Innovation in the building sector to respond to challenges such as climate change, resilience, urbanisation and technological advancement must continue despite COVID-19, a new report says.
In its Building Resilience report, construction software firm Asite called on world’s development sector to rethink its approach toward construction.
In its report, Asite said COVID-19 has soured previous expectations for healthy industry growth across many regions in 2020.
Nevertheless, it said the importance of building resilient cities and embracing new ways of working remained.
“Now more than ever, I believe we need to come together to prepare and safeguard our society for the future,” Asite chief executive officer Nathan Doughty said.
“Construction and infrastructure are vital to our ability to collectively safeguard the health of our fellow citizens, and to educate, feed and house us all. We must keep building, and inevitably we will.
“The question is how do we build resilience into the industry and into the fabric of the built environment itself?”
In its report, Asite said an emphasis on climate change in public discourse during 2019 had led to a focus on sustainable building, procurement and energy in early 2020.
It says action is happening across several areas.
In public policy, a European Green Deal presented last December outlined a road map for that continent to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
Many governments are also improving sustainability through ‘smart city’ projects.
In Dubai, the government has launched more than 100 smart initiatives and 1,000 smart services over the past three years under its Smart Dubai 2021 strategy.
These include a strategy to make the Dubai Government go paperless, a data first strategy, a blockchain strategy, a smart lab for artificial intelligence and a ‘happiness’ agenda.
Others are investing in sustainability directly.
In New York, the city’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is investing in 500 zero-emission all-electric busses as one part of a four-year investment of $US54.8 billion to ramp up its network capacity and deliver annual carbon savings of 17 million metric tonnes.
Other countries are pushing into renewables: India wants to generate 175 GB of electricity through renewable sources this year.
As well, recognition continues to grow about the potential environmental and social impact of rapid urbanisation.
In fact, Asite says the coronavirus outbreak may place further attention on this area amid discussions surrounding the relationship between urban development and new or remerging infectious diseases.
Finally, within construction firms themselves, Asite says the virus could accelerate efforts to develop enterprise-wide resilience.
Consulting firm McKinsey has called for firms to establish integrated ‘nerve centres’ which have enterprise-wide authority to coordinate an organisation’s response to crisis. These would enable leaders to test approaches quickly, preserve and deepen the most effective solutions and move ahead on the changing environment.
Lessons could be learned, Asite says, from places like the UAE, which had previous experience with coronavirus through the Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2012 but whose large-scale development projects have thus far held up in the current outbreak.
On both environment and enterprise resilience, Asite says technology will play a role.
Greater take up of digital engineering, for example, will help to progress smart city projects – notwithstanding that some of these may face immediate delays from site closures and workforce shortages.
Meanwhile, Asite says much of the building sector could apply many of the modelling and data analytics skills acquired over recent years to designing strategic models that McKinsey says could be ‘based on adequate stress testing of contextualised hypotheses and scenarios’.
These, Asite says, should prioritise safeguarding of operational viability, building resilience and worker protection.
Doughty says the building industry is critical in helping cities and nations rebuild from hardship.
“I’ve seen first-hand how the construction industry can overcome adversity and help rebuild following times of hardship,” Doughty said.
“Construction was fundamental to crisis response and in the rebuilding process in my hometown of Houston after Hurricane Harvey three years ago. Today, the industry has quickly geared up to deliver hospital beds for health services across the world and re-geared manufacturing for PPE and health equipment. We can build on lessons learned in difficult times.
“Connecting people around the world will help us learn from one another and innovate. We all have a responsibility to focus on the wellbeing of our people and our society whilst looking to the future to meet evolving opportunities and challenges.”