Sustainability in construction

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.

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