Innovation in construction is presented as a necessary aspect in the answer that the construction industry must provide to solve its negative impact on the environment. Origi
nal and innovative research is only part of the work to be accomplished. More important is the implementation of innovation in practice, where traditions are strongly rooted in society, and safety and long term reliability are required. Lessons from nature and study of durable examples handed down from the pasts serve as guidelines to innovative approaches that contribute to sustainability.
Nowadays, “Innovation” becomes a key word of modern economy but it seems to be the new global obsession also in engineering. More precisely, innovation will be defined as the successful introduction of new technologies or procedures into industry. In such cases, Research and Development (R&D) will be understood as the process that is undertaken to introduce innovation into industry. Continuous innovation is vital for sustainable development of the construction industry. Creative ideas and innovative solutions are recognized as important levers to effect growth and efficiency, especially in today’s dynamic world.
The aim of this study is to underline the scientific background of construction innovation. Construction innovation occupies a special position amongst engineering innovation due to the scope of its impact, and responsibility related to construction and use of building structures. For this purpose, the definition of construction innovation needs to be formulated together with its specific challenges, limitations and possibilities.
Conditioning of Construction Innovation
Construction Innovation versus Fundamental Requirements (Cpr-Eu 305/2011).
Innovations are endless on the side of positive results, but on the negative side a catastrophe, understood as the fall of the continuum, is the obvious barrier in the material and conceptual senses. A building breakdown or even collapse could also be the source of innovative solutions. It is an example of a smart use of unfortunate or even catastrophic events as a lesson to learn for the future. It is most painful and costly but generally a very effective source of innovation.
The construction industry uses 42% of all generated power and emits 35% of all greenhouse gases. The branch of the world concrete industry alone uses 20 billion tons of aggregates, 4 billion tons of cement and 800 million tons of water per year.
It took a quarter of a century since Brundtland’s concept until an adequate Regulation has been implemented. In March 2011 the new version of Basic Requirements for Construction Works, CPR-EU 305/2011, was announced. These are:
- Mechanical resistance and stability
- Safety in case of fire
III. Hygiene, health and the environment
- Safety and accessibility in use
- Protection against noise
- Energy economy and heat retention
VII. Sustainable use of natural sources (new requirement, 2011).
The users should have certitude that the built works in which they are located, set to give them security and comfort of use, are based on scientific research. Those are the ethical warrants rooted deeply into the heart of man and in the adequate codes which define what it means to be professional.
Construction Innovation versus Traditional Building Conservatism.
There is no other discipline in which final products have their lifetime longer than the designer’s life expectancy. In such case durability and reliability are very peculiar attributes of the civil engineering discipline as an applied science. Consequently, existing constructions exploited under rather complicated conditions need diagnosis of their current technical status.
A newly erected structure should be preceded by risk analysis and evaluation. Those are the reasons of some conservatism, or rather circumspection, so symptomatic for implementation of building innovation in practice. Building innovation by its very nature should not be “firework”. In construction, “new” does not necessary mean “better”. This means that it is not enough for a building to meet the requirements at the time of testing.
We need to ensure that it will also meet those requirements in the future. The building service life must be predicted and a prognosis of service life is needed. This is an extremely complicated issue. At the engineering level, for instance, more than 30 factors can be mentioned which affect the durability of concrete structures.
It is of significance that for several years now there has been a lack of civil engineering topics on the Research Front Maps, even though they are being updated every two months. Also, it is difficult to find an organization involved particularly with building technology among the 200 top institutions influencing inventions.
At the same time, the building industry is kept under continuous pressure of demography needs. Progress in building technology means building up a balance between the growth fetish (quantity) and development fetish (comfort of using). There are also natural barriers. The tremendous amount of material mass consumed annually by the building industry is in conflict with the available raw materials in the upper layer of the geosphere and with existing aggregated deposits. That is the reason why a competitor for Portland cement has not been found. Consequently, the same applies to concrete, too. The progress of fundamental construction materials has taken place by modification but not by the substitution.
