Technology, like in most other areas, is changing construction beyond imagination. It is not a revolution of technology, as people are still using bricks and mortar. It is instead an evolution of trends towards new methods and materials.
This is not headline making news. Construction first began with the shaping of mud into a hut, until someone recognised you can create bricks by drying mud and straw into bricks. Technologies have always evolved and usually as a means of solving a problem faced with current methods and materials.
Glass is also a common construction material but cannot bear weight and is vulnerable to damage from flying debris. Technology experts, seeking a solution to the problems of glass, have evolved a form of transparent aluminium.
ALON has the strength of a metal, so can add to the structural strength of high-rise buildings, whilst being transparent. It can also withstand high-caliber gun fire – so can be used for armored windows.
Builders also face problems when constructing in inclement weather. Building with wood can be wonderful but difficult when it rains continually.
Imagine a prefabrication technique that builds the walls in panels off-site, which can then be transported and erected in a matter of days.
Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) are two boards, usually OSB, that has insulation sandwiched within. Suddenly, the problem of the rain and building outside in general is resolved.
Other technologies migrate from other areas of the economy. 3-D printing might not seem a viable technology for building a house as it is essentially the rendering of plastic in the most part.
Yet, in The Netherlands they have sought to print a plastic house that looks something similar to Lego bricks that lock together. In China they are using a giant 3-D printer that actually uses construction waste and can build a house for less than $5000. It can produce 10 houses in a day.
Houses built completely with a 3-D printer seems for a time in the future however BIM, or building information modelling, is commonly used to create models of construction projects.
It is different to normal modelling because it gives layers of metadata that helps design workflow. It means a lot of the problems in construction can be resolved in the design process through collaboration between different contributors.
Drones are also being used by construction companies. They are being used to survey sites and take aerial imaging. This offers quicker and more accurate understanding of the ground, even providing topographical maps and models. It is particularly useful for difficult to reach areas around bridges or high-rise buildings.
Yet, some of the most exciting innovations come from the use of old and current materials or methods merged for future challenges. 3D-printed sandstone can bring the old material of sandstone with printing to help repair buildings with eroding gargoyles and statues.
Bamboo is being used to reinforce concrete, replacing steel. There are fibres in bamboo that prevents it from rotting and has been used as scaffolding in Asia for centuries.
This has two amazing benefits for the environment. Bamboo absorbs large amounts of CO2 as it grows and there is no need to enter in to high carbon production processes to create steel.
It is obvious to say that construction technologies will continue to evolve and not just for residential purposes, highway construction and railway construction are also industries that see massive advancements.
Materials that would once have been waste will now be used in buildings, just look at biochar. Engineers will continue to innovate – just look at the teams using microbial cellulose – which will make living walls.
It is an exciting time in construction technology – but it always has been. Engineers, architects and builders work to solve problems and find new solutions and from this emerges new techniques and materials.