Category

Construction

challenges facing the Global construction industry

5 of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry of tomorrow

Construction, Feature, Industry, Technology | No Comments

It’s the dawn of a new era in the construction industry. Despite the significant setbacks of the past few years, the industry has reported strong continual growth in almost every market. During the global recession at the turn of the decade, construction was one of the worst hit sectors in the Western world. From the economic downturn emerged a new, streamlined construction industry, more socially, environmentally and financially aware than ever. Construction may be well on the path to recovery, but the industry will always face its share of adversity, particularly as markets shift, technology develops and priorities change. Here are six of the biggest challenges facing the global construction industry in the coming years.

The economy

Following the recession, the market’s newly established buoyancy will entail rising costs and a demand for new investment. Even with an increase in initiatives for new talent and rising employment rates, construction in Western countries still lags behind most other sectors. Contractors have highlighted the effect of the recession on clients; now decidedly more cost savvy and typically prone to search out multiple estimates instead of settling. This is great for the client and encourages competition, but also forces firms to drive down their costs in order to remain competitive. The economic uncertainty of the past year has also fed fears of another dip in the market, which could undo much of the work the industry has done to claw its way back to profitability.
The biggest challenges facing the global construction industry

Sustainability

The industry’s biggest issues are often a reflection of the big talking points in society. In construction, the effect of the built environment on the surrounding natural habitat, and a buildings long-term relevance are finally taking centre stage. But sustainability is about more than just the impact urban developments have on the natural world. It also requires ensuring developments continue to function well into the future, allowing the next generation, and even generations after, to enjoy the structures we create today. With cities like Dubai vying for the title of the most sustainable green economy in the world by 2021, sustainability is fast becoming big business.
Design technologies like BIM are helping further integrate efficiency-planning into the construction process whilst enabling developers to showcase a design’s ecological properties before any foundations are even laid. Government initiatives designed to give prominence to sustainable developments are also encouraging developers and industry experts to incorporate sustainable elements into the design and construction process, but the coming years will see these priorities solidify and become an integral part every new development.
The biggest challnges facing the global construction industry

Efficient integration of technology

As any industry develops, new technologies will arise designed to streamline processes and increase productivity. In the construction and architecture sectors, these technologies can cater to anything from internal company processes to the design stage to on-site construction. The issue arises when new technologies clash with traditional methods and industry veterans are reticent to embrace the potential dividends these technologies have to offer. By slowly and intelligently integrating new technological features into daily practices, the transition between traditional and new technology can be seamless, causing minimum disruption to projects.
Each successive wave of technology brings with it an inevitable level of resistance from industry veterans unwilling, or unsure how, to adapt. People are naturally averse to change until they can appreciate its practical application saves time and effort. It’s the management’s responsibility to enable employees to see the benefits in switching to a new technology. But the need for efficient integration of technology affects more than just the studios making the transition. Those firms unable to evolve with the technology will inevitably be left behind, potentially causing valuable skills and knowledge to be lost to the entire industry forever.
The biggest challenges facing the global construction industry

Depletion of skills & labour

Despite the importance of adapting to the new opportunities presented by technological advances, it’s essential we don’t forget the human skills that are still so vital to the industry. New technologies come with their own unique set of challenges as well as advantages, and when technology fails, human ingenuity and hard graft can be the only thing standing between a completed project and significant delays. The construction industry has embraced new technology with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but losing the human crafts that preceded these technologies would be a major loss to the industry. Even as the means by which buildings are designed, mapped and constructed develop, the beating heart of the industry has remained with the workforce. Companies, clients and the industry as a whole would do well to remember this.
Construction contractors have regularly cited finding skilled labourers as one of the most significant challenges facing the construction industry today. Despite significant growth, the industry has access to almost 20% fewer workers than in pre-recession 2008. Partly a result of the severe layoffs witnessed during the recession, this statistic also points to the growing number of young talent seeking employment in less labour-intensive, and more stable, markets.
The biggest challneges facing the global construction industry

Investing in new talent

Undoubtedly one of the biggest issues facing the industry in the coming years is the need to encourage and invest in new talent. In the UK, government ministers have taken to calling on major firms to encourage more young people to consider going into construction. According to a report released late last year by the Policy Exchange, the industry will require 20% more staff within the next five years to meet the country’s construction needs. Whilst the rapid rate of urbanisation in developing countries, particularly in Africa, has given a huge boost to the industry, the challenge of attracting skilled new workers has been felt across the world. It’s not just traditional roles that require an injection of fresh labour. As new technology spurs on the creation of new roles within the industry, it’s vital initiatives are put in place to ensure there is a workforce to fill these new roles. Studies have found that new construction and design technologies can spark an initial boost in personnel, particularly when they’re the subject of significant media attention. But major firms and national governments must continue to encourage the development and distribution of new skills, ensuring a consistently dynamic, efficient and, above all, effective workforce.
2 for designers

The construction industry continues to recover from the global financial crisis of the past decade, but it still faces an uphill battle against a myriad of social, political, environmental and economic challenges. It’s only by embracing change now and preparing to tackle the obstacles on the horizon that construction can hope to keep pace with our rapidly changing world.

Google at MIPIM

Google debut at MIPIM 2016

Construction, MIPIM 2016, News, Technology | No Comments

Clemmie, the construction app created in partnership with Google Apps for Work, touched down at MIPIM 2016 in Cannes, Southern France, last week. As the largest real estate and construction expo on the planet, MIPIM 2016 brought together the leading players across multiple industries to share the latest innovations, projects and opportunities. As Google’s first real steps into the competitive construction, engineering and architecture industries, the launch of Clemmie attracted a huge amount of interest from across the exhibition. The tech giant’s presence at MIPIM represents a shift in industry priorities, as more firms begin to recognise the various advantages to Google’s technological approach to marketing and communication.

Within just six months of first being established, Clemmie took to MIPIM and kicked up a stir, with guest speakers from the Google team behind Clemmie on hand to explain the innovative technology in more detail. From on-the-spot demos at the Clemmie MIPIM stand to networking lunches at a charming villa just outside Cannes, the Clemmie team worked tirelessly to bring the innovative technology to MIPIM and give the entire industry the opportunity to create client-specific targeted marketing and prioritise opportunities effectively.

As a partnership between Clemmie & Google, Clemmie is an application designed to enable businesses to engage with and acquire new clients through targeted marketing. Built around one of the most innovative developments to come out of the Google Apps for Work team, the app allows firms to discover new projects as well as effectively pursue them beyond the means and scope of the competition.

Google at MIPIM
A member of the Clemmie team gives a demonstration of Clemmie’s real-world applications

Clemmie is already helping major firms pioneer a new level of industry insight and reach more clients than ever before, but MIPIM provided the first major opportunity to showcase the apps marketing potential to a wider audience. The company is also eagerly awaiting the opportunity to spread news of the app eastward with MIPIM Japan in September of this year, along with several other high-profile networking events.

