2019 looks set to be a year of rapid change and progress

From smog-eating buildings to robotic brick layers and printed houses, huge change is on its way.

For those of us involved in building design and place-making, technology is driving change at an ever-faster pace. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that its advancement is exponential and the inflection point between early adopters and mass usage is shortening all the time.

After all, it wasn’t long ago that 3D printers were in their infancy yet huge investment and a few years have seen them enter the mainstream – such, in fact, that we’re about to build whole houses using them. So here are the five key themes that I believe will drive the architecture and construction sector forward during 2019.

Intelligent buildings

The intelligent building has been around for a while, of course, providing vital data on the performance of all things M&E. From lift movements to water consumption, security systems to local energy production, smart buildings are here to stay.

It’s just that they are set to become even smarter.

And that starts with the design process. Here at the metaphorical drawing board we’re now using data capture from existing properties to design properties that will perform even better in the future. The ability to identify areas of sub-optimal performance and improve them is one thing, but technology is now enabling us to deliver improvements across all areas of a building’s construction and operational performance – even those that perform well to begin with.

Architects are continually perfecting what we might call optimal building performance. So, for example, I can isolate the volume of usage of toilet facilities in a given building and identify if we got our design right. Were there too many loos for the number of occupants? Are there time-based pinch-points? We can assess the variables that determine this (such as occupancy levels) and identify ways to improve the design, layout and quantum of rest rooms it in our next job, meaning that design criteria are continuously evolving for the better.

Design information sharing

Growth in the adoption of cloud-based data sharing during 2018 has made it the de facto means of facilitating sustainable design, cost reductions and productivity boosts for everyone in the design and construction process. From drawing office to site, the capture of product and material information via connected job sites is delivering big gains for stakeholders – and my view is that this will only accelerate further in 2019.

Best of all, this can happen in real time. Our team can follow key construction milestones, guiding site personnel in real time via the streaming of single point data and materials knowledge to ensure that things are done the right way on site. It even extends to live snagging and the creation of as-built information.

Robotics in construction

Building involves a huge number of repetitive tasks which, when undertaken by humans, are therefore at the vagaries of their performance. Illness, lack of concentration and much more can all lead to defects, delays, accidents and other time and cost-based problems.

Step forward robotics. Supported by site-specific design information and GPS data robots in various forms can now happily lay bricks, fix plasterboards and perform repetitive rebar fixes. No toilet or tea breaks: just productivity-enhancing and cost-reducing performance, every time. Clearly, the site has to be the right size and configuration and where there’s a combination of physical space and repetition the economies of scale can be dramatic. I’m predicting that some of our more ground-breaking contractor partners will be bringing more such innovation in to play this year. If nothing else, it’ll help ease the labour shortages we currently suffer.

Advanced materials

We’ve seen some serious headway in this area over the last year and am expecting greater things in 2019 – notably wider adoption of what’s already available.

So, whilst we’re all familiar with waste plastics being used in street furniture and other building materials, they’re now being deployed in road surfaces, too. So far, so predictable. But did you know that if you’re using concrete it can now be a key ally in helping your new project smash its BREEAM target?

C02 can be injected in to a concrete mix, causing a chemical reaction that strengthens the final product whilst trapping this harmful climate gas within the building’s structure. And prevention being better than cure, you can also deploy self-healing concrete which uses calcite-precipitating bacteria that germinates should water enter any cracks in the structure, sealing them instantly.

And if that doesn’t make you smile at its sheer ingenuity, how about coating your building’s exterior panels in photocatalytic titanium dioxide? As its name implies, it reacts with light to neutralise air pollutants, providing ambient gains in the immediate vicinity. Watch as crowds gather for fresher air around the feet of such buildings.

Virtual and Augmented Reality

Virtual reality now enables us to walk a client through a building to illustrate our design approach before it is even built, bringing core features and benefits to life in a layered way – everything from intelligent M&E solutions through to core aesthetic considerations such as lighting, space use or physical features.

In simple terms, they can decide whether they like the building or not by pre-experiencing it in a much richer and more realistic environment than via the 2D and 3D renderings we’ve previously used.

It’s clever stuff and countless new applications are developed or enhanced all the time, such that I’m expecting 2019 to be the year where it matures in to a core part of the architecture profession’s armoury when sharing our vision with planning authorities, clients, funding partners and end-users.

But it doesn’t stop there: augmented reality allows us to provide a digital overlay of the real world to our designs, giving users a highly realistic experience to enable, for example, better health and safety training for building workers before construction commences. The technology can offer a wide range of data to site personnel, from design information to statistics on productivity and health and safety performance.

We thought we were in an information-rich age as designers, but looking ahead it’s clear that it’s going to get richer still. Do you agree? Let me know what you think.

Stuart Large
Stuart Large
BIM Manager