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Future of Building

Future of Building
Welcome to Future of Building Week (Credit: UKRI)

Introduction

The Construction Sector Deal is two years old this week. This means the Transforming Construction challenge has now passed the halfway point in its four-year programme. Many challenges have faced the sector in this time, yet the investments we made to bring the construction industry into the 21st century are thriving. Our projects are revolutionising the construction of homes, schools and offices, changing the way we live, work and learn for the better. The ‘Future of Building’ week is our opportunity to celebrate these successes at a time when the sector is adopting modern methods of construction faster than ever.

The Sector Deal and Transforming Construction challenge has brought together contractors, supply chain, innovators, government, clients and the research community to accelerate the change the sector was already embracing. We are rapidly overturning a system that works for no one, in which the priority was being given to the cheapest solution. Instead, we are all now moving to deliver greater ‘whole life value’ to society. 

This strong joint vision and commitment from all stakeholders to work together, was the basis of the business case for the challenge. We set ourselves some unreasonable -but not unrealistic- targets:  buildings delivered 50% faster, costs reduced by 33%, emissions slashed by half and productivity raised by 15% to close the gap with the rest of the economy. What we are seeing is that project after project is demonstrating exactly this scale of improvements. As new approaches and technologies are more widely adopted, we expect even bigger gains to be made. 

The approaches of all the projects we have invested in are based on the three central challenges of:  

  • moving to a manufacturing approach – from suppliers through to site 
  • embracing digital technologies to provide assurance, efficiency of projects and performance feedback to design 
  • shifting to selling outcomes and maximising ‘whole life value’ of assets.

With government as a lead client prepared to procure on that basis and a sector that innovates quickly, the results have come fast. 

The ‘Future of Building’ week will feature a series of announcements, articles, blogs and stories from across the Transforming Construction challenge. It is our job now to help you learn about all the successes of the pioneering innovators we have supported in a way that allows everyone to shift with confidence.  

On this page you will hear from our partners and funded projects on how they have transformed the construction sector.  

Over recent months, many of us have had to cope with our own house becoming more than a home.  During lockdown our houses have become offices, schools, shelters – often simultaneously as we become accustomed to using spaces intensively every single day.  

As construction sites re-open and builders return to work, we must ask ourselves how to build the house of tomorrow. A house that will be energy efficient, affordable, delivered better and faster. With this in mind, the Transforming Construction Network Plus (N+) has funded three projects investigating the potential offered by modern methods of construction (MMC).  

Collaborative construction 

When it comes to our own house, we have no doubt all had the thought, “what if I could start it all again?” With the project 'A Toolkit for Collaborative Construction' led by the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL, this is no longer a rhetorical question. The research team is using Augmented Reality to give us all the opportunity to redesign and assemble a house from scratch. Working with the Knowle Media Centre in Bristol, the team is developing a prototype and a toolkit that will provide housing solutions and enable collaborative construction in local communities.  

People-centred social housing 

Bringing people’s perspectives into the design of our houses is also something of prime concern for the project 'Putting people at the heart of future social housing design and manufacture' that we are funding at Teesside University. The project team is incorporating users’ experience of home use and integrates a digitally enabled smart energy system into a new design process. The adoption of this new model by social housing providers and manufacturers will also reduce home energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Less waste, less cost 

However, focussing solely on the design of our houses is not enough to reduce its carbon footprint.  On average, for every house completed seven tonnes of waste is produced. The choice of materials and production is essential to lower the environmental impact of housing. The project 'Design Optimisation and Prototyping for Affordable Rural Housing' led by Robert Gordon University in Scotland is developing a prototype house using more environmental hybrid whole/milled timber. It is also exploring automation and robotic-cum-artisan techniques to reduce economic costs.  

Ultimately, buildings are made for people and we will not transform the construction sector without putting people’s aspirations and needs at the heart of our projects. With the N+, we are delighted to see that some of the research studies that we have funded have put this question at the absolute centre of their approach.  


Authors

Professor Jacqueline Glass and Lisa Hanselmann
@TCN_Plus

The projects 'A Toolkit for Collaborative Construction: A Values-Centred Approach to AR and MMC for Housing; Putting people at the heart of future social housing design and manufacture; and Design Optimisation and Prototyping for Affordable Rural Housing' are supported by The Transforming Construction Network Plus which is funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The N+ unites construction’s academic and industrial communities to create a new research and knowledge base, dedicated to addressing the systemic problems holding back the sector. The N+ is a joint project between UCL, Imperial College London and WMG, University of Warwick. More information about the N+ can be found here.