As industries adapt to changing technology and begin to see the real potential of the digital approach, companies both large and small are grasping just how significant the Clemmie app could be to their business’ success. The launch of Clemmie represents a new stage in the relationship between firm and client. Firms now have the opportunity to engage with clients like never before through the latest in Google-pioneered technology. Judging by the response of industry professionals at MIPIM 2016, the industry has been waiting for this opportunity for quite some time.

make your projects more sustainable

4 technologies to help make your construction projects more sustainable

Construction, Industry, Sustainability, Technology | No Comments

Despite only gaining prominence in the industry’s collective thought process within the past twenty years, sustainable technology is taking centre stage in modern design and construction processes. In the UK, 45% of carbon emissions originate from the built environment. When constructed, these buildings also emit energy and produce waste materials, but designers and industry experts are only just beginning to take a closer look at the effect the built environment has on the natural world around us. As a result, new technologies are springing up, each with an innovative means of reducing the carbon impact of either the design, construction process or the finished structure. Here are just four simple innovations to help make your construction projects more sustainable.

Green and smart roofs

One of the most widely used sustainable technologies in modern construction, green roofs are all about enabling structures to make better use of natural resources, whilst limiting their impact on the surrounding environment. The green roof, or roof garden, is constructed from an impenetrable membrane base layer to prevent leaks into the structure. This is then covered with lightweight soil and a specially selected mix of vegetation designed to withstand torrential rain and periods of drought.

During periods of intense rainfall, the ‘green roof’ absorbs a some of the water, limiting the runoff that would otherwise flood the already saturated areas. The relatively cheap construction costs have made the green roof a popular feature to integrate into existing residential buildings, but when incorporated on a large scale, they can have a significant impact on the amount of runoff left over after a heavy rainfall.

Smart roofs, on the other hand, can play a significant role in reducing the amount of energy required to maintain an optimum temperature inside a building. To construct a smart roof requires materials capable of reflecting solar rays whilst emitting any absorbed heat slowly throughout the day. In doing so, the building below maintains a consistent internal temperature and requires less energy for cooling.
construction firm more sustainable
A green roof in Toronto, Canada. Image by Sookie under CC BY 2.0  license

Smart façade & smart glass

For buildings with a glass façade, smart glass has become an invaluable resource for increasing efficiency and reducing outgoing costs. Thermochromic glass alters colour or transparency according to the amount of heat it has been exposed to. Using thermochromic glass can help filter sunlight during the summer months whilst remaining transparent and allowing in light during the cold winter months, saving money and energy on internal temperature control.

Intelligent glass filters out sunlight and retains heat; intelligent façades are based on the same principle of introducing a control point between the interior and exterior.

Incorporating a smart façade, or ‘skin’ can save up to 35% on energy consumption in large buildings. New technologies, like the Green House in Germany, push the concept of the intelligent façade to new boundaries. Developed by a team of designers from Splitterwerk Architects and Arup, the building’s walls are tinted with millions of microscopic algae. The algae are fed a combination of oxygen and nutrients, which when combined with external light, begins to grow. This growth is harnessed as energy, which is then used inside the building. Similarly, a new hospital under construction in Mexico City utilises the environment around it to increase the quality of life for people inside the building. The Torre de Especialidades is shielded with a façade coated with titanium dioxide, a pigment used in sunscreen capable of neutralizing air pollution in the surrounding atmosphere. The façade eliminates toxins in the air by releasing spongy free radicals, with the potential to counteract the equivalent smog produced by 8,750,100 cars driving by each day.

The Torre de Especialidades is shielded with a façade coated with titanium dioxide, a pigment used in sunscreen capable of neutralizing air pollution in the surrounding atmosphere. The façade eliminates toxins in the air by releasing spongy free radicals, with the potential to counteract the equivalent smog produced by 8,750,100 cars driving by each day.
construction firm more sustainable
Smart façades can reduce the amount of heat lost from a building during winter, and heat absorbed into a building during summer

Water reuse and collection features

Construction, and indeed the whole world, faces a growing issue in water consumption. This applies both to the process of construction, and the resulting structure. When a new building is constructed, the rainwater that would usually soak down into the soil beneath cannot be absorbed. This results in flooding and contaminants running into rural areas, polluting the plants and contaminating the soil. Innovative minds across the world have come together to develop technologies to offset the damage these developments can cause.

Porous paving has been in use for several years now, but it’s only just seeing widespread application across the industry. Likewise, well-positioned tree box filters absorb the surplus runoff from built up areas and prevent flooding. The filters sit under the trees and capture pollutants from the runoff, which is then filtered out before allowing the excess water to drain into other vegetative areas.

Tree box filters not only improve add natural beauty to urban development’s, they store storm and flood runoff and prevent excess water water logging other areas. Soil amendments work in the same way; requiring the combination of just a few soil types which are then introduced to areas of significant rainfall. The appeal of soil amendments lies in its simplicity and low cost, meaning it can be used in almost any new project whilst considerably reducing the impact of the development on the surrounding natural environment.
make your firm more sustainable
A demonstration of porous paving, specially designed to absorb rainfall and prevent flooding

Recycled construction materials

Despite being an integral aspect of the construction process, the use of recycled materials has, until recently, often been seen as a secondary consideration. Contractors and designers alike have traditionally associated recycled construction materials with substandard quality in the finished design. In the UK, 32% of landfill waste comes from the construction and demolition of buildings and 13% of products delivered to construction sites are sent directly to a landfill without being used.

The National Association of Home Builders’ found that 75% of construction waste could be recycled. In China, the rapid rate of urbanisation may have fuelled a boost in construction, but it has also led to unprecedented levels of construction waste. Locals in Shenzhen blamed poor disposal practices and a lack of legal supervision for a recent landslide, and environmental campaigners are now arguing that the dumping of construction materials has led to an increase in water pollution. 

Despite this, the industry is waking up to the advantages of using recycled materials. Contractors, designers and clients are slowly beginning to realise the potential these recycled materials possess. This can only be a good thing, with recycled materials benefiting everyone. The environment benefits from reduced waste being sent to landfills, the designers and contractors benefit from reduced material and waste disposal costs, and these savings are then passed on to the client. Subsequently, firms can advertise their reputation for ecological awareness and lower construction costs to gain an increased advantage among competing firms.

By designing out waste now construction projects can meet industry standards, such as the Code for Sustainable Homes, but it can also attract new clients with an interest in environmental issues. Working with clients and contractors to design out waste can also lead to cost savings and marketing opportunities for both designers and client. Programs like the Halving Waste to Landfill initiative set up by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) have enabled firms to set waste reduction targets, identify opportunities for future developments by helping contractors identify areas where material wastage is common and measure potential improvement through quantified standards and targets.
make your firm more sustainable
In areas of China, rapid urbanisation has resulted in mountains of construction waste clogging sites

As the world around us changes, so to do the aims of each sector. With its physical impact on the environment and the financial significance to the international economy, the construction industry needs to stay at the forefront of change. By embracing sustainable techniques now, the industry can begin to integrate technology in a way that enhances the sector and improves the quality of life for everyone. Construction firms are switching on to a more environmentally responsible approach, but it’s a never ending process of evolution and adaptation. This is a fight the industry can not afford to back down on, much less lose.

Chromebook for the construction industry

Chromebooks for construction: 11 reasons your firm should try them

Construction, Feature, Google Apps, Technology | No Comments

Like all major international sectors, the construction industry must embrace change to survive. Engaging with new technology is essential to ensure design and construction practices are constantly operating at their peak; and yet, the industry has been slow to adapt to the wealth of technological innovations on offer.

