WORLD FINANCE in this article by Angelica Krystle Donati, CEO, Donati Immobiliare Group. It is on an idea of the transition to sustainable construction.
The image above is of Modular wooden houses made out of renewable resources
Many aspects of life as we knew it changed irrevocably when the global pandemic hit, and even though the path to a circular and greener economy was well underway before then, the rebound from COVID-19 should be a catalyst for change in the construction sector
After many years of stagnation, the construction industry is finally expected to grow significantly in the next decade according to the Future of Construction, a report published by Marsh & Guy Carpenter. The report envisages a solid rebound from the COVID-19 outbreak this year, with worldwide construction production increasing by 6.6 percent. Construction spending contributed to 13 percent of global GDP in 2020 and this is expected to rise steadily over the next few years. By 2030, global construction output is expected to increase by 35 percent from today’s levels.
Thanks to governmental measures aimed both at reaching environmental targets and kick starting the economy, construction, which has always lagged behind other sectors from a growth perspective due to critically low margins and consequentially low R&D spending, is seeing a renaissance. Italy, for example, has a commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 55 percent by 2030, and to zero by 2050 within the European ‘green new deal.’ The construction sector will be pivotal in achieving this goal, as the built environment must be upgraded to be more sustainable.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s ‘next generation EU’ fund will help support recovery of construction in Western Europe with growth forecasts suggesting the sector will expand by 7.9 percent in 2021. Italy will benefit from over €196bn, and 48 percent of this will be spent on construction projects. For example, €68.9bn is destined for ecological transition and 40 percent of this sum (€29.3bn), is intended for energy efficiency and the upgrade of existing buildings.
On the other side of the pond, the US have established the ‘build back better’ programme, which is a projected $7trn COVID-19 relief and stimulus package designed to accelerate economic recovery and for investment in large infrastructure projects proposed by President Joe Biden. It is projected to create 10 million clean-energy jobs.
Sustainability and the circular economy Climate change and the race to net zero are arguably the greatest challenges that the construction industry is facing. The building and construction industry as a whole is responsible for 40 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions and produces 30 percent of Europe’s waste.
The industry is finally waking up to the importance of proactively addressing climate change concerns and embracing responsibility for its direct and indirect carbon emissions. The major contributors to these emissions are the materials used, as well as the heating, cooling and lighting of buildings and infrastructure. Sustainability is not just a matter of corporate responsibility, but it is good for business – and many companies are investing heavily in sustainable practices not just to be good global citizens, but also because it makes great financial sense.
As construction entrepreneurs, we have a responsibility to lead our industry’s evolution towards the practice of maximum respect for the environment, both in terms of construction methods and the life cycle of the built environment. To achieve this goal, the sector must focus on innovation, sustainability, and the circular economy.
The impact of sustainable objectives To meet sustainability objectives, it is important to positively impact the life cycle of each project as well as improving building methods. There are many construction techniques available that are less damaging to the environment, and technology and materials choices that make long-term management of an asset more sustainable. The circular economy, for example, is creating added value in the construction industry. According to data from the Italian ‘national association of building constructors,’ the transition to the circular economy system is increasingly becoming a fundamental value for construction companies, with 81 percent of respondents to a recent poll stating that it is key to their future goals.
In Italy, the 110 percent super-bonus is giving a positive boost to the industry as it encourages the private sector to invest in energy efficiency by funding upgrades to existing buildings at no actual cost to their owners. In addition, the use of eco-friendly materials as a standard practice is hugely beneficial in the long term as they do not have an adverse impact on the environment when used and can easily be recycled.
Finally, the use of technology is essential for reducing emissions and preserving the ecosystem. The sector has responded to the COVID-19 outbreak by focusing more heavily on innovation as it is fundamental to respond to the evolving needs of the construction market to ensure the industry’s transformation. The sector will have to adapt to a changing environment and create resilience to the serious effects of climate change. For its part, the construction industry has all the credentials to meet this challenge, enhance its evolution to a green economy and contribute substantially to the revitalisation of the global economy.
As far as Cities and climate change are concerned: why low-rise buildings are the future – not skyscrapers. Skyscrapers are tall and/or very tall buildings. with advantages and disadvantages. They were considered a forward step within the current civilisation, up until these latter days or years where we started to realise that these structures mean a certain impact on the built environment as described by Ruth Saint, Edinburgh Napier University and Francesco Pomponi, Edinburgh Napier University.