 

N+ logo

The Transforming Construction Network Plus (N+) was formed to unite academic researchers with industry and policy in a new community. Its aim is to develop a body of knowledge that informs future construction policy and practice. We decided to join the N+ team because we wanted to be part of the conversation. 

As a research team, we operate at the interface between industry and academia to explore and address the systemic problems holding the sector back. We were tired of hearing that academics and practitioners live in two different worlds and wanted to help bridge that gap. We decided to play an active role in helping the industry to change, and to learn from that process.  

Listening, looking... 

We’ve listened to industry experts, policy makers, thought leaders, and managers to understand what the construction sector needs to support this transformation project. 

We’ve listened to designers, builders and developers to understand if, and how, they are responding to the industry’s challenges by using digital technologies and new manufacturing approaches. This has led to a fascinating dialogue as we play back our emergent findings to leading construction practitioners and companies.  

And we’ve been listening to our national and international (e.g., Zurich, Norway, Australia, Hong Kong, Texas, China) academic colleagues. We have worked with them to identify and expose their insights on transformation for our industry and policy audience through events and publications. 

We’ve also been taking a good look at the working interface between academia and industry on the projects funded by the N+. These conversations have given us the opportunity to learn from both sides, and to explore how to stimulate our communities to invest in research.  

… and then acting 

To help shape the transformation conversation, we produced two Digest publications exploring platform thinking and how companies in construction can change their business models. We’ve had over 1,200 downloads of these digests and hope that this is a reflection of how they’re helping to inform decision-making in the sector. We have two more digests lined up for later this year, so watch this space.  

We’ve used these digests as a basis for launching an informal webinar series of ‘Constructive Conversations’ between colleagues from academia, industry experts and those interested in our project. Taking place in June 2020, our first conversation explored ‘platforms, platform thinking and the future of construction’.  

This conversation built on the research team’s experience of hosting a series of international webinars. Here, we brought together world-renowned academics to discuss some of the challenges in the Industrial Strategy. Discussion subjects included changing business models for offsite construction, industrial transformation, managing uncertainty in project management, and energy efficiency and offsite development. Together, these webinars have been watched over a thousand times. 

Still moving

To help to maintain the momentum created by our N+ colleagues, we’ve worked the N+ lead investigator, Prof Jacqui Glass and colleagues in Norway and Switzerland to develop a call for academic papers. The call encourages our construction management colleagues around the world to bring new academic insights into the problems faced by construction, so that they can - in time - be applied in practice.  

Watching industry transform in front of our eyes has been a fascinating experience. We can’t wait to see what comes next. 


Authors

Kell Jones and Luigi Mosca
@TCN_Plus 

The Transforming Construction Network Plus unites construction’s academic and industrial communities to create a new research and knowledge base, dedicated to addressing the systemic problems holding back the sector. The N+ is a joint project between UCL, Imperial College London and WMG, University of Warwick. The Research Programme is led by two N+ Co-Investigators, Professor Andrew Davies, and Professor Jennifer Whyte, in collaboration with Research Fellows Dr Kell Jones and Dr Luigi Mosca. More information about the N+ can be found here.

 

N+ logo

No one wants to go back to normal after this, certainly not in terms of the lack of investment in the environment, anyway. If we do, we’re all screwed. ‘Build Back Better,’ has almost overnight become the new mantra for redressing the imbalanced approach to the economy leading up to 23 March 2020, the day the coronavirus changed all our lives forever. Even the energy firms agree: earlier this month, Energy UK and PwC released their report Rebuilding the UK economy: fairer, cleaner, more resilient, highlighting 5 key areas for change as we return to an uncertain future. One of these is a push toward the comprehensive electrification of our transportation sector, and our researchers have been modelling this adoption and have calculated the financial benefit to our energy network to be upwards of £5 billion every year.

Giving back

Electric Vehicles (EV) powering things other than themselves (V2B or V2G) isn’t new, well, not globally anyway. Japan was the first to it, back in 2013, powering an office building off 6 cars during peak demand. It took the UK (only!) 7 more years to catch up, but as of May 2020, cars are now powering city hall in Islington. Currently in the UK predominantly Nissan vehicles offer such flexibility, but other companies such as BMW, Volkswagen and Honda are heading in that direction. Tesla, the ever-present elephant-in-the-room, seems to have pinned its future on its PowerWalls instead of car batteries, as a recent report its cars were V2G-ready was quickly and swiftly debunked. Regardless EV numbers continue to increase, and with the UK government promising all new cars to be fully electric within the next 12 years, our charging infrastructure has to adapt, and this will include our buildings by extension.