With the digital revolution come new opportunities for the industry and individual companies to grow. The Chromebook is a lightweight laptop running a Chrome OS operating system. In particular, the Chromebook will appeal to those who spend the majority of their computing time online, because they have no internal hard drive.

This means that to save your work, you will need access to the internet or an external hard drive. Despite requiring an internet connection to complete several functions, Chromebooks are becoming an increasingly invaluable tool for businesses, particularly in the competitive construction industry. Here are just a few of the key features drawing industry professionals to the Chromebook.

1. Google Apps for Work

Google Apps for Work is fast becoming the go-to software for construction firms upgrading their outdated systems. It’s easy to see why, with the software’s key aims reflecting the current trend for remote collaboration and streamlined communication and a host of Google for Work Apps free with every Chromebook.

With Cloud storage, you can share, discuss and collaborate on documents in real time, with all changes saved automatically. Google Apps’ enables growth through real-time collaborations, but also enhances communication and provides simple but effective search capabilities for all work saved on the Cloud.

Despite claims to the contrary, if you’re still using a Microsoft system and don’t want to make the change, you can use an online version of Microsoft Office through your Chromebook. Not every feature of Office is available in the online version, but it does come complete with Word Online, Excel Online, and PowerPoint Online. Microsoft has even made these apps available in the Chrome Web Store, so those not ready to make the switch can enjoy access to both complimentary of the Chromebook.

Google Apps for the construction industry
2. Adobe Photoshop Online

One of the biggest obstacles when considering a Chromebook is the perceived lack of storage space. People bemoan that there is nowhere on the Chromebook to store their favourite applications, and in a way they’re right. This isn’t necessarily a hindrance, however. Whilst an internet connection is essential, storage space on the laptop is obsolete because all information can be stored on the Google Drive in the cloud.

Because Adobe’s servers, rather than the Chromebook, host the application, most of the processing comes through the cloud. This means not only can it operate faster than on a traditional laptop; it also won’t deplete your Chromebook battery as fast as when used on a traditional hardware.

With this app, the speed with which you create high quality original images just depends on your internet bandwidth and imagination. Because files are stored in the cloud on Google Drive, you can also access them from anywhere in the world. Sadly, for Chromebook users outside North America, they may still have some time to wait before the service becomes available

Chromebooks for the construction industry

3. Value for money

One of the Chromebooks selling points when first released was the price. Whilst other laptops on the market were selling at an average of $500 or more, the Chromebook was being marketed at less than half that. If buying in bulk for an office, you can save even more.

This frees up cash to spend on extra features for the company, like increased office bandwidth and faster servers, which in turn benefit the Chromebook using employees. Even if your company decides to invest in external hard drives for each Chromebook, the savings can be significant but can also still enable the workforce to go mobile when needed.

4. Battery life

Because its applications are based almost entirely in the Cloud, the Chromebook’s servers don’t have to dedicate RAM to running multiple programs at the same time. This gives the Chromebook an impressive battery life (up to 13 hours), which comes in handy when you’re on the go and don’t have time to search out plug sockets.

For those in construction, this allows you to travel between sites without having to close down your system. It’s not all good news, however. Because the Chromebook relies on an internet connection to fulfil most of its duties, using it on-site may be difficult and could require the use of mobile data from an external source.

5. Streamlined functionality

The Chromebook boasts several advantages over OS X and Windows, but one of the most enticing has to be how much faster and smoother it runs Chrome. Because the design specifically aims to run Chrome on Linux, the Chromebook doesn’t come with the usual driver issues and software glitches.

Many designers, particularly those who spend the majority of their time working online, find the Chromebook’s simple, streamlined system perfect for their needs. In the construction industry, this can be a problem for those based at the design end of the spectrum.

Whilst rumours still swirl around a Chromebook version of Autodesk Revit, employees will have to satisfy themselves with using the Chromebook as a communication and marketing tool.

Chromebook for the construction industry

6. Security

Because almost all information entered into a Chromebook is stored in the cloud, losing your Chromebook doesn’t necessarily mean compromising company information. Any file uploaded to the Google Drive can be password protected; ensuring nobody outside the company can gain access. Likewise, a company admin can disable your account if your Chromebook is lost or stolen, essentially rendering the Drive inaccessible to anyone without the relevant details.

Additionally, the Chrome OS comes with built-in virus and malware protection, ensuring your Chromebook stays protected at all times.

7. Work Offline

When the Chromebook was first introduced, it came with some substantial flaws. If you couldn’t get access to the internet, it quickly transformed from invaluable communication tool to oversized paperweight.

Thankfully, Google soon decided to start making some of the apps available offline, with some major third-party apps choosing to follow suit.

The move to enable app installation, thus making them available offline, has helped bolster sales of Chromebooks. People have come to realise that a lack of internet connection doesn’t mean a Chromebook is inoperative. For those in the construction industry, this enables a completely new level of mobility.

8. Sync

Because the Chromebook stores all information on the Drive, you can sync all your apps and passwords with Chrome browsers on other computers. This gives you access to all your files and data no matter where you are, and no matter what device you used previously. Even data created through a mobile device is accessible from the Chromebook, meaning you will never be without your data again.

This also means switching an entire workforce to the Chromebook is immensely simple, freeing firms up to focus on delivering world-class standards in construction.

Chromebook for the construction industry

9. Cloud Storage

When you purchase a Chromebook, you get 100GB of Google Drive storage free for two years. This is a huge amount of space, easily sufficient to meet the needs of most contractors and office workers. That’s comparable to the amount you could expect from a service like Dropbox or OneDrive, with a significant saving thrown in.

The cloud is also safer and more secure than saving to an internal hard drive, which can be lost, stolen or damaged. Because all data is stored on the cloud, it’s accessible from anywhere in the world. This, in turn, eliminates the need for pesky pen drives or external hard drives.

10. Updates

Chromebooks update themselves regularly without all the fuss of a regular update. There’s no need to sit and wait patiently for your device to update and restart, or to worry that your malware protection may be out of date. The Chromebook updates automatically whenever necessary, and doesn’t demand your attention whenever a minor update is available.

11. Mobility

Although the weight of a Chromebook varies from model to model, most are lightweight and can be taken almost anywhere. This feeds into the mobile properties of the system, which encourages sharing, discussing and collaborating on projects on the go. This limits the amount of downtime whilst allowing a greater scope in terms of who the client is and their geographic location.

Chromebooks for the construction industry

So the Chromebook definitely comes with some downsides, particularly the lack of functionality when an internet connection is unavailable. It’s also a solid investment for firms looking to make the leap into the digital. Lightweight, secure and deliberately streamlined to provide the optimum online user experience, Chromebooks can keep an entire firm connected for less. For the construction industry, a change is coming. All you have to decide is if it’s a change you and your firm are ready to make.