The above image is for illustration and is of Abu Dhabi2.
More than half of the world’s 7.8 billion people live in cities and urban areas. By 2050, an additional 2.5 billion will be living there. As that figure continues to climb and ever more people flock to metropolitan areas in the hope of a better life, the big question is: how do we fit everyone in?
It is the job of city developers and urban planners to figure out how to build or adapt urban environments to accommodate the living and working needs of this rapidly expanding population. There is a popular belief that taller, more densely packed skyscrapers are the way forward, because they optimise the use of space and house more people per square metre and limit urban sprawl.
But given the global commitments to emissions-reduction targets and mitigating climate change, is this the most sustainable solution from a carbon-reduction perspective?
Our recent study, which examined whether building denser and taller is the right path to sustainability, busts this myth: we found that densely built, low-rise environments are more space and carbon efficient, while high-rise buildings have a drastically higher carbon impact.
Impact on the environment
We assessed the whole-life cycle of carbon emissions – meaning both operational and “embodied” carbon – of different buildings and urban environments. Operational carbon is generated while a building is in service. Embodied carbon is all the hidden, behind-the-scenes carbon produced during the extraction, production, transport and manufacture of raw materials used to construct a building, plus any produced during maintenance, refurbishment, demolition or replacement.
This aspect is often overlooked, especially in building design, where operational efficiency is always to the fore. The argument for cutting carbon at the design stage has been made by numerous researchers, and it is gaining traction with leading international organisations such as the World Green Building Council. But it’s still something that is largely disregarded, mainly because embodied impact assessment is voluntary, and there is no legislation concerning its inclusion. But it must be advocated for if we are to reach our 2050 emissions targets.
At a global scale, the construction sector is responsible for a significant impact on the environment, as is clear from the graph below. The largest contribution comes from its consumption of energy and resources, which boils down to the design stage – the part of the process that no one is looking at.
Now that new buildings have to be more energy efficient and the energy grid is being decarbonised, this hidden embodied energy varies from 11%-33% for projects such as Passive House designs (a building standard that uses non-mechanical heating and cooling design techniques to lower energy use) to 74%-100% for near-zero energy builds (high performance buildings where the low amount of energy required comes mostly from renewable sources).
Given the focus on driving down the energy impact of day-to-day operations, the proportional share of embodied energy consumption has been driven up. So as energy demand becomes lower when the building is in use, the materials and activities required to build it in first place produce proportionally more impacts across the building’s lifespan. For example, low and near-zero energy buildings are made by improving insulation and using more materials and additional technologies, which greatly increases the hidden energy impact and carbon cost.
Moving to a smaller scale, the embodied carbon share across construction materials shows that minerals have the largest proportion by far, at 45%. The graph below shows the breakdown of materials, where concrete dominates in terms of hidden carbon contribution. This is important because skyscrapers rely heavily on concrete as a structural material. So the type of materials we use, how much we use, and how we use them is crucial.
How we can fix it
We developed four different urban scenarios shown in the graph below, based on data from real buildings: high-density, high-rise (HDHR) which are tall and close together; low-density, high-rise (LDHR) which are tall but more spread out; high-density, low-rise (HDLR) which are low and close together; and low-density, low-rise (LDLR) which are low level and more spaced out.
To do this, we split the building stock into five main categories: non-domestic low-rise (NDLR); non-domestic high-rise (NDHR); domestic low-rise (DLR); domestic high-rise (DHR); and terraced/house. We gathered numerous data, including height, number of storeys, building footprint (the land area the building physically occupies), facade material and neighbouring constraints. This includes the number and area of blocks and green spaces within one square kilometre, average street width and average distance between buildings.
These parameters were all fed into a computer model to analyse the data looking at the following:
1. How whole life-cycle carbon changed based on the buildings and the number of people accommodated within an area of 1km².
2. How whole life-cycle carbon changed due to an increasing population based on four fixed population sizes – 20, 30, 40 and 50 thousand people – and the land use required to accommodate them under the four different urban scenarios.