Advantages of on-car

With cars being largely stationary throughout their lives, having a car battery as a direct power source for a building has its advantages: it’s stable (reducing the risk of surges or outages), it’s local (reducing system losses), it’s reliable (well, up to the point it hits empty), and it’s rechargeable. Taking buildings off-grid and on-car can net an EV owner up to £400/yr. This may not seem like a pot of gold (considering the average price of new EVs in 2020 according to my shiny new Wired magazine is £61k), but as EDF underlines, it is enough to provide free fuel for over 8000 miles, which for an EV owner is basically no bills, the same business model sweeping new house build schemes in Wales.

Benefit for all

Our modellers at Imperial College London on the Active Building Centre Research Programme have estimated electric vehicles with V2G flexibility will have an annual benefit to the electricity network of between £5-£8 billion pounds per year by 2050, through the offsetting of energy infrastructure investment due to the availability of direct-connection of our houses to our cars (their recent report to the Committee on Climate Change can be downloaded here.)  Other researchers at our partner University of Nottingham have begun to model how many cars would be near enough to a V2G charger when stationary; their equations include using the radius of the earth, which is pretty cool, and their findings indicate over 92% of cars are parked close enough to a charging point when stationary.

Yes, you will be driving an EV eventually, and yes, its power will extend beyond its four wheels and into your kettle. The Active Building Centre research group is pioneering technology to marry transport and buildings. Get in touch if you’d like to hear more.


Author

Tom Bassett
Active Building Centre
@ActiveBuilding

Tom Bassett is the Senior Engineer of the Active Building Centre which is revolutionising the way the UK designs, constructs and operates buildings by realising the potential for the integration of innovative renewable energy generation and storage technologies, coupled with state-of-the-art digital design.

Active Building Centre, University of Swansea (RP)

The Active Building Centre (ABC) is a £36m investment made by UKRI under the ISCF Transforming Construction Challenge.  The ABC programme aims to transform the UK construction and energy sectors by demonstrating and advancing best practice net zero carbon technology for Active Buildings.

The Active Building Centre Research Partnership mobilises a consortia of technical and academic experts from 10 academic institutions, led by the University of Swansea, who are developing the underpinning capabilities and technical know-how that will support the scale up and mass deployment of Active Buildings, whilst also establishing credibility within the policy, business and local government community. 

 

Active Building Centre logo

 

University of Swansea logo

Why can’t we build right first time? It’s a simple question that is yet to be answered in construction and it’s a problem that is costing the industry money. More than £1.8 trillion a year is wasted globally with 69% of projects going over budget and another three quarters delivered behind schedule.

The Construction Industry serves the most important function in our society with a global population dependent on it to provide housing, hospitals, schools, and the infrastructure needed to rebuild our economy time and time again. It contributes more than £110 billion to the UK economy every year, constitutes 6% of total GDP and provides employment to 2.4 million people. But despite this, it is in desperate need of digitalisation.

Tools for the right job

The built environment is a rapidly changing ecosystem with its contractors having to compete at zero-sum to deliver ever increasingly complex projects at higher risk with higher quality standards to adhere to. There is an expectation to do all of this in less time, at a cheaper cost and with the same tools.

Not only are we dealing with unrealistic expectations from the outside world but as an industry, we continue to place tools such as laser scanning and 360 cameras on a pedestal when as a concept, they are all fundamentally flawed for their reactive methodology to identifying errors. Even with the explosion of smart phones, tablets, drones, and the cloud, we are still unable to build accurately, on time and on budget. 

Construction Technology today is fixated on identifying and documenting discrepancies. The prospect of preventing the error happening in the first place is overlooked entirely.

Drawings in another dimension

But, while our mentality towards rework is fundamentally flawed, the biggest technical obstacle standing in the way of Construction Workers building correctly first time are 2D drawings.

We see everything around us in 3D yet as tradespeople, we are tasked to interpret 2D drawings, conceptualise the 3D asset and then build the asset on-site to construction tolerances, which; as we know, is rarely the case and results in 80% of works built incorrectly first time. We have been building from 2D drawings since the ancient Egyptians and this is the bottleneck of the industry.

