Future of construction and the role of concrete

There are many pressing challenges facing the world of today and tomorrow which can be directly influenced by those who work in the built environment – a projected population of 9.7 billion by 2050, increased urbanisation, and their associated transport, infrastructure and housing needs.

Society and institutions are striving for answers – whether it’s the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs), or more locally C40 Resilient cities which is focussed on climate change resilience for major cities.  Many of the answers lie with those who deliver the built environment – the construction sector. Society is expecting that all those who are responsible for building the world of tomorrow will respond and play their part today.

Based on the global mega trends such as climate change, urbanisation, ageing population and digitisation, GCCA is seeking to identify the future societal demands of the construction sector and the role concrete has to play to meet these.

Society is expecting that all those who are responsible for building the world of tomorrow will respond and play their part today.

In addition, when considering the future of construction it is of note that many economists put construction at bottom of the class for productivity improvements – far behind agriculture and manufacturing.  How will the construction sector help address issues of society and can it improve its own productivity?

Construction

There are endless positive developments in construction that have already been adopted or are currently underway, and which society is unaware of or has taken for granted. Some of these are small improvements in construction material, responsible sourcing of materials, better understanding of health and well-being within the built environment, engineering design that delivers safe buildings and infrastructure with minimum material use, operational energy efficiency, re-use and repurposing of built assets and reduction of demolition waste to landfill.

Society needs the construction sector to adopt these innovations, developments, best practices more broadly AND do more.

Society needs the construction sector to adopt these innovations/developments/best practices more broadly AND do more. We will be looking closely at how we extend this work through

There is much talk of how digitisation, the internet of things, commoditisation and design for manufacture will deliver benefits and help address issues. What other levers might construction pull?

Concrete

So, what of the role of concrete?  It is infinitely versatile in mix and form; can be used compositely to enhance its properties; can be 3-D printed, cast in a factory or cast continuously in slip form.  All of these give innovators in materials, design and construction vast opportunities to deliver advancements.  Concrete has inherent properties of resilience to fire, robustness against intruders, and sound insulation:  these are good starting points when considering solutions for ever more dense urban living.

We cannot know for certain what the future holds, but we must do all we can to predict, plan and provide for future generations. 

Similarly, when considering climate change, concrete also has inherent resilience against flood and storm damage, as well as the important property of thermal mass for keeping cool.  It does not require treatments for rot, infestation and fire retardance so does not emit gases that add to increasing concerns about indoor air quality. Concrete is durable, so it can last and if needed be repurposed. This supports material efficiency.

For this century at least, construction (because of massive population growth) will need more raw – ‘stuff’ to meet the needs of development –   circularity alone cannot meet the needs of development.  So where shall we source this ‘stuff’ as there are constraints on land and resources.  Concrete is only used for construction and the space take for sourcing the raw materials is relatively small. There is no land competition from transport, energy or agriculture sectors as is the case for steel and timber.  Hence material efficient use of concrete, utilisation of its inherent properties and creative use of its versatility will be key to meeting issues faced by society.  

What does the future hold?  We cannot know for certain, but we must do all we can to predict, plan and provide for future generations as best we can.