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.
Construction Enquirer estimates that Factory-made homes can cut carbon emissions by 45%. It is by Aaron Morby.
Shouldn’t countries of the MENA region especially those where housing development is intense, get any inspiration from the idea of factory-made homes cutting carbon emissions by 45%?
Anyway here is:
Factory-made homes cut carbon emissions by 45%
Housing construction using volumetric modular systems can produce 41-45% less carbon dioxide emissions than traditional methods of building homes.
Substantial embodied carbon emissions savings were unearthed by academics from Cambridge University and Edinburgh Napier University in a study on a high-rise and a mid-rise modular scheme in London.
The buildings totalling 879 homes were delivered by Tide Construction using its modular system. University academics found that 28,000 tonnes of embodied carbon emissions were saved from construction – the equivalent of the CO2 absorbed by 1.3m trees in a year.
(l-r)44 and 38 storey George Street in Croydon, now known as Ten Degrees and The Valentine in Gants Hill, London Borough of Redbridge were measured
This is well ahead of industry targets and shows a switch to modular construction could radically reduce the carbon footprint associated with the UK government’s ambition to build 300,000, better quality homes.
Embodied carbon, the CO2 produced during the design, construction and decommissioning phases of a development, is slashed because buildings require lower volumes of carbon-intensive products such as concrete and steel.
The report, “Life Cycle Assessments of The Valentine, Gants Hill, UK and George Street, Croydon, UK” also shows emissions were lower because indirect carbon emissions from deliveries and on-site workers are reduced.
Dr Tim Forman, senior research associate at University of Cambridge, said: “Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of global energy-related carbon emissions, and there is an urgent need to reduce the carbon intensity of construction and buildings in use.
“As buildings become more energy efficient in operation, reducing the carbon associated with construction — including the production and transportation of materials and site activities – and their end of life is becoming increasingly significant.
“This study underscores the fundamental importance of quantifying carbon in construction and across a building’s life cycle.”
Professor Francesco Pomponi of Napier University, said: “This study is a truly comprehensive and robust life cycle assessment of the modular solution.
“The analysis of two residential buildings was conducted in accordance with the latest carbon assessment guidelines, and analysis was based on conservative assumptions and a careful selection of data inputs.
“While further studies should be completed to deepen our understanding, the research makes a compelling case for the embodied carbon-saving benefits of modular construction.”
A New Civil Engineer‘s article by Fred SHERRATT tries to answer How will the technology revolution of Construction 4.0 impact people?’ Preceding these excerpts and highlights through our bolds with all due respect for all involved are our thoughts.
The debate about the digital transformation of the construction industry in its different markets across, for instance, the MENA region, has been well surveyed on projects through the role of technology in shaping the next phase of development.
The impact of digitalisation in the region’s construction will encompass a radical change in all sectors. Such sectors as electricity and transport, particularly road construction, are naturally, as it were, prone to be digitally handled through automation with a certain ease. According to many observers, the building industry though being, as it were, more vernacular in its diversity and composition, would require still lots of digital innovation and eventually be a crucial driver of future growth in the construction industry. Collected data on what digitisation means for the construction industry to be spent on in the MENA region illustrates well over the recent past. Most concerns are for those countries of the Gulf whether the future’s Construction sites will be people-free’ for obvious reasons and the opposite for the rest of the MENA region.
How will the technology revolution of Construction 4.0 impact people?
Welcome to the Fourth Industrial Revolution! Under Construction 4.0 robots lay bricks and drones carry out surveys. Improved connectivity and data management means AI and machine learning can plan projects better than humans ever could. Building information modelling (BIM) has blossomed, projects completed in the virtual world before ground is even broken. Computer controlled craftsmanship optimises design, whilst the Internet of Things enables the use of real-time data processing and digital twins to optimise delivery on site.
Fred Sherratt is the interim deputy dean for research and innovation in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University
And for an industry told to Modernise or Die this could not have come at a better time.
Construction 4.0 promises increased efficiencies, enhanced and optimised productivity. Not to mention savings of time and money through reductions of labour, material and processing costs. This is trumpeted across the industry through voices heavy with technological optimism, industrial progress, all the benefits and rewards this revolution will bring, as well as scare stories for those not getting on board now – you’ll be left behind if you miss the boat!
But maybe we should think a little more critically about this. Because we have been here before. Three times to be precise.
And, it hasn’t always gone well. Not least because technology is not neutral, as Jacque Ellul argued in 1954. The underlying rational and objective methods that drive its implementation also instil within it an autonomy and amorality that is potentially dangerous. People and industries are compelled to adapt to technological change – as who but a Luddite would challenge all the promises it brings? – but such change is not always positive. History shows that technology can fundamentally disrupt the ways industries are structured and operate: workers are not just replaced by robots, things change so much neither robots or people are needed at all. So just because we can, doesn’t mean we should, and certainly not without careful deliberation.
