Acting in its role as a delivery partner for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Mace construction delivered 482 homes in dual land towers called Plot No. 8 of the East Village in London’s East End.

Zero tower cranes were used as a part of this project. The buildings were built with the use of two rising ‘factories’ – 600 tonne steel structures surrounding the structure’s frame as it was built and ‘jumped’ from floor to floor. This devised a ‘factory’ style assembly area which shifted upward as the development continued. All lifting was completed with the use of gantry cranes, capable of lifting to 20 tonnes sans the effect of restrictive winds.

This arrangement worked on many levels. Despite the fact that work was being completed 100 metres in the air, there loomed no leading edge and no possibility of falls or drops. That, and a minimal number of operatives working on site, guaranteed safer outcomes and the completion of up to two million hours of work without major problems. The intensified lifting capacity ensured that full horizontal services for each floor plate could be delivered and installed in half an hour. All told, a total of 36 storeys were completed in eighteen weeks – breaking the prior held UK record by 30 percent. As an added bonus, construction waste was cut down by 75 percent.

Matt Gough, Director of Innovation and Winning Work at Mace, cites this as a model for what is required to guarantee the productivity gains needed in construction around the world. During a presentation at the World Engineering Forum in Melbourne and subsequent interview with Sourceable conducted in conjunction with Rafik Abdelkaddous, Autodesk Senior Territory Sales Manager ANZ, Gough cited a need for change in the building industry around the world.

In a UN report delivered in June, the United Nations assessed that the worldwide population would go up from 7.7 billion to about 9.7 billion by 2050. To accommodate this growth, Gough says that a housing accommodation the size of New York City must be built monthly.

He also says that the building industry must address what many consider the global climate emergency. With construction and operations, Gough estimates that the carbon footprint of buildings is equal to approximately 30 to 37 percent of global carbon emissions. Concrete is estimated to be the globe’s third biggest producer of carbon emissions.

And in 2018, an International Energy Agency report predicted that the quantity of air-conditioning units in circulation would triple in number from 1.8 billion in 2018 to 5.6 billion by 2050. This, Gough asserts, initiates a cycle in which the increased use of air-conditioning warms the earth and creates a greater demand for ac.

To meet these challenges, Gough encourages industry specialists to take a different approach to building.

Regarding his own company, Gough says that Mace is calling upon modern technology and more industrialised modes of operation to make this happen. The firm has digitised and combined project workflows from design to handover and has called upon Autodesk’s BIM 360 environment to democratise data, synch onsite processes and expedite work. Through drones, AR/VR cameras, sensors and automation, the firm is digitalising the work of cycle, from design to estimation to delivery.

Mace also is encouraging staff to think before they work.

At one point, for example, the firm would dispose single-use plastic in their original containers. During one London office project, the company installed 98,000 light fittings, throwing away the single use plastic for every one.

During the firm’s work on phase two of redevelopment of the former Battersea Power Station, an electrical engineer requested that suppliers stop using the plastic – replacing it with recycled paper where needed and agreeing that the firm would take full responsibility for anything that broke throughout the delivery process. After suppliers discovered that these breakages were limited, several deleted single-use plastic from fittings they supplied. All told, this prevented the creation of 16,000 plastic bags last year. For Mace, it prevented the accumulation of about a half a tonne of waste on the project.

Abdelkaddous has mapped out a tri-phase plan for change.

Phase one involves improved decision making, and the improved use of modern-day technology.

In the renovation of his own home, Abdelkaddous saw the demolishment and rebuilding of new brick walls due to the fact that the original wall was out 150ml. Timber columns and beams were put up, then taken down the next day. Although the project had been underway for 13 weeks, the builders had completed 10 days’ work.

Abdelkaddous sees many ways to improve the building delivery process.

His proposed phase two entails a shift in the direction of industrialised project delivery. Abdelkaddous references examples like Melbourne’s Hickory, where prefabricated building systems and modular bathrooms are built at the firm’s Altona factory, transported and situated on site in a Lego styled arrangement.

The transition toward this form of construction, Abdelkaddous said, will take place within three to five years.

The third phase will involve the creation of recyclable, deconstructible buildings. Abdelkaddous suggests that buildings should be built as demountable units, with recyclable columns and facades.

Abdelkaddous and Gough also identified several challenges that need to be met for this plan to work.

Abdelkaddous says that a mandate must come from the government or from private project owners. And he speaks of disparities where costs affiliated with the building’s design and construction are loaded from the beginning, but benefits from improved buildings developed throughout the building’s life cycle are absent. What is required, he asserts, is design input from people who will own and operate the building in the long run.

This is a challenge in multi-residential spaces, in which project owners are developers wanting to sell units as swiftly as feasible.

Gough asserts that procurement must turn away from cost and toward long term, overall value. This involves the introduction of digitisation processes and introducing builders, suppliers, owners and maintenance personnel to upfront design processes.

And the industry must shift away from closed innovation and intellectual property and toward open source intellectual property–a more open model of learning and knowledge sharing.

Gough encourages engineers to aim for a better future, both in the industry and for the world.