Our findings show that high-density low-rise cities, such as Paris, are more environmentally friendly than high-density high-rise cities, such as New York. Looking at the fixed population scenarios, when moving from a high-density low-rise to a high-density high-rise urban environment, the average increase in whole life-cycle carbon emissions is 142%.
Equating this to the potential savings per person, based on the fixed population size, building high-density low-rise offers a saving of 365 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent per person compared with high-density high-rise.
It’s time for urban planners to start embedding this new understanding of the whole carbon life-cycle of a building, balancing the impact of urban density and height while accommodating expanding populations. To achieve urban sustainability the world will need more Parises and fewer Manhattans.
This QUARTZ‘s article about Rethinking cities, could be yet another way of demonstrating that nothing could affect nor alter the development of a town’s built environment. It has, on the contrary, ended up in teaching us the hard lessons of Sept. 11 led to the boom in supertall skyscrapers. It is by Anne Quito, Design and architecture reporter. But despite that Is it Time to Stop Building Skyscrapers? Let us see in any case what it all boils down to.
The hard lessons of Sept. 11 led to the boom in supertall skyscrapers
After the Sept. 11 attacks, former New York’s mayor Rudy Giuliani encouraged developers to build low. Like many, he feared Manhattan’s tall buildings would become targets for terrorists, after seeing how swiftly the twin towers crumbled.
Twenty years later, quite the opposite has happened. For better or worse, New York City’s skyline is populated with ever taller and taller skyscrapers, with the highest among them in the heart of the original World Trade Center complex. Nearly all of the city’s supertalls—the term for a structure that rises above 300 meters (984 ft)—were built after 2001. Many of them are luxury condos clustered along 57th Street, two blocks south of Central Park.
Outside New York City, supertalls built after 2001 include the Trump International Hotel and Tower and the St.Regis in Chicago, the Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia, the Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles, and Salesforce Tower in San Francisco. Before Sept 11, there were 20 supertalls in the world. Today, there are more than 200 and several more are in various stages of construction.
How did Americans go from a mistrust of tall buildings to an unprecedented growth in skyscrapers in the US? In a word, science.
It stems from a steely belief in engineering innovation after the attacks, says Carl Galioto, president of the global design and architecture firm HOK. “I think it has to do with confidence,” he says.
Galioto would know. Prior to HOK, he was a partner at the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merril (SOM) and was an architect-of-record for two of the towers that were rebuilt at the World Trade Center complex. Galioto also worked with the US National Institute of Standards and Technology to translate its forensic reports to improving the international building code.
Changes in building safety regulations after 9/11
Innovations in building safety led to the current boom in supertall buildings, Galioto says. “There is a direct relationship between the developments in building science related to high-rise construction and the perception of improved safety that allowed supertall towers in New York to be commercially viable,” he says.
About 30 safety and security recommendations were added to the building code as a result of the twin tower collapse. They included widening staircases, using thicker glass on the lower levels, using reinforced concrete for a building’s core, installing back-up power systems, and reserving a dedicated elevator for firefighters. There was a greater understanding of “progressive collapse,” when a succession of structures falls like a stack of cards. There was also a renewed appreciation for bollards and the variety of creative forms they could take.
Some of that work included changing the fundamental understanding of safety. Before Sept. 11, building occupants were considered safe when they reached a fire-proof staircase. After learning that more than 200 people perished in the World Trade Center’s elevators, regulations were updated so people were only counted safe only when they reached the ground.
Galioto and his colleagues at SOM used the two towers they designed—One World Trade Center and 7 World Trade—as a kind of showcase for innovations in building safety. Galioto says he has immense trust in skyscrapers. “Not only do I feel confident about working at One World Trade Center, I felt confident enough that my daughters can work there,” he says. “I think it’s the safest building in New York.”
How much did Sept 11 change architecture?
Galioto remembers how the public came up with zany burning-tower escape plans during that time, such as giving parachutes to top floor occupants or designing chains and outriggers to trap wayward plans. “They were somewhere between Jules Verne and Rube Goldberg,” he says. Galioto recalls one proposal that involved installing escape chutes on the side of buildings. “As if people could just slide down 50 stories and pop out of the air like party favors,” he says. “We very quickly realized that people are safer if they don’t jump out of buildings.”