In general, progress in civil engineering is done by evolution and not by revolution. That is a result of better understanding of composite materials’ nature, gathering building experience and cultivates designing methods. Innovation could be a result of research but could also be a technical novelty not involved with research programs. However, it is necessary for building innovation coming from sources other than scientific research to be carefully verified and validated by knowledge-based test programs. We should not only be focused on the given “innovative element” but look at the building as a whole. Certainly innovations call to go beyond what is currently possible, and this call captures the public imagination. However, in civil engineering we should play it safe accordingly to the basic requirement for construction works. This does not stop the building innovation but it makes it more sophisticated.
Learning from Nature
Man’s basic need, besides food and clothing, has always been protection from the elements: heat of the sun, torrential rain and cold. The very first time man realized the concept of building might have been the times when they gathered around a fire and hid themselves between rocks, sheltered against cold. This has awakened the idea of using stones as protection from the weather. However, observation and experience of natural phenomena as well as observation of fauna and flora in nature have always been a driving force for innovation in construction and building materials, leading from originally simple use of available materials to eventually real engineering and production of building materials for specific goals and use.
Human behaviour and construction have become dangerously detached from their ecological context. Human architecture is always more dictated by cultural, metaphysical and aesthetic goals than by pure functionality and reason; it is also a defence against the terror of time. But, paradoxically, the human race is endangering its earthly survival by generating an uncontrolled ecological footprint.
When the features of materials in nature are taken into consideration, today’s construction industry must predicate nature as a model for finding a solution to its problems. The search for sustainable construction materials engineering must be made on all levels, from nanostructure up to macrostructure. The construction industry must primarily accomplish the “zero waste management system” of nature.
Current waste management activities in construction mostly focus on decreasing waste, as shown in Fig. 1.
However, waste must be prevented rather than limited and or even recycled, in order for construction to produce positive inputs, the goal being a “zero waste” system, as in Fig. 2.
The zero waste approach aims to provide zero waste in product life cycle, zero waste in production and management activities, zero emission, zero harmful waste and zero solid waste combined with 100% effective use of energy, raw materials and human resources. As in the natural cycle, waste of a production activity must be a source of another production activity: it’s a waste to waste your waste!
A zero-waste, ideal material flow would create a fully sustainable construction industry but the world community is far away from that goal. However, we have to realize that nature had the advantage of about 4 billion years to develop and adapt, that animal life started about 450 million years ago, and that the human race only started some 6 million years ago. We might think that we still have millions of years to go to reach the same sustainability level as animal life. But this is based on the assumption that humans will be able to adapt to environmental conditions, which change much faster than before. And the problem is that humans themselves are the cause of the changes which their own evolution cannot follow. Awareness of the problem is not reflected in the results of all the climate conferences up to now.
Construction Innovation Capability
It is not possible to discover the I-matrix all at once. However, there is necessity to make systematic efforts to do that. Some trials have already been done. Main keywords relevant to innovative construction challenges have been gathered (Fig. 4). It should be emphasized that this matrix has no direct connection with innovation, but is a step ahead of the very innovative challenges.
Construction Innovation Capability covers:
- Conditioning: social, ecological and energy related
- Basic innovation sources: building materials engineering and construction industry project engineering; and additionally
- Main potential beneficiaries emerge: building structures and building curtain/partition walls.
As the contour map suggests (Fig 5), the selected thematic areas identify conditions for innovation (user, environment, energy efficiency), indicate the main addressee of the activities (building structures and partitions as a special building element) and point the areas of civil engineering as a scientific discipline where one can now observe the greatest innovation potential, i.e. building materials engineering and building projects engineering. Clear highlighting of building partition was determined by the fact that contemporary partition walls are not only elements which separate the building interior from the external environment but they actively affect the energy balance of a building. Examples of innovation can be found in this area in particular.
Innovations in construction – ideas are the currency of the future. Some are convinced that, besides the currently implemented innovations, there is a large collection of Innovations (with a capital “I”) that we are not yet aware of. Gradual discovery of the I-matrix is possible owing to improved cognitive apparatus. Innovation will take place if those Innovations can provide entirely new ways to solve old problems in engineering practice.