When any infrastructure is built, it is built to last and designed to stay relevant. Ironically, the unprecedented pandemic has dealt a blow to that belief, disrupted the very fundamentals of modern-day architecture, and forced us to relook at existing structures.
This article aims at gathering a few key learnings that will hopefully help us design infrastructure that stands the test of any such uncertainty in the future. Although the world of bricks and mortar is intact, the new normal will need the spaces within to undergo significant alterations. Identifying emerging design trends is the first step for us to build resilience.
Retrofitting infrastructure – an exigency
Before the pandemic hit us, most infrastructure built over the world already had a life for decades. For instance, as per UK GBC, 80% of buildings in the UK needed for 2050 have already been built!
Retrofitting now becomes crucial to build resiliency and to ensure that the new-age infrastructure not only withstands but also stays relevant when stuck by a similar crisis. Through the lens of the pandemic, a resilient infrastructure may need to adopt features such as better building management systems, more spacious offices, and health and hygiene considerations, etc. Fortunately, comprehensive information on technologies, materials, and energy-efficient systems are available to design engineers to undertake the retrofitting process and to ensure even older buildings rise to this new challenge.
Retrofitting buildings has several other benefits that don’t get as much of a spotlight as they would deserve. These include bringing down the carbon footprint, utilization of renewable energy sources for powering systems, adopting smart building technologies, and so on, with all of this with relative lower CAPEX spending vs. a brand-new building project.
Infuse health and wellness in the new normal
An important take-away is that emerging designs must consider the health and wellness factors now more than ever, especially for office and public spaces. The scope has widened, and it needs to compulsory incorporate sanitization mechanisms at various points of the general assembly. Biosecurity and sanitation aspects would be at the top of the new age design considerations, on top of distance & people flow management.
The ideal objective is to develop a sense of trust and wellbeing emerges that appears when it is known that the building provides a safe and healthy habitat, which then helps further with better focus and employee performance.
Ensure social distancing through digital technologies
Work from home is another crucial emerging outcome of this crisis. For those offices that continue to remain operational, several factors will drive how the workplaces will be designed, including new operating models, physical distancing, contactless systems, occupancy, and standard rooms, elevators and staircases, restrooms, and so on.
Available digital technologies such as IIoT & basic AI will need to be leveraged like never in designing offices to address several challenges stated in the paragraph above.
Building Automation offered through our EcoStruxure™ Engage Enterprise App helps the workforce seamlessly interact with a range of services, including car parking, booking rooms, comfort control and At the same time, ensuring employees are safe and connected.
Data-driven building management
The digitization of buildings was already expected to be a game-changer in the 21st century for better efficiency and comfort. However, it is now heavily considered also to provide resiliency to infrastructure during the crisis, precisely because it allows us to limit on-site human interactions and allow for more accessible remote work and social distancing.
With the currently available technology and systems, digitization tools can already help in managing up to 70% of building operations remotely.
Accelerate the adoption of modular designs to boost construction efficiency
Modular construction and designs, which were already amongst the hot topics of the industry, will also experience further growth as they have proven to be of exceptional utility in emergencies.
The modular design consists of standardized portions or blocks that are constructed away from the construction site in a controlled setting, helping design engineers think of new ways of designing and planning overall construction. Since the modules are created before the actual construction begins, the system enables design engineers to work effectively and closely with other stakeholders to ensure better results, particularly in terms of time efficiency and cost-effectiveness through scalability. As per a 2019 McKinsey report, modular projects have shown to have accelerated project timelines by 20-50% and can result in a 20% cost saving alone.
The emergency the world faced showed how precious such design proves to be: A striking example is a 2910-bed hospital that was built in Javits Center, New York, to cope with the health crisis in only a few weeks. Similar designs have been and continue to be deployed throughout China as they are cost and time-efficient.
Those are, however, far from being limited to emergencies: the McKinsey report also highlights how the Housing Development Board in Singapore has used offsite manufacturing to build around 20,000 to 30,000 units a year to speed-up construction and answer to pressing local demand while improving CAPEX efficiently. And as we speak, AI-generated modular design is also in early development to further improve design and construction for some targeted projects.
Fostering digital innovation and using data for decision making will be significant enablers. However, the biggest challenge would be to strike that delicate balance between creating room for physical connect and enabling safe distance through digital tools. With the unprecedented challenge, the leaders in design engineering are set to reinvent and leverage technological innovations to shape the new world that is safe, secure, and trusted.