MIPIM 2016

Clemmie to launch at MIPIM 2016

Construction, Industry, MIPIM 2016, News | No Comments

Clemmie, in partnership with Google, is proud to announce it will be attending the world’s premier property expo, MIPIM 2016. Hosted by the world’s premier property market, the annual MIPIM exhibition brings together real estate professionals from every sector. The event provides an international platform for industry leaders from across the world to connect and share the latest innovations and discuss the industry’s biggest issues. Clemmie will announce its presence to leading industry figures at MIPIM, offering its brand of intelligent software solutions specifically designed for the construction industry.

Clemmie is an App that helps businesses engage with and understand clients on an intricate level, enabling firms to market their capabilities effectively and efficiently. Clemmie also functions as a customisable package of software solutions and qualified tender opportunities specifically designed to give firms first access to the best projects across the world. Developed in partnership with Google and global construction industry experts, Clemmie provides firms with the latest tools, infrastructure and market know-how to stay at the forefront of the international market.

Over the past 27 years, MIPIM has become the leading worldwide property event gathering, providing unrivalled access to the greatest number of international property leaders, development projects and real estate industry insights. The event’s internationally diverse exhibition floor and comprehensive programme of conferences and events gives a detailed insight into the latest global market trends whilst sharing the latest advances in the industry. The event will play host to the most influential players from every corner of the property market, offering unrivalled access to the greatest number of development projects and an exclusive networking platform.

Clemmie provides firms with the latest tools, infrastructure and market know-how to stay at the forefront of the international construction market.

The event includes a dedicated programme of conferences, case studies, pitching sessions at the Vitra lounge or private talks with famous architects and startups. MIPIM 2016 provides firms with the opportunity to promote projects, network with partners and find new clients, source capital and position their company as a serious contender in the global industry.

Clemmie will be launching an exclusive new product suite for the Construction & Engineering sector, Clemmie.xyz at MIPIM 2016. To see what Google can do for your business, find the Clemmie stall in the MIPIM 2016 event programme and come along to find out more, or better yet, come join the Clemmie team for cocktails at the Clemmie villa!

MIPIM 2016 takes place 15-18 March 2016 in Cannes, France. To attend the Clemmie cocktail soiree, be sure to RSVP here.

Sustainability in construction

Modern software and sustainable construction: A new era

Architecture, Construction, Sustainability, Technology | No Comments

The modern construction industry is an ever-evolving world. With each new development, firms must shift to accommodate it or falter and stagnate. These advances both dictate and are dictated by the big issues in contemporary society. With global awareness of climate change growing, sustainability is taking centre stage in the design industry. Design elements like sustainable and or recycled construction materials, water reuse and collection features, smart glass, green roofs and smart roofs are all helping structures make better use of natural resources, whilst limiting their impact on the surrounding environment. 

The industry has introduced numerous innovations to combat environmental issues on-site, but designers and industry professionals now realise that sustainable practices need to be incorporated at every possible stage, including the rudimentary design phases and internal communications. As a result, modern software is on the frontline in the fight against climate change in the construction industry.

BIM

Like the move from paper to digital design in the 1980s, BIM represents the next evolutionary step in the construction industry’s development. Building information modelling is revolutionising the way we see buildings; not as a mere structure, but as a static element of our everyday environment. As a result, designers are now considering how they can construct buildings capable of lasting 100 years or more.

Designers can use BIM to test the durability of a building before it’s even constructed, enabling designs to be tweaked to optimise energy saving techniques. It can even study the effect of external factors on a structure, such as its ability to withstand natural disasters or the effect of sunlight on the interior temperature. By being able to study these external elements, the structure can be optimised to provide maximum exposure to energy resources and maximum protection from elements that could increase energy resources.

As urban areas become more developed, designers and construction experts also need to consider the effect new structures will have on the surrounding landscape. Through BIM software, new developments can justify their presence on the skyline while improving the surrounding area through the use of smart sustainable technologies. BIM gives access to accurate design data before a single foundation has been laid, so why have construction firms been so slow to adapt?

With an increasing awareness constructions effect on the natural environment at an all time high, we can’t afford to dither when it comes to taking a more sustainable approach to the construction of buildings. As our building requirements become more complex, BIM becomes an ever-greater necessity. Construction without any attempt to gauge the sustainability and durability of a building is destined to end in wasted energy, materials and manpower.
Sustainability in construction
Building Information Modelling can calculate a building’s energy efficiency before construction begins

3D printing

Despite the wealth of articles bemoaning the sudden ‘miracle-cure’ dialogue surrounding 3D printing, the technology still has a lot to offer the construction industry. The process involves using building data created in BIM software to digitally create a 3D product. Although there has been significant debate in architectural circles as to its real sustainable value, the technology is constantly developing and will only add to efforts to reduce carbon emissions before, during and after construction.

The chief criticism seems to surround the general public’s misconceptions about what 3D printing is best used for. 3D printing’s most practical contribution to sustainability so far has been to print digitally composed models for testing different functionalities. These micro-models allow designers to test buildings against different settings and adjust the design accordingly.

Although there are currently several firms attempting to employ 3D printing to create entire buildings, large-scale 3D printing is not yet at the stage where it can produce durable and ecologically sound structures on a mass scale.
software and sustainable construction
3D printing’s main application today is to create highly accurate models of structures to study their reaction to the effects of different elements 

Virtual and augmented reality

After fading into obscurity following a brief popularity in the early 90s, virtual reality is witnessing a resurgence in the construction industry. With the potential to map out structures using BIM software, clients can now ‘walk’ around their developments before they’ve even been constructed. This gives designers the opportunity to maximise the integration of sustainable features through intelligent adjustments.

Augmented reality, meanwhile, involves blending elements of virtual reality created through applications and projecting them onto the world around you. By overlaying information onto a virtual or actual view of a site, the design process can be streamlined, lowering building costs.

The key difference between augmented and virtual reality lies in augmented reality requiring a physical built environment. Despite this, it has been successfully applied to interior design projects and can give designers a better understanding of the spatial planning element of the design process. In turn, the insights gained from using augmented reality can influence the overall functionality, and even levels of sustainability, of the building’s interior.
Sustainability in construction
Virtual reality allows clients to walk through a building before it’s even been constructed

Cloud storage

The cloud is an innovative technology that stores data on external servers, rather than saving to individual hard drives. The service provider is responsible for software maintenance, enabling firms to stop relying on expensive, inefficient hardware and reduce the amount of office space required. Because data is uploaded to a central cloud for storage, any user with the relevant permissions can access the same data from anywhere in the world. This has particular ramifications for the construction industry.

Being on-site no longer has to mean limited interaction with those in the office. Apps like Google Hangouts, available on most mobile devices, can capture video through instant messaging, allowing visual issues to be identified and discussed on-site.

The entire design and construction process is streamlined, reducing loading times and allowing large files to be shared around the world in a matter of seconds. By being able to create and contribute everywhere, innovation no longer has a time-limit. You might wonder how this particular software and sustainable construction are connected, but cloud storage also reduces the need to print both in and outside of the office, enabling firms to achieve higher standards of sustainability whilst reducing the likelihood of duplicate documents.

software and sustainable construction
The Cloud connects everybody with the same data, in real time, anywhere in the world

In the ongoing struggle to limit the environmental impact of our building projects, every new innovation represents a new opportunity to alter the industry forever. Just as techniques develop over time to meet the needs of the industry, the industry develops to meet the needs of the society in which it’s based. Sustainability is one of the most pressing needs of modern society, and software innovations can help meet this need only when effectively implemented. It’s the responsibility of the entire industry to utilise the technology on offer to build a brighter future for tomorrow.

