DUBAI: The building and construction sector is one of the largest in the global economy, with approximately $10 trillion spent annually on construction-related goods and services.
However, it is also one of the most energy-consuming polluting sectors on the planet.
According to figures published on the USCAD.com website in July this year, the global construction industry is still responsible for 38% of CO2 emissions, 23% of air pollution, 40% of water pollution, 50% of landfill waste, 21% of natural resource depletion and 40% of energy consumption.
These are not new numbers. It’s not as if the construction industry has suddenly embarked on a path of self-destruction.
In 2019, it was mentioned at a conference held in Las Vegas by the software company Autodesk that the construction and manufacturing sectors were responsible for huge waste and were among the biggest polluters in the world.
In 2021, the overall picture of the world’s future received another blow when delegates to COP 26 admitted that they were far from meeting the goals that had been set and which aimed to slow global warming.
“Our theory of how we are transforming the AEC (Engineering, Architecture and Construction) sector is unchanged. We are keen to bring new industrial processes to it,” said Andrew Anagnost, CEO of Autodesk, on the sidelines of the Autodesk 2022 conference in New Orleans.
Anagnost said data and technology should help make the sector more environmentally efficient and less wasteful.
There are already companies that provide digital information capable of predicting potential imperfections as well as the necessary material of the plans before these become reality. And yet, there were still companies that weren’t using that information, Anagnost said.
“The biggest waste found in the AEC ecosystem is people improvising.”
He said, on the other hand, that the manufacturing industry generally sticks to its plans so that the final product is as planned from the start.
“This kind of precision needs to evolve in the AEC industry. That’s why we build things that fit together. Once this work is done, we believe that we will have had an impact on the functioning of these sectors. Until then, they continue to do everything at a pace that remains unmatched in other industries,” he added.
But there is also good news, as efforts are being made to reduce the amount of waste using cloud-based technology, which the Middle East appears to be embracing.
Turn buildings into data centers
The good news is that the Middle East has largely brought order to the region, according to Naji Atallah, construction and manufacturing manager with Autodesk in the Middle East.
Asked by Arab Newshe indicated that the improvement was due to a factor that has always existed.
As a result, construction in the region is generally done on undeveloped land, eliminating the need to consider existing structures, which could incur additional costs.
“There are no old buildings, bridges or roads that need to be maintained,” he explained, adding that the construction industry in the region was effectively working on a “blank canvas,” which has enabled developers to put sustainability at the forefront of their projects.
“Take the example of all the megaprojects in the region: sustainability has been one of their big goals.”
“We have seen a shift in the Gulf region, and that’s how we decided to go for quality and efficiency over speed of delivery.”
When discussing the Red Sea project in Saudi Arabia, as well as the Dubai Museum of the Future, he said that increased efforts are now being made to ensure a sustainable approach to these projects.
Using software technology, developers have been able to create structures that use less energy and materials in their construction by making use of information gathered from predictive modeling that shows designers how a structure will behave even before it it is not built.
If adopted, the digitization of the building industry could revolutionize the way it operates – from reducing waste to reducing pollution to reducing costs.
“Sensors are so cheap now that they could be placed in any new structure and collect all kinds of information. We don’t even need to know how they will be used – or if they will be,” Atallah said.
This data, he continued, could then be used to anticipate any structural problems. They would become a kind of commodity sold to help improve future projects.
Bridging the gap
Imagine a building – or any structure – that begins, as soon as its construction is completed, to collect data that can be used to solve problems before they are even noticed by the human eye, thus helping to improve future constructions.
It sounds futuristic, but the truth is that the technology is already here. It is enough that people working in the sector use it.
Dar al-Handasah, which is of Lebanese descent and headquartered in Dubai, is the 10th largest design firm in the world and the third in the Middle East. She created a cantilever bridge constructed from recycled plastic, mixed with fiberglass, and a 3D printer.
Using algorithms, the architects were able to come up with a design that created a bridge using minimal materials which, when attached with the sensors, could teach them how to improve the product in future designs.
The bridge is made of a modular system from 70% recycled materials.
This is a different approach to traditional construction methods, with the bridge being built in one piece in a factory before being transported to its place of use when completed.
Cloud-based technology provided by Autodesk was used to create virtual modules of the bridge to calculate the best design in terms of material usage, appearance and durability of the structure.
Ghassan Zein, Lebanese director of digital usage at Dar al-Handasah, said the bridge was the first of its kind. As it was essential to see how it would behave when in use, it was equipped with sensors.
“The intelligence control of the bridge will monitor its operation because it is new,” Zein told Arab News, on the sidelines of the Autodesk 2022 conference in New Orleans.
The bridge is a new shape, a new design, Zein explained. “So we need to know if it is working well.”
The company has a team whose role is to monitor the data collected from the bridge.
“This team analyzes the data and continues to modify the design of future projects,” he said.
Zein also claimed that structural engineers approached the design phase using live data collected from sensors in the bridge structure.
From prefabricated to modular
The modular approach to bridge construction is not a new concept. In Great Britain, in the 1950s, low-cost social housing was created in this way.
These typically low, one-story buildings consisted of walls and roofs designed off-site and then assembled when ready.
But they were generally of poor quality with materials that were not durable. This resulted in structurally unsanitary constructions, knowing that some of the materials were even harmful to people’s health, in particular the asbestos coating.
70-80 years later, the concept of building parts or entire structures such as the 3D-printed bridge off-site, as well as moving them to their final location, is now proving to be a premier construction method. plan, both economically and environmentally.
The beach villas in the Red Sea project off the coast of Saudi Arabia, and the Dubai Museum of the Future, were all built in a factory, before being transported to their final destination.
The methods offered at institutions such as Autodesk University are an eye-opener for the industry.
Investors in technology and the construction sector could become major green players instead of the biggest enemies of the environment.
It is enough for that that the actors of this sector look towards the future.
The key to success is to collect the data, learn what the pitfalls are before construction begins, and then get into the business itself. In the end, the result will only be better.
This text is the translation of an article published on Arabnews.com