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Innovations in construction occur for a variety of reasons such as:

  • A desire to speed up the construction process.
  • To reduce the amount of work undertaken on site.
  • To mitigate a potentially disruptive situation such as delays due to a shortage of skilled labour.
  • To improve quality control.

Innovation in construction can take two forms: either innovation in the construction process or in the end product.

Process innovations alter the way a particular product is produced, but do not change the end product.

An example can be found in USA with timber frame construction. For many years timber studs and sheathing materials have been assembled in factories to produce basic timber frame panels used to construct dwellings.

All other materials (thermal insulation, linings, services, windows and doors) have been installed on site in the normal way.

A recent innovation has been to extend the scope of the factory operation to include fitting some or all of the above components in the factory.

The end product (the dwelling constructed on site) is indistinguishable from its more conventional counterpart.

Such innovations, which introduce greater quality control into already established ways of building, should be welcomed rather than cause concern.

Innovative products on the other hand often incorporate new materials and construction techniques and can range from components to entire construction systems.

Because of a lack of experience and an absence of a track record of performance the use of such systems raises legitimate questions with regard to their likely performance over time.

How we build and operate our buildings has an enormous impact on our environment. Energy demand and supply is heavily influenced by the built environment.

The challenge is not necessarily to develop new products and systems but often to use the right products in the most appropriate way. Insulation and Air Tightness, Lower Carbon Products, Lower Carbon Energy Supply and Building Controls all form part of this larger challenge.

The built environment must be designed, built and operated efficiently to deliver optimised business performance. Innovation has developed management tools such as Building Information Modelling (BIM), its optimised and appropriate use in conjunction with other tools and convention still requires improvement in understanding and practice.

Systems integration has been identified as a very complex challenge for the industry. This includes a breadth of systems from new construction systems, such as insulated concrete formwork, new environmental systems such as grey-water recycling, new heating systems such as ground-source heating or new building management systems.

These systems must be effectively incorporated into the building and not simply stand alone. This is the key innovation challenge for systems integration.

There is now a growing consensus that the climate is changing faster than at any time in the past millennium, and that this will have major effects on many aspects of the built environment.

There is a clear need for the built environment to innovate to adapt to increased frequency of extreme weather events.

Thermal inertia has been identified as the most significant challenge for climate change adaptation.

This area of activity covers the fabric and design aspects of buildings and thermal comfort issues.

It considers the need for protection from extreme external temperatures and also the internal fluctuations in temperature due to building operation and occupancy.

In order to create a lasting structure designs may need to anticipate a diverse range of possible scenarios.

The impact of climate change is particularly pertinent to the construction industry given the life expectancy of buildings and the fact that we will need to adapt our existing built environment, to deal with a climate that may be significantly different from that in which it evolved.

The buildings industry is in the early stages of developing practical responses to this agenda of adaptation, but now it need to make rapid progress.

The scale and implications of the changes in climate that we can expect this century mean that existing buildings are at risk and there are significant business opportunities for those who provide services to mitigate these risks.

Design teams will need to consider innovative solutions to ensure buildings are robust, resilient, adaptable and comfortable for people to live and work in.

Overheating is already a growing problem, water management in flood and drought will be ever more crucial and the structural stability and weather resistance of current building materials must be investigated.

Different adaptation approaches may need to be developed that relate to the life spans of different building elements.

Fundamental elements may require a step change in design approach to take account of their extended life expectancy, whereas some elements can be regularly upgraded as part of normal maintenance and replacement cycles in a more incremental or reactive approach.

The industry now needs to make rapid progress within a coherent framework, provided by Government, that will enable design teams to develop and test out holistic adaptation strategies using data and tools that we are confident can accurately represent the interactions between our buildings and future climate.

The global and national agendas for increased carbon and energy efficiency and reduced environmental impact will have an increasing economic impact on the built environment over the next decade.

This will undoubtedly create new business opportunities for some companies to try and develop competitive advantages over others.

(this article written for 1BINA.my)