January 5, 2012

Column | Korky Koroluk

A new year could bring new innovation

As we clear our heads from the effects of the holiday season, we can look forward to a new year filled with trends that will continue to emerge in the architecture-engineering-construction (AEC) sector.

In more than 35 years of watching the AEC industry, I’ve never seen a new idea take hold as quickly as LEED has. Seven years ago a project going for a LEED rating was news. Two years later it was commonplace.

In the meantime, there has been growing interest in Passive House, which originally was a standard applied to residential construction, but which now is beginning to be applied to commercial construction. Five years ago net-zero energy wasn’t much more than a concept. Now net-zero buildings, though rare, are a reality, and a new standard called Living Buildings is getting more and more attention. There are still less than half a dozen of them worldwide, so Living Buildings is a long way from being a trend, but people are thinking about them, and that’s a start.

Korky Koroluk

The idea of LEED, a set of standards that can be applied to buildings of various types, has broadened. There is now an organization called Green Roads, which is a set of standards that can be applied to many roadbuilding jobs. American engineering groups have banded together to form the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. There is Canadian representation in the group, so you can expect the idea to spread in this country.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) seems to have entered the mainstream in the last year or two, and its use will continue to spread. And, as an offshoot, there is now something called Bridge Information Modeling, or BrIM. It’s a couple of years away from becoming a trend, but it’s headed that way.

At the same time, we can expect to see more high-tech methods for assessing a structure’s health, whether it’s a building or a bridge. Sensors are becoming more and more sophisticated and can be used for any number of things.

For example, a new bridge in New Orleans used sensors embedded during the precasting process to ensure that the structural members were properly cast. They also tracked shipment and installation, and now that the bridge is open, they’re monitoring the structure’s performance, and will throughout the life of the bridge.

There are renewed calls for more modular construction. It’s an old story. From time to time people discover that building modules in a shop is easier, quicker and cheaper than building in the field, and there is a brief wave of enthusiasm. This time, though, demands for more economical construction using a smaller workforce might give real life to the idea.

And Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) are a growing market in North America because they provide an effective way for building owners and operators to realize improved energy efficiency in commercial buildings.

While all this is going on, big strides are being made in the development of new construction materials. There are new concrete mixes on the market now that are much friendlier for the environment than the concrete that was common in our fathers’ day. The same goes for steel.

Lifecycle analysis and lifecycle costing is becoming the way of the future, driven by the twin concerns of the economy and the environment.

All these things I’ve mentioned might be thought of as a bunch of separate trends. But it’s also possible to lump them all together, with each being a part of a much larger trend: Sustainability.

As the world economy wobbles along, as energy becomes more expensive, as severe weather events driven by a changing climate take a higher toll, circumstances will dictate that we pay more and more attention to the problem of sustainable building for a sustainable future.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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