This was my motivation in founding XYZ Reality in 2017. I realised there was a more efficient way of working that would allow us to build correctly first time and the only way to achieve this was to build according to plan.

HoloSite vision

With the support of Innovate UK, we have developed HoloSite, the world’s first engineering grade Augmented Reality headset and the world’s most accurate. HoloSite allows Construction Management to view and position BIM models on-site to millimetre accuracy which enables them to proactively spot the error at the lowest value stage - before it happens. Most importantly, it makes building right first time possible.

We have launched our Early Partnership Programme and deployed HoloSite on some of Europe’s largest and most complex construction projects. It has already eliminated rework in areas that HoloSite has been introduced and this is just the beginning.

 

Author

David Mitchell

David Mitchell is the Founder and CEO of XYZ Reality. With over a decade of experience working in the realm of Digital Construction, he is now focused on transforming the industry with his vision of building from holograms - something he is on track to achieve with HoloSite, the world’s first engineering grade AR headset and the world’s most accurate.

 

XYZ Reality logo

Future of Construction Week is a timely opportunity to review what’s been achieved by the Construction Innovation Hub (the Hub) to date as part of our long-term journey towards implementing digital transformation throughout the construction industry. As Impact Director for the Hub’s Digital workstream, I’m both proud of what’s been achieved so far and remain highly motivated by the potential of what’s to come.

Digital implementation success

The role of the Hub is to be the catalyst for change across the industry. In order to achieve this, we are collaborating with the industry to develop the tools and processes, embed manufacturing technologies and digital ways of working that are trusted and secure. When we see organisations achieving success on the basis of digital implementation it’s highly encouraging and validating for us all. A very recent example of this would be last week’s announcement from SCS (Skanska, Costain & Strabag), who are contracted onto the HS2 project, that they’ve achieved a phenomenal £3m worth of cost savings – in addition to time savings of 30% on planning and 20% on design – which they directly attribute to the ongoing implementation of digital techniques across their part of the delivery.

Transformation at scale

However, it’s not just the large-scale projects like HS2 that stand to benefit from more digital ways of working. Introducing manufacturing technologies and digital practices and processes can, and will, benefit organisations and projects of any size and scope. The Hub’s task of transforming an entire industry however is no mean feat, and one that can’t be achieved by the Hub alone.

The Hub’s programme is founded upon a co-delivery model with Government, industry or academic partners. Maintaining an open dialogue, sharing insight and knowledge of real-world experience and working, collaboratively is vital to us achieving our goal. The Hub works directly with the Centre for Digital Built Britain’s working groups to deliver a digital programme that is shaped and informed by industry need. Through greater insight we are supporting a more consistent approach to enable digital transformation at scale.

Plans, resources and research

Digital transformation of the entire industry is not something we can achieve by trying to pull, or drag, everyone along with us. We need industry to be engaged and motivated and to share our vision of a more innovative, productive and resilient sector. As the Construction Leadership Council’s Roadmap to Recovery makes clear, in order to create a truly innovative culture we must embed digital technologies and processes.

Many programmes of work and resources have been made available by the Hub since its launch. Fine examples include UK BIM Framework, a proposed approach to developing an information management framework to enable a National Digital Twin, guidance for government soft landings, BIM Interoperability Report, real world case studies, and research to demonstrate the value of digital ways of working. This wealth of material has helped to support, guide and galvanise the industry towards a more digital future that will benefit us all.

Infrastructure revolution

In addition to this, Boris Johnson’s announcement earlier last month of a plan for ‘infrastructure revolution’ and a commitment to ‘build, build, build’ confirms the Government’s alignment with our focus on sector recovery and also in creating increased resilience and opportunities for the future.

Despite the progress that’s been made, we still have a long way to go on our journey.  The recent Covid-19 crisis has only highlighted just how crucially dependent we all are on digital technologies, and this underscores the importance of accelerating digital transformation in order to build future resilience as well as greater opportunities for all.

If you’d like to keep up to date with developments from the Hub, you can sign up to our newsletter, or visit our website for more information and support on how to get involved with increasing the pace towards digitalisation.


Author

David Philp

David Philp is Digital Impact Director at Construction Innovation Hub. The Hub brings together world-class expertise from the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), BRE and the Centre for Digital Built Britain (CDBB) to transform the UK construction industry.

 

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