Highlights for me included a few interesting seminars on the Main Stage – firstly, a talk by Mark Farmer where he spoke about the need for the construction industry to improve. One example he discussed was his view that public procurement should change to reflect “best value” instead of “lowest price” and to recognise that these are very different drivers. Current public procurement methods perpetuate the mission to drive down costs, resulting in low value buildings, rather than encouraging the industry to strive to achieve the best value for their clients. He also stated the need to urgently change the make up of the built environment workforce, “to attract a new generation of technology enabled workers with different personal values in all areas”, which he categorised as:
- market regulators including politicians
- developers, procurers, funders, insurers and key influencers
- land and building economists
- digital technologists
- precision craftsmen
- assemblers and integrators
- asset managers
….and the need for new holistic design skills. Designing for the whole building must involve a collaborative approach, with design teams designing for safety; resilience; sustainability; whole life performance; feasibility; end of life; local jobs and economic growth; community creation; and beauty.
Modern Methods of Construction (or MMC) was a hot topic for the event. Farmer summarised the MMC process in one neat equation:
Higher pre-manufactured value + new outcome led value culture + robust technical accreditation and regulatory system + digital design and manufacturing + digital assembly and site integration + all wrapped in new integrated delivery models = Better assured outcomes
Following a keynote speech by Nahim Zahawi MP, UK Construction Minister, who mentioned the Active Building Centre as “enabling innovation in construction to create a clean, green and prosperous society”, the Transforming Construction Challenge Director, Sam Stacey, continued the MMC discussion, speaking about the benefits in terms of minimising waste which is significant on traditional construction sites and occurs in all areas, including: materials, energy, time, double handling, movement of people, excess inventory and unused talent.
Stacey then described the Transforming Construction Challenge and how the Active Building Centre fits into the agenda to transform the UK construction sector to reduce the energy consumption of buildings, working alongside other partners, such as the Construction Innovation Hub (CIH).
This led nicely into the next session which centred around the risks and opportunities for construction that climate change presents. The Head of Engagement at the Active Building Centre, Simon McWhirter, eloquently explained how Active Buildings use data to enable buildings to interact with the energy networks, choosing where energy should be directed at any one time, depending on factors such as energy prices, carbon intensity of the grid, weather predictions and occupancy patterns. Collecting data on energy generation and consumption of a building enables controlled import and export of energy to support the energy networks as necessary.
On the second day, I took part in two discussion groups at #GDLive – the first on MMC and the second entitled “A Road Map to Self-Build”. It was easy to talk about the benefits of MMC from a climate change perspective. As well as minimising waste, as discussed above, MMC buildings tend to be lightweight in construction, reducing materials such as concrete used in foundations, for example, hence reducing embodied carbon. If executed well, use of MMC ensures a better-quality building envelope with less likelihood of thermal bridging and higher levels of air-tightness, which in turn will reduce the amount of energy needed to operate a building. Quality control is easier in a factory environment too, which should result in less snagging issues on site.
The conversation on self-build focused on acquiring plots, obtaining funding and navigating through the planning process. Although I mentioned the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommendation that no new homes should connect to the gas grid after 2025 (meaning anyone developing a new house should be considering low-carbon heating systems, such as heat pumps and low-carbon heat networks), energy wasn’t high on the audience’s agenda. In a way this was surprising, but it is understandable that funding is the main priority for anyone embarking on their own house project I suppose. I stressed that energy should not be ignored early in the design process though!
All-in-all an interesting few days. Good to know that my work is linked so well into current UK and global issues to tackle #climatechange.