Our industry contributes significantly to UK employment, including many site workers who’ve struggled with formal education whilst their myriad practical skills have long been devalued. For them, Construction 4.0 presents a positive narrative of “reskilling” or “multi-skilled” workers, but history suggests a downgrading of both job roles and earning potential is actually much more likely. Technological advancements tend to reduce labour requirements overall and also split skilled roles into two: new tasks only requiring one degree-qualified manager and some unskilled labour, with reduced quality of work and thus less remuneration. Estimates suggest 50% of traditional construction work could be automated over the next 20 years, making this a significant concern. But Construction 4.0 doesn’t care, the amorality technology brings to progress creates a convenient myopia for social consequences such as this. Any reduction in the numbers of people employed or their potential earnings is beneficial – a reduction in wage costs, hurrah! It’s just a shame about the jobs, and the satisfaction people used to be able to realise from skilled manual work.
And it is not just site workers who are vulnerable to such “progress”. Engineers have already seen their work shift into the virtual, where they now sit in front of screens to design and provide information to control and guide subcontractors. Their work is now shaped and structured by new technologies which require specialist skills for operation, and which also created new roles that potentially undermine professional autonomy. Whilst professionals were upskilling themselves, “BIM managers” took charge of the design process as a whole, because they were best able to navigate and negotiate the software, not because they were best skilled to lead design development or coordination. Although things have rebalanced as training caught up, professionals across our industry are now forced into ways of working as the technology dictates, choice is no longer an option.
Indeed, the “technology owner” may even become the dominant industry professional in the future, through the autonomy unquestionably conferred on them. Indeed, Cui bono [who will benefit] is never a bad question to ask, particularly in a US$10bn global construction software marketplace. Software vendors promise solutions to all manner of construction process inefficiencies, but in doing so they are also redesigning industry structures to fit their technologies. But the confidence (arrogance), that technology developers can capture (and inevitably improve) what we do is never challenged: they are now gurus to the industry, with little sense of history, craft or profession. The consequences of this dominance could be considerable: a built environment constructed to meet the dictates of technology, rather than the manifestation of the imagination, fun, creativity and humanity of a real person. Are we happy about that?
We should therefore consider carefully whose agendas Construction 4.0 is serving. Our industry does more than simply create our built environment, it also employs vast numbers of people who gain both income and self-validation from this process. Construction 4.0 is challenging how we do things, disrupting us, bringing progress at last to our dinosaur of an industry. But who is challenging Construction 4.0? Luckily it’s all still relatively piecemeal, smoke and mirrors are plentiful, and we are not (yet) at the point of no return. But it’s up to professionals to point out that Construction 4.0 has the potential to do harm as well as good. We should all think a little more critically before we add our voices to the current tsunami of technological optimism. It’s a common trope of our industry that people are our biggest asset. Why don’t we try to keep it that way?
Fred Sherratt is the interim deputy dean for research and innovation in the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University
From concrete to steel, how construction makes up the ‘last mile’ of decarbonization
February 16, 2021
As companies and countries worldwide map out how they will hit net-zero emissions by 2050, some elements of the vast shift are relatively straightforward: Cars will go electric; power grids will adopt clean energy.
But when it comes to buildings, engineers and policymakers alike hit a hurdle: Even a house covered with solar panels is likely to contain concrete and steel—some of the most intractable sectors when it comes to emissions. To make truly low-carbon buildings, researchers say we must embrace breakthrough technology, from hydrogen to carbon capture, and explore new ways of designing concrete, industrial products, and even houses themselves.
The stakes are high. Between the energy they consume and their construction, buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of the world’s emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. To truly produce a zero carbon house, office, or shop, every industry involved in its construction and maintenance must be decarbonized first, says Dabo Guan, a professor of climate change economics at University College London’s Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management.
When buildings are constructed, “they trigger the whole economic supply chain,” says Guan. “And the emissions of the supply chain are very big.”
“Like making a cake”
When it comes to concrete, “the only thing we use more as humans is water,” says Jeremy Gregory, executive director of MIT’s Concrete Sustainability Hub.
At the heart of concrete is cement: the key binding agent that turns sand and water into one of the world’s most ubiquitous materials. In 2019, the world produced roughly 4.1 billion tons of cement, according to the IEA. It’s also extremely hard to decarbonize. Cement itself must be formed at extremely high temperatures and is the product of a chemical process that naturally produces carbon dioxide. Collectively, it is responsible for up to 8% of global emissions, says Gregory.
Because it’s extremely difficult to use renewable energy to produce the energy intensity needed for ultrahigh temperatures, truly low-carbon cement will likely rely oncarbon capture, storage, and utilization, which prevents CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, either by injecting it into the ground or—potentially—into the concrete itself.
There is also another approach that could help, says Gregory: diluting, or even replacing, the cement in concrete. These options already exist: The ancient Romans used volcanic ash as a binding agent to make concrete. But it’s possible to use a large number of waste products, including fly ash—a by-product from coal plants. Some blends can reduce the carbon intensity by as much as 70% compared to conventional cement and will produce a product that’s just as good.
