Architects, Builders Crucial for New Era of Growth

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Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
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Around the world, the architecture and construction industry has a significant role to play in fostering greater economic productivity in a “new era of growth,” according to a new book.

In its 2014 Blue Book, leading design firm AECOM says the world is looking for key drivers of sustainable economic growth following the GFC and European Financial Crisis, and that designers, builders and financiers had a role to play in terms of maximising construction productivity and contributing to economic productivity.

“The world is looking towards a new era of growth, and a new economic and political context in which to deliver it,” AECOM global chief executive of buildings and places Jason Prior said.

“This follows the economic turmoil of recent years — of a scale not seen since the 1930s. As global business and construction trends rebound, our industry needs to take an active role in how this new era will be formed. Enhancing productivity is now of paramount importance to realizing sustainable economic growth.”

In terms of design, AECOM says the industry must strive for resilient cities, with the complexity of cities given due consideration when transforming communities. Considerations surrounding how buildings, infrastructure, governance, business and natural resources can work together must be embedded in early stage work.

An example can be seen through Samsung’s Xi’an city in China’s north-west, whereby the design is not being focused around a single system, industry or technology but instead seeks to focus on integrated systems addressing broader goals such as liveability, sustainability and high performance.

Furthermore, maximisation of revenue and asset life requires careful consideration regarding how these spaces will be used as well as how buildings work with the surrounding area. AECOM cites a redesign of the 22,686 square metres of floor space at National Grid’s headquarters in the United Kingdom, where it says an understanding of current and future workplace requirements led to cost savings of £10 million (US $16.2 million or $A 18,480), and gains of 15, 16, five and five perc ent in desk utilisation, energy consumption (or reduction thereof), productivity and collaborative activity respectively.

Beyond design, AECOM says major gains can be made in the construction process through greater use of innovative materials and by restructuring labour to shift to higher productivity tasks as manufacturing solutions and prefabrication gains ground.

In terms of financing, AECOM talks about the need to leverage private capital and alternative financing methods as well as to take advantage of evolving ways to capture and analyse data in order to transform the delivery and operation of building and infrastructure, with technologies such as Building Information Modelling offering enormous potential in terms of the latter consideration.

The report comes as debate surrounding construction productivity in Australia gathers momentum and the industry and governments grapple with the need to address an infrastructure deficit while simultaneously managing tight public finances.

In July, the Victorian division of the Property Council of Australia outlined and evaluated 14 alternative mechanisms of financing as well as their suitability for use in that state.

That same month, a Productivity Commission report into national infrastructure concluded that while construction productivity in Australia was comparable to that of other nations, labour productivity growth in the sector remained sluggish and the labour relations environment was problematic.

Despite the challenges, AECOM says the impact of the design and construction profession on overall economic productivity cannot be overstated.

“Productivity must be addressed with a view toward the entire asset life-cycle — design, build, finance and operate,” the AECOM book says. “Collectively we can enhance the built environment through an integrated approach that encourages collaboration and partnerships.”

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