As to whether the Sept. 11 terrorist attack changed the building industry, Galioto says its impact is proportionate. He questions the notion that terrorism is the foremost fear in the mind of architects. “There’s only as much paranoia as there’s a concern for designing for earthquakes or hurricanes,” he says. “If you look at it objectively, it [anti-terrorism concerns] is just another set of design criteria.”
Santiago Calatrava, the widely admired Spanish architect says what happened in New York 20 years ago reverberates through his practice. “The tragic events of September 11th have undoubtedly made an impact on my practice as both an architect and engineer,” says Calatrava, who designed the Oculus transport hub and the soon-to-be-completed St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center, in an email to Quartz. “There became new elements to consider in our designs such as building reinforcements, the use of resistant materials, and simply reimagining the flow of a space.”
Calatrava explains that he had to modify his original scheme for the Oculus—the bird-shaped building adjacent to the 9/11 Memorial—after the sequence of terrorist events after Sept 11. “Following the terrorist attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2007, the structural design of the Oculus was modified per instructions from the New York Police Department and other responsible authorities to suit newly established security requirements,” he says. “One key change included reinforcing the support structure for the Oculus’ planned ‘wings’ to improve blast resistance. The Oculus had to have twice the number of steel ribs and a column free space was recommended.”
A different line of defense
If engineers have figured out the structure, urban planners say that New York still needs to reckon with the spirit behind building so many gleaming skyscrapers. Vishaan Chakrabarti was the director of the Manhattan office for the New York planning department during the decisive years of the World Trade Center’s reconstruction. In an email, he says engineering sturdy buildings is just half the battle.
Investing in welcoming public spaces is a better plan than creating exclusive “bubbles of security,” as Chakrabarti puts it. He echoes urbanist Jane Jacobs’s theory that a vibrant streetscape is the best form of security. “I wrote back then that using architecture and urbanism as a last line of defense when our national security fails is a mistake, and it continues to be so,” argues Chakrabarti, now the dean of the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design. “Security was obviously critical after the attacks, but unfortunately we are always fighting the last war.”
SmartCitiesWorldNews team informs that AI is used to examine construction following earthquakes in its vital assessment concerning quality, safety and potential risks in its future usage.
The picture above is about how an App helps engineers identify structural issues. Photo courtesy: Build Change
AI used to examine construction following earthquakes
An open-source project hosted by the Linux Foundation with support from IBM and Call for Code will use machine learning to help inform quality assurance for construction in emerging nations.
A new open source machine learning tool has been developed to help inform quality assurance for construction in emerging nations.
Build Change, with support from IBM as part of the Call for Code initiative, created the Intelligent Supervision Assistant for Construction (ISAC-SIMO) tool to feedback on specific construction elements such as masonry walls and reinforced concrete columns.
The aim is to help engineers identify structural issues in masonry walls or concrete columns, especially in areas affected by disasters.
Users can choose a building element check and upload a photo from the site to receive a quick assessment.
“ISAC-SIMO has amazing potential to radically improve construction quality and ensure that homes are built or strengthened to a resilient standard, especially in areas affected by earthquakes, windstorms, and climate change,” said Dr Elizabeth Hausler, founder and CEO of Build Change.
“We’ve created a foundation from which the open source community can develop and contribute different models to enable this tool to reach its full potential. The Linux Foundation, building on the support of IBM over these past three years, will help us build this community.”
The ISAC-SIMO project, hosted by the Linux Foundation, was imagined as a solution to help bridge gaps in technical knowledge that were apparent in the field. It packages important construction quality assurance checks into a mobile app.
“ISAC-SIMO has amazing potential to radically improve construction quality and ensure that homes are built or strengthened to a resilient standard, especially in areas affected by earthquakes, windstorms, and climate change”
The app ensures that workmanship issues can be more easily identified by anyone with a phone, instead of solely relying on technical staff. It does this by comparing user-uploaded images against trained models to assess whether the work done is broadly acceptable (go) or not (no go) along with a specific score.
“Due to the pandemic, the project deliverables and target audience have evolved. Rather than sharing information and workflows between separate users within the app, the app has pivoted to provide tools for each user to perform their own checks based on their role and location,” added Daniel Krook, IBM chief technology officer for the Call for Code initiative.
“This has led to a general framework that is well-suited for plugging in models from the open source community, beyond Build Change’s original use case.”
