Imagining the future of construction…

The construction sector is going through a phase of evolution that began with greater digitisation and integration of technology and has continued with the impact of the pandemic and the changes this has introduced across the sector. Today, there are some very pressing issues for those across the industry, including looking at how to do more with social housing and the way in which the industry supports initiatives such as the CITB Levy. And then there are the visionaries who are bringing new perspectives to what can be achieved with positive, smart construction, whether that looks like a solution to homelessness or buildings that drastically reduce emissions output.

Is the industry less united?

One factor that will have an impact on the future of construction is how united the industry is on key changes happening within it. This is something that has come into sharp focus around the issue of the CITB Levy. The Levy is designed to ensure that the industry as a whole has the right skills necessary for conditions now, as well as those that are likely to arise further down the line. The most recent proposals – which continue the levy at 0.35% for PAYE and 1.25% for net paid (taxable) CIS subcontractors – have passed but the support for those proposals is not what it has been in years before, potentially indicating some fragmentation among key players in the sector. 66% of the total number of levy-paying employers agreed to the most recent levy proposals for 2022 – 2025, which is a drop from 77% the last time the vote was involved. Whether this fragmentation is temporary – perhaps the result of the pandemic – or a permanent shift, remains to be seen.

The drive towards more social housing

If there is one thing we know for certain about the future of construction it’s that this necessarily needs to involve more social housing. 145,000 social homes need to be built every year over the decade from 2021 in order to meet the government’s target of building 300,000 homes per year. This is no small task and one that requires input from all across the construction sector. L&Q, one of the biggest providers of affordable housing in the UK, has taken steps towards helping to make this more of a reality by launching a £20 million design framework for social housing that will be used over a period of 4 years to procure design services for social housing projects across the UK. 30 architects’ practices are going to be invited to tender for the L&Q Design Framework and the deadline for sending in bids for the process is 4th October. Becoming part of the framework will involve a two-stage process for all those firms that tender and could be a real opportunity to get involved in some substantial social housing projects going forward. That’s why, for all those firms involved, the race is on to try and win a place.

Solving homelessness with innovative construction

Homelessness is a social problem that we have not yet managed to solve in 2021. There is the potential for this to become an even greater issue due to the hardships that have resulted from the pandemic, as well as refugee crises that continue to evolve around the world. However, two innovative architects – Gisue and Mojgan Hariri – have been using their skills and experience to look for new opportunities to find a unique solution to this ongoing problem. Their approach has been to create a disaster relief folding pod that has been intentionally designed for refugees and those who don’t have a roof over their heads. UN figures indicate that there are currently around 100 million people globally who don’t have a home, many of whom fall into the transient refugee category. The disaster relief pod is essentially a prefabricated home that has an origami feel that will inflate or collapse at the touch of a button. Design of the pod is currently focused on the materials used with the team looking into ALUCOBOND® PLUS materials donated by 3A Composites or potentially with carbon fiber. The idea is to use materials that make the pod genuinely affordable so that it can be used as a homelessness solution wherever in the world it could potentially make a difference. It’s a very different kind of construction to bricks and mortar but one that could make just as much of an impact.

Building design that cuts emissions drastically

Sustainability has been a common theme in construction for some time now and organisations across the sector are continuously looking for opportunities to evolve business models and create more ways to reduce emissions and waste. One very innovative new approach focuses on a building that is designed for reuse and which could cut emissions by up to 88%. The design is the Curtin University building at the Legacy Living Lab in Fremantle, USA and it marks a number of big shifts in the way that the industry is approaching the issue of sustainability including:

  • A move away from recycling to reuse. Recycling isn’t always the best option (for example only 10% of plastics get recycled) so this building starts with opting for reusable materials at the planning stage instead.
  • Focusing on natural biogeochemical cycles, as opposed to the ‘take, make, dispose’ systems of old.
  • Using a disassembling approach so that all the materials in the building can be reused. These built-in reuse practices can save 18 tonnes of construction materials from being disposed of in the usual way, generating an 88% drop in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Some basic shifts. For example using reused steel frames, steel foundations rather than concrete and internal wall cladding that can be taken apart and reassembled.
  • Creating a new market for reusable building materials. A modular approach that is driven by the idea that all materials can be reused would create a whole new market for buying and selling of existing materials and minimise the need for new ones.

The future of the construction sector is being influenced by many different factors today, including these key developments.

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