The biggest challneges facing the global construction industry

5 technologies changing construction forever

Construction, Feature, Google Apps, Industry, Technology | No Comments

The construction industry is constantly changing. As new technologies replace redundant methods of construction, practices adjust and our perception of the world evolves. The industry’s post-industrial evolution has largely been a fluid progression from one logical step to another. Thanks to the sharing power bestowed by the internet, however, the past twenty years has seen a host of standout technologies changing construction, and the way we construct our world, forever.

Google Apps

As technology develops and international boundaries blur, designers have been quick to take advantage of the newfound possibilities in collaboration. The administrative side has been slower to adapt, to the detriment of the entire industry. Google Apps offers construction firms the opportunity to revolutionise not only the means by which they communicate internally but also the way in which the entire industry operates.

The nature of the software allows for collaboration a scale unthinkable just a few years ago. Because company information is shared on the Google Drive, the process of access, sharing, and editing is streamlined, while the risk of losing information is reduced to a near impossibility. With the Google Cloud storing all information, access to vital data, renders and details are simplified, while the hardware on which it is accessed becomes less relevant. It also makes the transfer of large image files easier, safer and less time-consuming.

With the Google Cloud storing all information, access to vital data, renders and details are simplified, while the hardware on which it is accessed becomes less relevant. It also makes the transfer of large image files easier, safer and less time-consuming.

With Google Apps, file transfers and shared calendars streamline the sharing of information whilst keeping everyone updated in real time. For construction projects, alterations to a design,  materials or staff can be shared and explained via video with Google Hangouts. The result is multiple users to contribute and come to an appropriate solution promptly.
Technologies changing construction
Google Apps is already revolutionising the way the construction industry operates

BIM

Without a doubt, one of the most significant innovations in the construction industry in the past twenty years, BIM, or Building Information Modeling, has changed building design and the construction process forever. BIM software allows designers to generate and manipulate a digital representation of a building, meaning a project can be created and studied before a single brick is laid.

BIM gives designers the opportunity to study the effect of external factors on a building, allowing them to manipulate the design to achieve optimum levels of efficiency. By creating digital models, construction firms now have a fully realised and intricately detailed design from which to work. The technology behind BIM also means designers can prepare buildings to be adapted as technology evolves, ensuring projects stay relevant for as long as possible.

Some leading industry figures have questioned the integrity of information used in BIM, as well as the willingness of some clients to invest. But these are kinks in a relatively new design technology which will inevitably be ironed out as it develops. Today BIM is used on a range of software platforms for a variety of projects across the world. As a constantly developing technology, the potential to factor new considerations into the design process ensures it will continue to play an invaluable role in the future of construction.
Technologies changing construction
A building diagram constructed through BIM software

3D printing

Despite a recent backlash against 3D printing, the technology still holds huge potential for the construction industry, and for society as a whole. 3D printing can be applied to a whole range of construction materials, including sustainable cladding, concrete foundations, insulation and even entire buildings. Projects like the WASProject in Italy have even utilised the technology to create temporary shelters for victims of natural disasters using water, clay and sand.

Luke Henderson, Director of Print 3D in China, a 3D printing start-up based in Shenzhen, explains the shift from traditional materials; “The increase in availability of this technology has allowed smaller companies to try out new ideas without worrying too much about cost,” adding “poorer countries can bootstrap the process of creating architectural models by using consumer grade FDM (Fused Deposition Modelling) 3D printers.

3D printing comes with a host of other advantages. By handing the actual process of construction to a printer, there is no longer room for human error. In turn, complex geometrical designs are now no longer the sole preserve of the wealthy. As Hod Lipson explained in ‘Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing, in printing: “Complexity costs the same as simplicity.”

Technologies changing construction
A 3D printer in action/ photo credit: 3D Printer at the Fab Lab via photopin (license)

Prefabricated building materials

Although designers are still sceptical about the true potential of prefabricated design, the reality is this technology has been a major element of construction, existing in some form since the 19th century. The past twenty years, however, have seen the technology evolve to a previously unimaginable scale.

Prefabricated designs have grown in popularity largely because of the proliferation of new technology, allowing designers to create ingenious interlocking designs that can be assembled relatively easily on-site. The approach saves not only time but money, manpower, and natural resources, making buildings safer and more sustainable in the process. Because around 90% of all construction takes place in the factory, the construction requires less time and uses less concrete and water.

The Broad Group construction firm in China utilised the prefabrication method to achieve some of the fastest skyscraper construction times in history. The group first made its name in construction with a six-story building built in just one day at the Shanghai Expo in 2010. The firm went on to construct a 15 story Ark Hotel in just six days before building a 30 story hotel in Hunan Province in just over two weeks.

Each of these projects was filmed and released as time-lapse videos, showing the entire construction process in the space of a few minutes. The end result is not only an incredible piece of meticulous coordination but an indicator of the potential timeframe for the construction of future large-scale projects.Technologies changing construction
A prefabricated facade post assembly/ photo credit: building via photopin (license)

Robotic construction

Whilst robots have been used in constructing materials for well over half a century now, it’s only in the past ten years we have seen the real potential of On-Site Construction Robots (OSCR). When combined with 3D printing technology OSCR’s can massively reduce construction times, cutting costs and enabling the construction of more complex designs. As a result, architects, designers, and construction personnel can begin to explore new aesthetic approaches.

With OSCR’s also capable of reducing the amount of manpower required, some have been reticent to acknowledge the full potential of robots in construction, partly out of fear of eroding the element of human skill. But projects like the proposed Museum of Contemporary Art and Planning Exhibition (MOCAPE) in Shenzhen, by Austrian firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, could prove robots and humans both have their place in the construction process.

In an interview with Dezeen magazine, Coop Himmelb(l)au founder Wolf D Prix argued engaging with these processes was essential to enable the trade to progress, stating: “If you combine 3D printing and assembling by robots, then the building industry has more chances than ever,” adding “The combination of robotic construction and 3D printing is the future of the building industry. It gives the architect more freedom to invent. The ideas that right now are killed, by the argument that it costs too much or it takes too long, will be not killed anymore.”

Prix has identified what each of these innovations are about. Each technology was born of a need to allow ideas to flourish. Just as the needs of the client evolves over time, so too must the technology to meet these needs. By encouraging and engaging with the latest innovations, designers and engineers can continue to build a brighter, more secure future; both for the construction industry and the world they create.

Google Apps for the global construction industry

How Google is revolutionising the global construction industry

Architecture, Construction, Industry, Technology | No Comments

The global construction industry is in a perpetual state of change. As the global market shifts and traditional practices change, firms too slow to adapt will inevitably be left behind. As technology develops, the industry is taking steps to improve its fragmented structure, inconsistent construction practices, and its lingering dependence on outdated paper-based communication processes. Historically, firms have been slow to make the change. That’s why it’s vital the modern construction firm stays up-to-date with the newest and most effective software and design tools. Google Apps is a cloud-based productivity suite that helps people connect and work efficiently anywhere in the world with an internet connection. The full potential of Google Apps for the global construction industry is still being explored, but the key aims of the system are:

  • To enable growth through real-time collaborations.
  • To streamline communication through the use of a single document shared between relevant parties.
  • To enhance communication and enable firms to collaborate and communicate from multiple locations.
  • To provide search capabilities for previous email correspondence.