It’s “sort of like making a cake,” says Gregory. “You can use whole wheat flour. It’ll still look like a cake. It’ll just taste a little bit different.”
Reduce, reuse, recycle
Steel struggles with some of the same problems as concrete. Mainly, it must be produced at high temperatures, and, to a lesser degree, some CO2 also results from the process. Steel has one advantage—it can more easily be recycled—but that, too, has challenges. There is not enough to meet demand, and reprocessing requires energy, says Richard Curry, a program manager at Sustain, the Future Steel Manufacturing Research Hub based at the University of Swansea in Wales.
Logistically, recycling can be challenging and degrade the quality of the metal. As with concrete, the most feasible solutions are carbon capture, utilization, and storage—even if those are not yet commercially mainstream.
Embracing better design—from buildings to infrastructure to, yes, electric cars—to make them easier to disassemble so that their parts can be accessed and recycled could help, says Cameron Pleydell-Pearce, Sustain’s deputy director.
Another option, he says, is reusing.
“One of the things that we’re looking at in a very great level of detail is the degree to which we can understand which product and trace which product is coming out of a steel mill at a particular point, and then what happens to it as it goes through its life cycle,” he says.
Unlike even recycling, that would offer a major advantage: It comes with almost no CO2 emissions at all.
Warm in winter, cool in summer
When it comes to design, there’s another potential solution staring us in the face: drawing inspiration from what our buildings used to look like.
A traditional house in New England, for example, would have had south-facing windows, maximizing the sunshine and minimizing the darkness in winter, says Anna Dyson, the founding director of Yale University’s Center for Ecosystems in Architecture.
Houses all over the world have traditionally been designed and built to best work with the climate, she adds, but “over the course of the 20th century, as buildings became more and more reliant on cheap fossil fuels, then it wasn’t so required to be really, really careful about orientation and working with climate.”
Also, to manage the indoor temperatures, houses were built in shapes and sizes that suited their climates. In humid locations, home designs included ample ventilation and steep roofs to enhance air flow. In arid climates with hot days and cold nights, houses were roomy and light-colored to reflect heat. Those principles, along with making use of biodegradable materials, from timber to straw to coconut husks and bamboo, are ideas that some architects like Dysonare now looking back to.
Of course there are no silver bullets. Houses still need energy for lights and heating, preferably clean energy, Dyson points out. And now we face the prospect of not just making houses that are suited to the next 100 years, but also finding ways to retrofit the ones that have already lasted a century.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” says Dyson. “But we’ve got a lot that we can do with design.”
Eco-friendly technology could potentially replace concrete and revolutionise sector, reports Alex Mistlin, on 21 August 2020, for Scientists created 3D-printed buildings from soil.
Scientists have developed a method to 3D-print greener buildings using local soil that they say has the potential to revolutionise the construction industry.
The technology is designed to be a sustainable alternative to concrete, which accounts for approximately 7% of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency.
Sarbajit Banerjee, a professor of chemistry and materials science and engineering at Texas A&M University, said 3D printing enabled a versatility that allowed them to print entire architectural facades, although getting such structures to meet existing building regulations remained a significant challenge.
Concrete remains the primary material used in many construction projects but it cannot be recycled and requires a lot of energy to mix and transport. The research team’s aim is to print structures using the type of soil that can be found in any garden.
“While the widespread use of concrete has democratised access to housing and enabled the growth of cities, this has come at a considerable environmental cost,” said Banerjee.
“The move to 3D-print concrete threatens to exacerbate this problem. However, we envision a new paradigm of construction that uses naturally sourced materials. Using such materials will further pave the way for building designs that are specifically adapted to the needs of local climates, instead of cookie-cutter houses.
“We see this as a means of providing dignified habitats to some of the neediest populations across the world.”
What’s more, the use of local materials would reduce the need to transport concrete long distances, further reducing the environmental impact of the buildings.
The research team’s plan to replace concrete with the earth beneath our feet depends on their ability to improve soil’s load-bearing capabilities, to which Banerjee said they “are making excellent progress”.
Once they have a clearer idea of the limits of the technology, Banerjee and his team plan to investigate how it might allow for building on other planets.
“We see this research not just as a means of replacing concrete but allowing for construction in difficult environments. For instance, we have worked on addressing the problem of building all-weather roads in the subarctic. [The technology] could one day be used beyond Earth, to create settlements on the moon or even Mars.”
If you hear of an exciting or innovative building project, there is a high likelihood it will involve Dubai. Dubai have been championing ambitious architectural projects for years, and have recently made the bold move of aiming to have 25% of new buildings 3D printed by 2030.
This administrative building comprises two floors, featuring beautiful 3D printed architecture born out of an ongoing collaboration between Russian 3D printed house company Apis Cor and the Dubai Municipality.
We expect much more to come from Apis Cor in Dubai, as this building is considered by them to be just a test for larger 3D printed house projects for the future. It is claimed to have been to test whether Apis Cor’s concrete 3D printer could print a building in Dubai’s heat — and passed with flying colours.
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