is that the technology is already here, it’s just a matter of people in the industry using it.
Dubai-based company Dar Al-Handasah, which announces itself from Lebanon and is the world’s 10th leading design firm, 3rd in the Middle East, has created a cantilever bridge that was built using recycled plastic, mixed with fiberglass to create a poxy. – and a 3D printer.
Using algorithms, the designers were able to come up with a design that created a bridge using minimal materials that, when locked on by the sensors, were able to teach them how to better improve the product in subsequent designs.
The bridge is made up of a modular system with 70 percent recycled materials.
It is a step beyond traditional construction methods, as the bridge is built as a single piece in a factory environment before being transported to its site of use once complete.
Cloud-based technology provided by Autodesk was used to create virtual modules of the bridge to calculate the best design in terms of material usage, appearance, and structural durability.
Ghassan Zein, the Lebanese digital practice manager at Dar Al-Handasah, said the bridge was the first of its kind, he said as such they needed to see how it behaved when put into use it was essential for future developments so it was equipped with sensors. .
“We have intelligence monitoring of the bridge that would monitor how it is performing because it is new,” Zein told Arab News on the sidelines of the Autodesk University 2022 conference in New Orleans.
The bridge has a new shape, a new design, Zein explained, “So we need to know if it’s working well.”
The company has a team whose function is to monitor the data collected from the bridge.
“They analyze the data and keep changing the design of future projects,” he said.
Zein said structural engineers tackled the design — what was safe, what wasn’t, what worked well and what didn’t — using live data collected from sensors on the bridge structure.
FROM PREFABRICATED TO MODULAR
The modular approach to building the bridge is not a new concept. In Britain in the 1950s, low-cost social housing was created.
These usually low-rise, single-story buildings were made up of walls and roofs that were created off-site and then assembled once they were ready.
But they were generally of a low standard with materials that did not last long, leaving structurally unsound properties and some of the materials were even harmful to people’s health, including asbestos siding.
Fast forward 70 or 80 years and the concept of building parts or entire structures, like the 3D printed bridge off-site and then moving them to their final location, is now proving to be a leading method of construction, both economically and environmentally.
The beach villas at the Red Sea project off the coast of Saudi Arabia and the Dubai Museum of the Future were built in a factory setting, before being shipped to their final destination.
The methods offered at functions like Autodesk University are an eye-opener to the industry.
Invest in technology and the construction industry could go from being one of the biggest enemies of the environment to a major green player.
It just needs those in the industry to embrace the future.
The key is to collect the data, learn what the potholes are before construction work begins, and then embark on the real deal; ultimately the result is more efficient.