Contractors must keep up with technological advances to drive the industry forward, says Autodesk senior vice chairman Jim Lynch.
Globally, the built environment footprint is expected to double in size by 2060. For that to happen in line with net zero targets, technology is going to be critical to improving the way construction is carried out.
Jim Lynch, Vice President & General Manager, Autodesk Construction Solutions.
Autodesk senior vice chairman Jim Lynch puts it simply: “The industry has to find a better way to build and digital is going to play – and is already playing – a huge role in that.”
For technology to advance our construction techniques, digital literacy is going to be required in all practices and, ideally, through all phases of construction.
“The bare minimum is that contractors use digital technology on the job site for collaboration,” says Lynch.
“Ideally, they should use digital technology during the pre-construction process. Moving on from there they should use it to drive operations and maintenance, then take that project information from design out to a digital twin, where they can use that technology to provide management capabilities for the owner.”
To make this a reality, technology must be easy to deploy and adopt, according to Lynch. “If using and deploying technology is going to need weeks of training where you’re taking workers off the job, that’s not going to work,” he explains.
However, Lynch believes the onus is on contractors to invest more in improving their digital literacy if they are falling behind.
“You have to build up that digital muscle,” he says. “And I think, by and large, contractors really do understand that they have to take those first steps around collaboration, then extend those steps into using more digital during the planning process and then continue on from there.”
He believes that today’s contractors are embracing technology faster than ever, not only because of the competition, but also because of the expectations of clients and the government. He points to the UK’s Building Safety Act, which became law in April 2022, as a driver.
“That is really all about data; it is ensuring that owners, contractors and designers all play a role in making sure that digital information is created, captured and stored throughout the entire process.”
Lynch believes a big challenge is going to be attracting the workforce to build all the future projects – but that digital could play a part in drawing people in. “I think the use of digital technologies to drive better outcomes in construction will be intriguing to the younger generation,” he says.
“How to apply technology to the construction process, especially when you think about augmented reality and virtual reality applications, will drive a greater interest in the workforce.”
He adds that the industry has made great progress in its use of technology in recent decades. “But I think we’ve only scratched the surface,” he says. “I think the best is really yet to come.”
A Pennsylvania State UniversityRESEARCH on living materials that are the future of sustainable building has elaborated on this aspect of the building materials and / or their combination as illustrated by the above image of Jose Duarte, professor of architecture, and doctoral student Elena Vazquez adjust panels on a prototype of a dynamic window shading system that Vazquez designed and built. Credit to: Patrick Mansell. All rights reserved. If this goes through, we could safely say that building sites will look a bit different in the future.
In most of the MENA and the Gulf region, we reach for the A/C control when entering any living or working space. But as we casually flip a switch, we tend not to consider all those carbon emissions caused by machines.
After years of indulgence and as witnessed by all of the end results, climate change is forcing all to go green by trying to keep buildings cool as it gets hotter. Greening the Global Construction Industry has already engaged in developing new techniques, tools, products and technologies – such as heat pumps, better windows, more vital insulation, energy-efficient appliances, renewable energy and more imaginative design – has enabled emissions to stabilize the past few years.
The Conversation Weekly podcast is now back after a short break. Every Thursday, we explore the fascinating discoveries researchers are using to make sense of the world and the big questions they’re still trying to answer.
In this episode we find out how “modern” styles of architecture using concrete and glass have often usurped local building techniques better suited to parts of the world with hotter climates. Now some architects are resurrecting traditional techniques to help keep buildings cool.
From western Europe to China, North Africa and the US, severe heatwaves brought drought, fire and death to the summer of 2022. The heatwaves also raised serious questions about the ability of existing infrastructure to cope with extreme heat, which is projected to become more common due to climate change.
Yet, for thousands of years, people living in parts of the world used to high temperatures have deployed traditional passive cooling techniques in the way they designed their buildings. In Nigeria, for example, people have long used biomimicry to copy the style of local flora and fauna as they design their homes, according to Anthony Ogbuokiri, a senior lecturer in architectural design at Nottingham Trent University in the UK.
But in the 20th century, cities even in very hot climates began following an international template for building design that meant cities around the world, regardless of where they were, often had similar looking skylines. Ogbuokiri calls this “duplitecture”, and says it “ramped up the cooling load” due to an in-built reliance on air conditioners.
Alongside this, there was a massive boom in the use of concrete, particularly after the second world war when the Soviet Union and the US started gifting their cold war allies concrete technology. “It was a competition both to discover who actually mastered concrete and who was better at gathering the materials, the people and the energy to make concrete,” explains Vyta Pivo, assistant professor of architecture at the University of Michigan in the US. But too much concrete can contribute to the phenomenon of urban heat islands, where heat is concentrated in cities. Concrete is also a considerable contributor to global carbon emissions.