Google Apps offers a range of advantages over the traditional software suite, allowing construction firms to focus on delivering exceptional projects whilst enabling them to keep pace in one of the most competitive sectors on earth.

Mobility

Mobility is a vital attribute in any industry that requires successfully maintaining contact with clients and colleagues. This is particularly true in construction where people have to be onsite but want to continue interacting with people in the office. With the video function of Google Hangouts, you can raise construction issues and show video evidence in real time. This also means visualisations can be transferred quickly and efficiently, meaning issues can be resolved at the time they arise. Construction work can also entail significant travel time between site and office, or overseas. Google Hangouts and the collaborative capabilities of the other Google Apps makes communication and collaboration from anywhere in the world easier and more efficient.

Google Apps for the global construction industry

Collaboration

Construction often requires team leaders and foremen to complete documents in the field. With traditional software, this means carrying excessive amounts of paperwork to the site to keep track of new developments. Google Apps stores all of this information on the Cloud, making it easily accessible to colleagues and relevant authorities. It also makes the transfer of large image files (a daily occurrence in the global construction industry) easier, safer and less time-consuming. Colleagues can place large files on the Drive, meaning there is only one copy and only the appropriate people have access. Because multiple users can edit documents at the same time, ideas can be shared, discussed and decided upon there and then. In this way, Google Apps ensures every stage of the design process is truly collaborative, from design to bid management, all on one integrated platform.

Always up-to-date

Because all files are shared via the Drive, any alterations, edits or additions to a file will happen in real time. The Drive also allows you to receive notifications whenever someone makes an edit. This allows you to keep up to date with all the latest news, opportunities and designs, no matter where you are in the world. If an alteration needs to be made to a floor-plan during the construction process, using Google Apps in conjunction with your design software means everyone with access to the design will see the update in real-time; preventing confusion, mistakes or discrepancies further down the line.
Google Apps for the global construction industry

Multi-device functionality

Google Apps works across a range of devices and browsers, allowing you to keep in contact with colleagues and clients even if your own device is down. Because Google Apps can function on mobile devices, tablets, laptops and PC’s, you can keep your projects on track even if you’re travelling light or don’t have access to traditional computing devices. This means even if your design team uses Apple software and your operations team use Windows-based software, both can access, edit and share the same documents through Google Apps.

Cost-saving in the global construction industry

Even with all the innovations Google Apps provides for the construction industry, Google Apps for business can still save, on average, 50% of IT costs compared to firms using Microsoft 365. Add this to the time and effort saved by using Google Apps in comparison to traditional proprietary software and the savings are even greater. Firms can make further savings by eliminating the need for call-outs for hardware engineering issues, with all data now stored in the Cloud and available 24-7. Google Apps is such an effective cost-saver, it can free up your IT team to focus on hardware issues and on developing your company’s technological capabilities further.Google Apps for the global construction industry

Unlimited Cloud storage

The very nature of the global construction industry means firms regularly share documents, tenders, images, renders and other communications. All of this sharing inevitably eats into a company’s internal storage system, forcing staff to prioritise information and delete potentially valuable communications. Google Apps comes with unlimited Cloud storage, freeing companies up to focus on finding new opportunities, maintaining regular client communication and ensuring every project is completed on time and on-budget. Because Gmail allows you to navigate all your documents and emails with intelligent filters, information can be found with minimum time and effort, further streamlining internal and external processes.

Security in the global construction industry

Security is a major issue for any firm. It’s vital every firm can be confident that all data and communications are protected. Features like the sync & sharing controls alert workers when they try to share a file with someone outside the registered company database, ensuring data can’t be leaked outside the company accidently. Likewise, Google’s encryption feature ensures all work is regularly backed up and encrypted, even whilst travelling.
With app and domain whitelisting, all communications, domains, emails and IP addresses associated with the company are visible and always allowed to the appropriate people. Because each email is registered to a range of devices, any suspicious activity (for instance signing in from a new device) will result in a company admin acquiring a suspicious login notification, further strengthening the systems security. In addition to these features, Google Apps also allows network administrators to delete data from lost or stolen devices, protecting data from falling into the wrong hands. Add in Google’s world-class security, dedicated to protecting all data on the cloud, and you have one of the most secure networks in the world.
Google Apps for the global construction industry

Increased accountability and verifiable input

An often neglected but infinitely useful feature of the Google Apps, the sign-in system means all data input can be traced back to the individual user. In turn, this allows management to receive performance reports which can be immediately audited, as well as providing an extra level of accountability to tasks. The software logs what time people open files, what they’ve done and who was online at the time. It also keeps a record of all work previously kept on the file. This has the added benefit of allowing staff to recover previous work in the ‘Edit History’ section if necessary. Google Apps also gives IT managers increased control over the system, streamlining company operations and consolidating responsibility to a specific authority.

Google Apps isn’t just a viable alternative to traditional software suites like Microsoft, it’s the next logical step for the global construction industry as a whole. It’s only by adapting and keeping pace with the latest advances in technology that firms can hope to stay afloat in an ever evolving market.

Cloud collaboration for the construction industry

A new era in design culture: Cloud Collaboration for the Construction Industry

Architecture, Collaboration, Construction, Google Apps, Technology | No Comments

Every now and again, technology throws up an innovation capable of reinventing whole industries. Each sector benefits from technological change to a different degree, and some have been faster to take advantage of these breakthroughs than others have. The design industry has benefitted hugely from the advances in Cloud storage, but firms have been slow to realise its potential for streamlining operations.

What is the Cloud?

The Cloud is an innovative technology that stores individual and company information on servers, rather than saving to individual hard drives. By uploading data to a central “cloud” for storage, it’s accessible from anywhere in the world with internet connection. The service provider is responsible for software maintenance, enabling all users to access the same document, meaning everybody is on the same wavelength, an essential element to the collaboration process.

The technology has made the sharing and co-authoring of files easier and safer than ever before, but it’s also inspiring a new era of collaboration, an era where people at opposite ends of the planet can now upload, comment and collaborate on documents together in real-time. By sharing new ideas, concepts and theories in a digital space, processes become more democratic, and designs take on a new dimension.

Create everywhere

As communication technologies continue to develop, employees no longer need to be physically present in the office. Instead, access to reliable internet and a functioning device is all that’s required to hit deadlines and maintain a competitive output. In the construction industry, being on-site no longer means being out-of-reach, and travel-time doesn’t have to mean downtime.

Thankfully, enterprise collaboration is enjoying a newfound interest as firms begin to realise the potential Cloud technology has for the modern business. With increased competition, a growing demand for instant output and the consumerization of IT, firms are beginning to realise that the future of the industry doesn’t lie in the hard drives of yesterday.

