Buildings Fit for the Future: Research to transform construction

Created: March 20, 2019. Updated: March 20, 2019.

Houses and buildings need to keep up with today’s demands. Most of our homes were built in the 1980s, using outdated methods. This causes a number of issues today, such as energy inefficiency.

How can we solve these and make our buildings fit for the future? The UK Government is investing in the development of state-of-the-art construction technology at the Active Building Centre, at Swansea University in South Wales (see video).

A Different Kind of Housing Crisis

Currently, our buildings account for 40% of our energy consumption and carbon emissions. However, over three-quarters of our homes were built decades ago, using traditional practices. This means our buildings haven’t been designed with today’s climate or needs in mind.

The result? Inefficient, unaffordable places to live and work. Our buildings are overheating in the warmer months and wasting heat as it gets colder. Domestic heating, for example, is a huge contributor to carbon emissions. This simply doesn’t have a place in today’s society.

How Serious is the Problem?

The UK has a an obligation to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 under the 2008 Climate Change Act. Housing a huge contributing factor to these emissions.

However, even by 2050, over 80% of the homes we live in will already have been built. This means we need to significantly upgrade our housing methods sooner rather than later.

What’s Holding Us Back?

We’re aware that buildings can generate their own power – through solar or other green sources. So, what’s preventing us from going further?

There are a few problems – largely caused by our construction processes. Currently, due to a lack of productivity, it lags behind many other industries.

Other issues include:

  • Too Many Prototypes –There are a number of inconsistencies with our buildings. Many projects are started and left incomplete. Or, they fail to look at the bigger picture, which involves exploring how people would experience the built environment.
  • Failure to Use Technology – Digital and manufacturing technologies have the ability to help the industry build more energy efficiently. However, in many areas, they’re not being used to their full potential.
  • Lack of Coordination – The industry needs a clear plan to redesign our buildings with energy concerns in mind. At the moment, projects are very separate – but transformation won’t happen alone.

    The UK’s first energy positive office, which was designed and conceived by SPECIFIC, funded by Innovate UK (with support from Swansea University and ERDF), built off-site by Wernick and sponsored by Tata Steel and Cisco.

Getting More from Our Built Environment

Change needs to happen to ensure we get more efficient buildings. This isn’t just how they’re built, but also how they’ll behave after they’ve been built.

What’s the solution?

  • Collaboration within the industry
  • Using digital performance management systems
  • Taking a manufacturing approach
  • Looking at the bigger picture
  • Increasing productivity
  • Developing integrated systems
  • Switching to renewables

In some areas, the future is already happening. The New Active Building Centre, for example, has the ability transform both UK construction and energy generation. It will be its own powerhouse – producing more energy than it uses.

It will show how our homes can get their energy from sustainable methods – paving the way for others to follow suit.

Help from Innovate UK

To contribute to a greener world, the UK government is investing £170m over 4 years to transform how our buildings are made and new technology developed through the Active Building Centre is at the core.

Swansea University is leading a consortium that is working on new building materials and coatings that generate electricity from light and heat. The vision is that the energy can be used to power homes, hospitals and schools, or be sold back to the national grid.

The goal is for these materials to replace conventional walls, roofs and windows, generating electricity that is stored and released by a smart operating system.

The Active Building Centre is a national centre of excellence working with supply chains from energy and construction supported by 10 universities: Swansea, Bath, Newcastle, Birmingham, Loughborough, UCL, Sheffield, Cardiff, Imperial College London and Nottingham.

Further information