Some architects and researchers are working to rehabilitate and improve traditional passive techniques that help keep buildings cool without using energy. Susan Abed Hassan, a professor of architectural engineering at Al-Nahrain University in Baghdad, Iraq, focuses a lot on windcatchers in her work, a type of chimney which funnels air through houses to keep them cooler in hot climates. She’s now looking at how to combining underground water pipes with windcatchers to enhance their cooling effects.
Listen to the full episode to find out about other techniques being used to keep buildings cool without relying on air conditioning.
It’s an essential component of the design process, where spatial ideations are translated into built form – the design of the prototype. Architectural projects, throughout history and in contemporary practice, have been prototyped to carry out both technical and aesthetic tests, where further insight is gained into the integrity of the design. It’s the blurred line between the experimental and the practical.
Antoni Gaudí’s 1:25 and 1:10 scale plaster models of Sagrada Família can be defined as architectural prototypes, and so can the wooden model of Filippo Brunelleschi’s Florence Cathedral dome. But these are investigations conducted on a smaller scale. It can be argued that architectural prototypes are most effective when built out 1:1, from which further architectural interventions based on the prototype have the security of a design attempt that is not a scaled-down version of the finished product.
But the making of these prototypes is a protracted endeavor – necessitating the complex maneuvering of resources, labor, and capital – for a structure that aims to merely lay the foundations for how similar designs should be approached in the future.
When scrutinized from the perspective of the Global South, this dialogue is complicated further – in countries that have been historically over-exploited and are currently under-resourced, are full-scale architectural prototypes wasteful if they don’t immediately function as a working building? Is it right for these prototypes to simply exist as say, explorations of new materials without serving as a structure that will be in constant use from its inception?
In colonial Africa, architectural experimentation was commonplace, from Fry and Drew in West Africa to Guido Ferrazza in Libya. This experimentation included that of French industrial designer and architect Jean Prouvé, who in 1949 developed Maison Tropicales – prefabricated, modular housing prototypes constructed out of aluminum designed to be easily transported, assembled, and disassembled.
The design problem that the Maison Tropicales had to solve was climatic – as France’s African colonies faced a shortage of housing and civic buildings. The prototype was designed for the equatorial climate, including a veranda with an adjustable aluminum sun-screen. Internally, walls were made of a combination of sliding and fixed metal panels – as glass portholes provided protection against UV rays.
But despite this resourceful, ingenious response to the tropical climate, the Maison Tropicale as a prototype failed. It was no less expensive than locally constructed buildings, and the French colonial bureaucrats did not warm to the industrial appearance of the house. The prototype, ultimately, was a colonial project built for French administrators. A prototype built for the colonial class that proved unpopular with them, and that instead of being widely adopted, was resigned to be a traveling object, making frequent appearances in design exhibitions. This prototype of the African Tropics became a design object that to most, was known outside of its intended context.
But contemporary practice in the Global South has offered up more substantial prototypes, where investigations into materials are coupled with substantial usage. Senegalese firm Worofila’s Ecopavillon in Diamniadio, constructed in 2019, is one such example. Commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment of Senegal, it is built with earth and typha – a type of water reed found in the Senegal River. Woven typha panels provide sound insulation, and when mixed with adobe bricks, provide thermal insulation.
As the prototype is part of the Senegalese government’s initiative to build a new city to ease congestion in Dakar, its usage is still in its early stages. The intention, though, is clear. The Ecopavillon will allow the monitoring of how the building’s materials behave, and performance can be assessed. the behavior of materials and to measure the performance of buildings. Furthermore, it can act as a training venue for craftspeople, where local knowledge of energy-efficient materials can be further developed.
The most tangible example of a living prototype in the Global South, however, is arguably found in Bangladesh, in Marina Tabassum Architects’Khudi Bari. It is a modular mobile housing unit, with an area of 128 square feet. Its light footprint and elevated form mimic the architectural vernacular of the Bengal delta, but more pressingly, it responds to climate change.
In an area with high instances of flash flooding, the raised second level acts as shelter for occupants as they await the receding of the water. In the Chars of Bangladesh – low-lying islands naturally formed by silt from rivers – the spaceframe structure is a crucial response, low cost, durable, and easily assembled and disassembled with minimum labor.
The true success of the Khudi Bari project can only be measured by what happens after the housing modules are built. A pilot project initiated by a non-profit organization affiliated with Marina Tabassum Architects in conjunction with private and governmental donors aims to establish at least 80 to 100 “Khudi Bari” modules in the flood-prone communities of Bangladesh by May 2023.
More crucially, March 2021 saw the first three homes built in collaboration with families, with some adapting their modules, with the vision for the future being that people involved in this pilot project will then become part of the training collective as the modules are initiated in other areas.