By being able to create and contribute everywhere, collaboration no longer has a time limit. Delays in the design process, caused by disparate sleeping times and other engagements, narrow to minimum levels whilst deadlines no longer define when employees can make it into the office.

Cloud collaboration for the construction industry

Unlimited storage

There is no end to inventiveness, so it stands to reason there should be no limit to where you store ideas. Unlike traditional computer hardware, the Cloud comes with the option of unlimited storage. This means designers don’t have to keep deleting as they go, enabling an uninterrupted creative process and nurturing an environment where original thought isn’t limited to the size of a hard drive.

Reduced costs

Whilst reduced expenditure may seem like an insignificant element in collaboration, every aspect of a firm’s functionality has a knock-on effect, particularly outgoing costs. By switching to a Cloud-based storage system, more user-friendly, portable devices can replace out-dated hardware. In turn, this reduces the amount of energy required to power office devices, further lowering costs.

Likewise, replacing the out-dated software suites such as Microsoft Office 365 in favour of a more mobile and innovative solution, such as Google Apps for Work, can save significantly on outgoing charges. This saving extends to enabling a greater mobility, with staff no longer tied to hardware in the office.

Cloud collaboration for the construction industry

Collaborate in real-time, all the time

Great ideas don’t stick to a working schedule. That’s why it’s important you have a means of recording and sharing your ideas, whenever they come to you. In the same way, needlessly convoluted communication system shouldn’t hinder collaboration. It is essential employees can pass information between each other in as efficient a manner possible, and that’s where the Cloud comes in.

Constantly sending documents back and forth between collaborators hinders the process of organic creation. It also increases the risk of losing work by continually creating near-duplicates of documents, meaning the odds of sending the wrong document between staff increases with each new communication. Because slight changes can make all the difference, it’s essential everyone is working from the same document. This can be difficult for designers working on the move, particularly if they’re relying on other people’s devices to meet deadlines.

By saving all work to the Cloud, it is constantly accessible from any device, providing they have an internet connection. Software like Google Apps enables users to collaborate in real-time. The process of editing a spreadsheet, adding dates to a calendar or uploading files to a directory is streamlined. Designers using cloud collaboration continue to share ideas, concepts and designs even when based on the other side of the world.

Cloud collaboration for the construction industry

Never lose work again

There’s not much worse than spending hours working on a document, spreadsheet or slide presentation only to lose it the following day. With local storage based software suites, this can be a result of several things. It could be a result of a hardware malfunction in the device on which the data was stored; it could be a result of losing the data on a pen drive or external storage device; it could even be the result of having to create duplicate copies of the same document, resulting in deletion of the most up-to-date file.

For whatever reason it happens, losing work seriously hampers any kind of collaborative effort. The Cloud protects your data and when used in conjunction with software like Google Docs, saves all work as you go.

The edit history function on Google’s office software also allows employees to go back through and see the edits made to a document. This is vital to the collaboration process. Understanding how a colleague has reached a design concept can make the difference between discarding or implementing an innovative approach.

Still to make the switch?

Firms still working from local servers and operating using local storage may have a number of reasons for not making the jump to cloud collaboration. Concern about switching from traditional technologies is inevitable. The majority of workers are used to communicating and collaborating either in person or via their email. However, this system is now hopelessly outdated for the competitive world of construction and project design.

In response, Google engineered a number of solutions, including integrating email alerts into collaboration software. By combining all the elements of previous design and communication software into one App package, Google has brought the Cloud to a more accessible level, meaning even the most technophobic employees can take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Cloud.

Construction projects in Africa

What’s driving the growth in the construction industry in Africa?

Africa, Construction, Developing Nations, Feature, Industry | No Comments

The global construction market is forecast to grow by over 70% to $15 trillion worldwide by 2025. The industry is set to see a growth of 4.3% pa until 2025, concentrated primarily in the world’s emerging economies. Africa is one of the world’s fastest growing economic regions, with several countries making real, albeit tentative, steps into the global market. But this new found economic growth still faces a range of hurdles, not least a lack of real-world infrastructure and affordable housing. As the global economy enters its next act, Africa’s role on the world stage, and indeed the construction industry in Africa, is still largely unwritten. Each country’s prominence in the international arena depends on a number of factors. How they react to the multiple challenges of housing a growing urban population in liveable, sustainable cities and encouraging greater investment through dialogues with other nations will define how well the African countries of tomorrow fare. 

Perhaps one of the only certainties in Africa’s new chapter is that the construction industry will play a decisive role. It’s still not clear, however, if this role will involve helping shape a brighter future for the continent or inhibiting the potential for growth through labour exploitation and sub-par design practices. The construction industry in Africa is a major driver for social change, accounting for a sizeable proportion of most countries’ Gross Domestic and Gross National Product. But what exactly is driving this growth, and how can the construction industry help cities keep pace with the rapid urbanisation sweeping the African continent?

Government initiatives and regional investment

Domestic investment is central to the growth of construction in Africa’s cities, particularly in new civic and government projects. By supporting the housing market through local initiatives and ensuring funding is injected into key infrastructure projects, cities like Mombasa in Kenya and Tanzania’s former capital Dar es Salaam are flourishing. As the city with the fastest growing population in Africa, Dar es Salaam offers an invaluable insight into how best to encourage rapid urban and economic growth.

Urbanisation led to a growth in the city’s population, but city planners recognised the importance of investment in further projects. The resulting urban expansion has provided a solid economic base from which to develop the city further, as well as drawing in more investment.

Large-scale projects like the recently constructed Mtwara Dar es Salaam Pipeline and the currently under construction Kigamboni Bridge serve a dual role. They provide the city with much-needed infrastructure. This, in turn, enables it to cope with the influx of new workers while providing construction jobs during the development and subsequent employment through operating and maintaining the projects upon completion.
The construction industry in Africa
Government initiatives have helped kick-start ailing economies and encourage foreign investment

Engaging with academic centres

In an ICSID study, one of the key hurdles faced by several African countries was the reluctance of academic centres to maintain pace with new advances in technology and design. Whilst governments are identifying the need for innovative home-grown design talent, academic centres have been slow to adapt. By investing money in educational institutions, construction companies can highlight just how beneficial original thinking and in-depth industry knowledge can be.

Although already taking place in education centres across Africa, managers need to do more to liberate organisational structures and encourage a more creative approach to learning. This translates into a platform that enables organisations to participate in value-creating networks whilst redefining the traditional boundaries in the new economy.

By investing money in educational institutions, the construction industry in the developing world can highlight just how beneficial original thinking and in-depth industry knowledge can be. Although already taking place in education centres across Africa, managers need to do more to liberate organisational structures and encourage a more creative approach to learning. This translates into a platform that enables organisations to participate in value-creating networks whilst redefining the traditional boundaries in the new economy.

Through the development of creative solutions, Africa’s business leaders are enabling a new generation of ongoing dialogue across the industry, creating new knowledge bases and reinforcing innovative new approaches.

Investment in intelligent construction and digital design

The widespread availability of the internet and innovative design software has created a new generation of opportunities, with less cultural and physical boundaries than ever before. With innovation the driving force behind economic change, it’s essential developing countries engage with new advances in design software and embrace technological evolution.