According to Build Change, the project encourages new users to contribute and to deploy the software in new environments around the world. Priorities for short term updates include improvements in user interface, contributions to the image dataset for different construction elements, and support to automatically detect if the perspective of an image is flawed.
Build Change seeks to help save lives in earthquakes and windstorms. Its mission is to prevent housing loss caused by disasters by transforming the systems that regulate, finance, build, and improve houses around the world.
Zaha Hadid: even more than her buildings, it’s her mind that left its mark by Lakshmi Priya Rajendran, Anglia Ruskin University is more than an eye-opener on the person behind all those unconventionally looking buildings.
Zaha Hadid: even more than her buildings, it’s her mind that left its mark
In the five years since Zaha Hadid’s passing, much has been written about the glorious and towering legacy the fabled British-Iraqi architect left behind. Thinking about what she started, though, is more instructive.
Born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1950, Hadid – aka the Queen of Curve – fundamentally altered the contours of modern architecture and design. She shattered gender stereotypes too by, in 2004, becoming the first woman to receive the Pritzker prize – the highest award in her field.
As the world grapples with how to respond to the climate crisis, architecture is in the spotlight. The built environment is responsible for almost 36% of global energy consumption. Cement alone causes 8% of global emissions.
In this context, Hadid’s most valuable contribution is the inspiration she represented and the innovation she embodied. She conceived of modernity as an incomplete project, to be tackled. And she demonstrated to students not just how to imagine revolutionary forms but, crucially, how to bring them to life.
The seductive nature of Hadid’s buildings means that the approach she took to sustainability is often overshadowed. It also wasn’t an explicit aspect of her early works, but rather became so later on in her career, in projects including the Bee’ah Headquarters in Sharjah, and Eco-park stadium in London. In 2015 she memorably highlighted sustainability as a defining challenge of her generation and stated that “architects had solutions”.
Hadid was a problem solver. From the outset she was unique in harnessing both technology and talent, through her groundbreaking interdisciplinary research group. She was one of the early adopters of a fully digitised 3D design process. When virtual reality became a thing, her practice was one of the first to adopt that too.
This ability to make things happen was hard won. As a student at the Architectural Association in London in the mid-1970s, Hadid turned heads from the start with her otherworldly ideas. But it took her over a decade to get her designs realised. It was with her first big commission – the 1993 Vitra Fire Station in Germany – that the world finally got to see up close the power of her architectural imagination.
The Danish architect Bjarke Ingels (founder of Bjarke Ingels Group, one of the most dynamic contemporary architectural practices) described visiting Vitra Fire Station as an “eyeopening experience” that brought to life the kind of visual impossibilities people usually only dream of. For all its ambition, though, the Vitra building was criticised as unsuitable by the firemen who occupied it.
Although her career had begun with that infamous tag of her buildings being unbuildable, Hadid rapidly established herself as a radical architect by creating a strong and unique design statement globally. Hadid expanded her global brand and her reach to product design, fashion and jewellery.
In Canadian architectural historian Despina Stratigakos’s book, Where Are the Women Architects?, Hadid explained how she survived and fought sexism in her profession. Her inspiring attitude and professional demeanour was gender-neutral. She was able to switch between femininity and masculinity as required to survive and excel in what is a ruthless and ultra-competitive business.
In this way, even though her projects saw her labelled a starchitect, Hadid’s ideas set her apart from the old school. They opened a radically new path for later generations, like this year’s Pritzker laureates, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal.
Her presence continues to be felt across the contemporary design and architecture worlds. With around 1.2 million Instagram followers, Zaha Hadid Architects is now the most followed architectural practice in the world. Her sinuous lines and captivating shapes have been referenced by set designers on trendsetting movies including Black Panther.
In every way, Hadid remains a muse. She was rebellious and defiant. She embraced the unimaginable. Known for provoking controversies, even her critics agreed to the fact that without Hadid, architecture would be less interesting.
When she won the Pritzker prize in 2004, the jury noted how consistently she defied convention. Even if she’d never built anything, they said, Zaha Hadid would have radically expanded the possibilities of architecture. She was lauded as an iconoclast, a beautiful mind. As the critic Joseph Giovannini put it at the time, “Rarely has an architect so radically changed and inspired the field”.
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