Perhaps this is how architectural prototypes built in the Global South should function – as bold, inventive assemblages, that are not only for observation and display, but instead examples of architecture that is dynamic, in use, and living.
How Autodesk is helping its customers in creating a sustainable future
Louay Dahmash, senior director at Autodesk, talks about the company’s vision to create real, meaningful impact with its technology and accelerate industry transformation
Tell us about the highlights of the Autodesk FY22 Impact report.
The Impact Report outlines our approach and performance within the business across important environmental, social and governance issues. Notably, we have neutralised greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across our operations and entire value chain for the second year in a row. We believe we have the power to create real, meaningful impact and accelerate industry transformation. In October 2021, we issued our first sustainability bond offering, totalling $1bn, to further align our financial and impact strategies. In this year alone, Autodesk has reduced 1.4 million+ metric tons CO2 of GHG through the Autodesk Foundation’s global portfolio and $18.5m was raised in philanthropic funding by Autodesk and the Autodesk Foundation. We’re proud of the progress that has been made, but much work remains to be done, and we have multiple levers in place to drive progress across the business and that of our clients and the wider industry.
Why should sustainability be considered by tech companies and how are you incorporating it within your ecosystem?
Each year, we see a rise in demand for more and cleaner resources as the global population and standards of living continue to increase. We envision a low-carbon future with minimal pollution and waste, where renewable energy powers our world and materials maintain value while cycling through a circular economy. We remain steadfast in our commitment to advance sustainable business practices toward net-zero carbon emissions, both here in the region in line with the UAE net-zero goals, as well as globally. Technology, deployed appropriately, has the power to solve the most challenging global issues, measure, manage, and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improve global health and resilience. Our technologies create a positive impact across industries, by empowering customers to harness data, automation, and insights to improve the impact of design and make decisions – enabling them to reduce costs and energy.
Is there specific legislation that compels companies to declare their carbon production to achieve sustainability goals?
Approximately 19 per cent of global GHG emissions are from the manufacturing industry. In addition to that, the buildings sector represents 38 per cent of energy and process-related GHG emissions globally. Legislations can therefore, provide a framework to regulate the path to sustainability. For example, in order to comply with materials regulations worldwide, such as the European Union’s legislation, and the UAE’s National Climate Change Plan of the UAE 2017–2050, which sets a clear path to reducing emissions, companies face increasing pressure to assess and document the materials used in their products, and in some cases to ensure materials’ traceability throughout the supply chain. We work with our customers to better manage and measure their impact through advanced data and analytics and enable them to reduce embodied carbon, decrease construction waste, and develop smart and sustainable cities.
What are the challenges that you have faced when making your business model more sustainable?
There are specific technology related challenges to achieving the above goals as firms worldwide grapple with digital transformation. Supporting our customers with critical technology is therefore an important opportunity area for us. In addition, the accelerated pace of change today demands that we work beyond industries to drive cross-sector collaboration and catalyse industry-wide innovation. It is also imperative to upskill our employees for the challenges of Industry 4.0 to ensure a resilient and prosperous future. We prioritise the health, wellbeing, and safety of our employees, who advance our efforts in this area. They create and deliver the practices and technologies that our customers and other innovators can use to design and make products and places that are safer, healthier, and more resilient. Finally, for business models to be truly sustainable, it is important for the entire value chain to be sustainable. The focus should be on creating a truly sustainable business with efficient operations committed to net-zero carbon and 100 per cent renewable energy commitments alongside a prosperous workforce to enable a sustainable future for all.
How are you helping customers drastically reduce their own environmental footprint?
Our customers represent our largest opportunity to create a positive impact at scale. Our software platform helps automate complex processes and transform data into actionable insights that empower innovators to improve the impact of everything they design, make, own and operate. Cloud solutions and connected data environments fuel innovation – across technology, processes, supply chain and industries. Through our technology, we are empowering them to create solutions, connect their data, and accelerate the outcomes that matter to them.
How does sustainability affect society and the future of work?
It is important to address workforce prosperity and the needs and desires of multiple stakeholders, from employees to customers to communities as well as investors. As more and more stakeholders become involved in business decision-making, it’s driving the movement toward more sustainable future operations. Governments can also support stakeholder capitalism with initiatives that protect consumer data and the environment and promote investment in employees. The UAE is an ideal platform to advance our future skilling initiatives as we align with the goals of the visionary leadership of instilling digital education and skills into the youth, and providing an array of opportunities for them to access lifelong learning which will empower them to become the change makers of tomorrow. The global economy is changing, and the workforce of tomorrow won’t look the same as today. While new technologies can enable great efficiency, we believe the future of work is still human.
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