The UK’s commercial construction industry is worth over £15 billion annually and predicted to grow by almost 16% this year. The construction industry as a whole – including both commercial and residential – supports more than three million people in jobs ranging from building trades and bricklayers to architects and structural engineers. In fact, more than 10% of the UK’s working population are directly or indirectly involved in construction.
The size of the UK construction industry has been steadily increasing over the past few years, and the commercial construction segment is no exception. Construction output in the UK is worth more than £110 billion each year and contributes a colossal 7% to UK GDP (and 13% globally).
In 2022, as the world shifts its priorities towards sustainability and the environment, the UK construction industry is seeing seismic change in both its operational strategy and the technologies used to create buildings for – and of – the future.
1. Shift towards sustainability
The trend in sustainable design is an effort to move away from the dependence on non-renewable resources and reduce the environmental impact of construction. This trend shift, which is long overdue, is now becoming more prevalent across both the residential and commercial construction segments.
Change is being driven by a range of key environmental and economic factors including the global movement to combat climate change and rising energy prices. In addition, there are many new materials now available that are more environmentally friendly and cost-effective to use.
According to a survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), almost half of commercial property professionals say that demand for greener buildings in the sector has increased dramatically and that occupiers are willing to pay more for a ‘sustainable’ building – both in terms of carbon footprint during construction and ongoing carbon footprint to operate the building.
The UK Green Building Council revealed recently that the UK construction sector contributes a worrying 42% to the total share of emissions produced across all industries. Therefore, it’s crucial that the industry continues to find new ways to improve its carbon footprint.
Prominent sustainability themes in today’s commercial construction industry include on-site electric vehicle charging, solar energy, and cleaner construction materials. One of the most significant advancements in recent years is the introduction of ‘green cement’ into the building sector.
The conventional method of mixing cement involves calcium and silicon, while the new green alternative, Geopolymer Cement (GPC), removes the need for harmful components and instead uses industrial waste materials such as fly ash which is then alkali activated. Studies have shown that GPC reduces CO2 emissions up to 90%.
2. Introduction of connected construction
Connected construction is a way of monitoring the progress of a construction project in real-time using new technologies and digital monitoring tools. Connected construction can also be used to optimise the use of resources and materials during a construction project.
The introduction of connected construction in the commercial construction industry can be traced back to early 2000s when companies started using Building Information Modelling (BIM) software. BIM software was the foundation of digital transformation in the construction industry, allowing for better planning, designing and building of projects by digitising the construction site.
At the core of today’s connected construction are digital technologies and software that bring together the famously complex elements of construction such as contractors, suppliers, equipment and labour into one central digital command centre.
In a connected construction environment, technology simplifies communication and increases visibility and control of every element of the construction process. Sensors and monitoring technologies are used to connect sites, machines, and workers, providing project managers with real-time visibility of a build project and a list of tasks or outstanding items that need attention on a daily basis.
Notable examples of connected construction at work include the recently constructed NHS Nightingale hospital at London’s ExCeL conference centre and construction works at No 1 Grosvenor Square in Mayfair. Both projects made use of connected technologies to accelerate project timescales by creating a master shared digital view of each project’s progress and material needs.
3. Increased use of modern facade materials and technologies
The use of modern facade materials and technologies has increased significantly in the last decade, driven by their improved sustainability, aesthetics and cost-effectiveness.
Technological innovations have led to the development of energy-saving facade materials that can absorb solar energy, stabilise internal temperatures, and act as a secondary source of electricity generation.
Concepts such as double skin facades – consisting of two layers of glass with a gap in the middle – allow for better insulation and thermal efficiency. The 30 St Mary Axe building in London – better known as the Gherkin – is perhaps the best-known example of this modern facade technology.
There’s also a lot of potential with smart facades which use technological innovations to collect solar energy and adapt to environmental conditions in real time. Smart facades focus mainly on improving control of ventilation and heat, natural sunlight, and protection from solar radiation.
In Australia, the RMIT University Design Hub uses a series of ‘facade discs’ with built-in solar technology to collect and store energy from the sun. The system can move and position each disc to harness maximum energy from sunlight.
In Munich, the Allianz Arena facade (pictured top) uses air-filled cushion panels supported by a collection of cantilevered steel trusses. The entire system rests on a concrete base, creating the illusion that the building facade is floating in thin air. The backlit shell of the facade is fitted with changing LED lights, giving the structure a unique sculptural look.
Finally, professional services and development firm Arup has developed BioBuild, the world’s first self-supporting facade panel for building construction made of biocomposite materials. Biocomposites are composed of natural fibres such as flax, hemp and jute, and natural resins made from the by-product of agricultural processing of corn, sugar cane and other crops. Compared to traditional facade systems, BioBuild reduces carbon footprint by up to 50%.
Maintaining the UK’s building facades
It’s truly very exciting to be part of the commercial construction industry as it experiences such a wide range of innovative developments.
Whether or not the next big thing is floating facades or solar glass curtain walls, restorative cleaning is an essential part of keeping your commercial facade maintained and properly functioning.
See Brilliance has more than thirty years of experience helping commercial building owners and occupiers restore and maintain all types of building facades and cladding so they can retain their pristine exterior for years to come.
Get in touch with our facade cleaning and restoration specialists to discuss your project.