In Nigeria and the Cote d’Ivoire, computer aided design is aiding the development of flood-proof housing. Coupled with augmented reality, designers can subject designs to all-weather tests before laying a single foundation.

The Building Information Modelling Industry is fast becoming an invaluable asset. With it, designers have the opportunity to produce high-quality developments on a mass scale, streamlining the construction process in turn. By working with architects, planners and designers, the construction industry can help usher in a new age of safe and affordable housing.The construction industry in Africa
A BIM Diagram assessing structural aspects of a building

Greater natural exports demand

The African economy has been steadily improving, thanks in large part to soaring prices for metals and minerals. With oil prices rising from less than $20 a barrel prior to the millennium to more than $140 in 2010, countries like Uganda, Tanzania and Angola enjoyed greater economic liberty for much of the early 21st century than in any decade previously.

However, from June 2014 to January 2015, oil prices fell by nearly 50 percent, and countries heavily dependent on exporting the resource suffered as a result. In Nigeria, this devaluation has led to strains in the balance of payments, slashing revenues and, without structural reforms, limiting the country’s growth to well below 5% for the coming years.

Low oil prices haven’t been bad news for every African nation, however. Kenya has benefited from the dip, narrowing the country’s trade deficit in late 2014 and early 2015. A promising sign for the East African nation, Kenya’s growth looks set to continue largely because this current prosperity is being driven by rising productivity rather than a temporary commodity boom.

Emerging markets require large investments to build a modern economy’s infrastructure. Exports are the primary means to earn the hard currency for imported capital goods, which amount to roughly half of all investment in Africa. That’s not to say that African countries must follow an Asian model of export-led growth and trade surpluses, but it is vital they continue to encourage exports to finance the investments required to diversify.
The construction industry in Africa
African nations dependent on exporting oil have suffered following the global decline in oil prices

Diversifying the economy

If the oil crash of last year taught African economies anything, it’s that diversification is the only means to guarantee sustained high economic growth. Some have been quicker to adapt than others. As countries like Kenya and Uganda transition towards a more urban landscape, previously neglected sectors have been invigorated, injecting cash into the cities whilst draining income from rural areas. In turn, this creates more jobs in the cities, raises average incomes and further increases domestic demand. Africa represents an opportunity not witnessed before in the construction industry, but it is one that must be approached with cautious optimism. Whilst economists predict Africa’s current financial ascension will go largely from strength to strength, the current infrastructure suggests it will take several years yet before some sectors catch up to the demand of others.
Several countries have also begun to build their internal service sectors, a move that will further encourage sustainable sources of future employment. The diversified economies can also expand manufacturing, particularly in food processing and construction materials, for local and regional markets. This move has increased exports and reduced the demand for imports, easing current-account deficits.

Working towards a low-carbon construction industry

Often dismissed as an issue for the more established economies of the west and far east, sustainability is nevertheless taking a key role in the construction process for many African countries. By incorporating high standards of sustainability into new designs now, African cities can look forward to a brighter future. This is particularly important in rapidly growing cities, where congestion (resulting from the use of roads designed for a much smaller population) is driving down the quality of air and increasing the health risk for citizens. Greater clarity, better education and the promotion of sustainable and low-carbon construction opportunities is an integral element of giving businesses the confidence to invest in the potential of these new markets.The construction industry in Africa
Construction firms in the West are already looking at ways to reduce carbon footprint of projects

Identifying future opportunities

Thanks to the proliferation of the internet and the subsequent increased global awareness, developing nations now have a better understanding of the areas in which future opportunities in key public and private sector markets will become available. The resulting initiatives, such as the Kenya Vision 2030 development programme, are generating jobs, foreign investment and a strong tourism base to ensure sustainable business for years to come. With the help of Chinese investors, The Kenyan government has already invested in a number of large-scale transport projects, including the Mombasa-Kigali Railway Project, which will cover almost 3,000 kilometres and connect three East African states. The improvements to the country’s infrastructure are already boosting economic growth, but the biggest project to come out of the Kenya Vision initiative, Kenzo Techno City is perhaps the best example of the potential of targeted investments. Situated 40 miles from Nairobi, the $14.5 billion ‘smart-city’ is expected to generate up to 200,000 jobs by the time its final phase is completed in 2030.

Anticipating a new era of urbanisation

The global population is calculated to reach 9 billion people by 2050 (a global increase of 1.8 billion). The majority of that population growth is forecast to be in urban environments, with the population in Africa anticipated to double over the next 40 years. These major demographic shifts present substantial infrastructure challenges.
A century ago, around 15% of people lived in urban areas, compared to over half the global population today. With this figure expected to increase to 70% by 2050, the onus is on the construction industry to work alongside city planners, architects and city leaders to meet the demand for intelligently designed, rapidly constructed urban development. Not every African country has effectively responded to the rapidly growing urban population. In Lagos, Nigeria, there are fears that the government’s zeal for dismantling shanty towns is outstripping the country’s construction capabilities. Even with Eko Atlantic, Nigeria’s answer to Hong Kong, taking shape off the coast of Lagos, there are doubts that enough is being done to cater to the country’s varied income brackets. The construction industry can help change this dynamic, but first city planners must recognise the detrimental impact this approach is having on the economy and the most vulnerable members of society.
The construction industry in Africa
Eko Atlantic, the new ‘luxury’ city being built off the coast of Lagos

Diversification of the portfolio

No company can avoid all the risks associated with infrastructure in Africa. Successful companies, therefore, maintain a wide portfolio of projects. By diversifying to cover multiple countries, construction firms have established relatively consistent practice standards on an international level whilst taking advantage of the numerous opportunities becoming available across the African continent. For firms using a multi-sector approach, opportunities may be limited to just one country, but, depending on the country, can be no less rewarding. The slew of transportation, commercial and residential opportunities in East Africa are the result of increased investment in the public sector, which in turn expedites the transition of the population from rural to urban areas.
The construction industry in Africa
As economies diversify, more opportunities become available across sectors encouraging a multi-disciplined workforce

Initiatives and growth in international tourism

Despite international security levels being tightened, developing countries are increasingly becoming a viable option for tourists looking to holiday off the beaten track. And where tourism goes, infrastructure follows. As a result, cities like Mombasa in Kenya and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania are seeing a remarkable growth in infrastructure. The construction industry has been slow to respond, but as the fastest growing city in Africa (by population), Dar es Salaam represents an opportunity for both the international construction industry to establish a strong foothold in East Africa and the local economy to expand at a sustainable pace.

The construction industry in AfricaTourism is driving the construction of new hotels, resorts and amenities across Africa

A new path for Africa

As the continent’s infrastructure develops, Africa is laying the foundations for a new and brighter future. With international trade and the urban population also increasing in almost every African country, it’s essential new public developments are implemented with one eye on the future. Construction plays a vital role in shaping a country’s skyline as well as in enabling the most innovative and intelligent designs to form part of the country’s character. The choice of projects now will affect not only the city’s appearance but its rate of employment, access to basic amenities and the general public Africa is on a new, promising road to greater economic autonomy, but the continent still has a considerable way to go. It’s the job of the construction industry, among other sectors, to make this road as easy to navigate as possible.

Header image courtesy of Muhammad Mahdi Karim under GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2