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Construction : House That- The New Indian Express

By Express News Service

The incubation chamber of civilisation is the human imagination. The power to see with the mind what can be seen by others later sets apart the greats from the hoi polloi. Radical changes are sweeping the world construction ecosystem. It is getting more high-tech, creative, and above all, empathetic: health, safety and social responsibility have been uploaded into its core belief servers. Virtual construction technology, construction management software, drones, and wearable Near Field Communication technology that makes existing cellular systems redundant are attracting inventors, innovators and investors. Virtual 3D designs are translated into physical ones after calculations, corrections and additions. 

The humble printer has become the beast of dimensional design. Trendspotting company Exploding Topics predicts that the construction 3D-printing market will grow at 100.7 per cent through 2030. Human safety is a key concern, and fear of lawsuits alone isn’t the reason. Take, for example, the construction worker’s helmet. One helmet features a suspension system that absorbs and directs impact out and away from the neck and spinal cord. Other safety helmets integrate the user’s medical information, and emergency contact information to coordinate directly with medical professionals. The Building Information Modelling (BIM) market alone is worth about $8.1 billion as of 2023.

Prefabrication is getting more complex and sophisticated with advanced technology; for housing and commercial spaces, it could become as ubiquitous in the 21st century as baroque in the 16th. The global modular construction market, calculated at $91 billion as of 2022, is expected to grow to $120.4 billion by 2027. Smart cities have been the Modi government’s urban pitch since 2014: 100 of them have been identified for development.

The smart city is essentially a metropolis married with data collected by infrastructure and buildings to facilitate the smooth running of facilities, through total integration with the Internet of Things (IoT).

With big corporations commixing business plans with human immediacy and ease, smart cities could be tech-congruent living spaces. For example, three years ago Toyota started constructing a 2,000-person smart city outside Tokyo, where it plans to test autonomous vehicles and “smart buildings” in a living habitat.

Climate change has been hard on the building business, with cement being the biggest carbon emitter. Dodge’s World Green Building report states that almost half of all respondents expect the majority of their projects to be sustainable, while a McKinsey study found that 90 per cent of construction industry respondents see an imminent shift toward green projects. Living materials like biocement is the future. Fuelled by conscience-driven profitability, the building industry has school outreach programmes to make construction an attractive future career.

The Orwellian coin is trembling on the thumb edge of the future. Facing shortage of workers in a controlled immigrant labour environment, companies will be spending $359 million by 2031 on construction robots. Society has transcended the concept of simple shelter to enter the realm of integrated rural and urban infrastructure. 

Around 25,000 years ago, men built huts with mammoth tusks in Siberia. The Natufians—a semi-sedentary race—built stone houses in what are now Israel, Lebanon and Syria. The first construction materials were all perishables: leaves, branches, animal hides, mammoth ribs, bamboo, clay, lime plaster, etc. The first buildings were practical shelters like the Inuit animal skin tents called tupiqs and pit houses that protected inhabitants.

Time is cyclical, whatever Einstein may formulate: vernacular architecture, which is construction using local building materials and traditional designs and methods, is making a comeback with sustainable architecture. For millennia, the chief building material remained the mud-brick.

In the 20th century, construction technology gained sophistication and scale. Heavy equipment and power tools became must-haves for those in the business. Skyscrapers with elevators and escalators made their phallic appearance. Megaprojects whose investment exceeds a billion dollars (Brasilia in Brazil and the Million Programme in Sweden) were holistic projects that incorporated entire urban ecosystems. The process is constantly evolving with new materials, designs and large-scale projects with green urban planning as the soul of new architecture.

The brain of architecture is AI, which is dominating the fourth Industrial Revolution in the construction industry. Machine learning, computer vision, automated planning and scheduling, robotics, knowledge-based systems, natural language processing and optimisation of constraint is already driving businesses.

Greener than Cement
The heat used to produce traditional Portland cement makes up 5 to 8 per cent of all man-made CO2 emissions. The wonderful things about C-Crete, the new wonder material being manufactured by a California-based startup founded by MIT Civil and Environmental Engineering graduate Rouzbeh Savary with patented materials using a secret formula generates no heat whatsoever. Mix the magic matter with water, sand or gravel, presto! You get cement-free concrete. The miracle material even absorbs atmospheric CO2, which supposedly strengthens the concrete over the years. Third-party testing has reportedly shown that C-Crete performs as well as Portland cement in strength and flowability, possibly better. The good news for builders is that the same equipment and mix ratios used for traditional cement work for the usurper, making mass production of the substance easy. C-Crete has been used in the restoration of a historic building in Seattle, literally making history.

Wake up and mix the coffee
On the subject of concrete, Rajeev Roychand, the lead author of a study in the Journal of Cleaner Production and his team of researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University have discovered that “concrete can be made 30 per cent stronger by replacing a percentage of sand with spent coffee grounds, an organic waste product produced in huge amounts that usually ends up in landfills.” Organic waste disposal exhales an awful lot of greenhouse gasses like methane and carbon dioxide. So, it’s coffee to the rescue, helping clear up the atmosphere in addition to heads.

Stark Reality
The Marvel guys would be proud. A sci-fi team of researchers from Columbia University, Brookhaven National Lab, and the University of Connecticut set out to create a substance the Iron Man would approve of.  And did they do it! A material four times stronger than steel and five times lighter was the result. It’s an Asimov moment, mixing human stuff: glass and DNA.

Engineers and construction magnates are constantly looking for lightweight materials to cut cost. Glass gets a bad rap for breaking; which is because of micro cracks or missing atoms in it. A pure cubic centimetre of glass can withstand 10 tons of pressure. Which is where DNA comes in. DNA is a perfect framework on which molecules can be arranged. It is a polymer of nucleotides which give resilience and elasticity. It’s also cheap because its widely available in nature. With stupendous imagination, the team took the Japanese route and made ‘DNA origami’ much like paper folding.

Here’s how that works. Large scaffolding strands of DNA were combined with short staple strands in a liquid solution. Staple strands and scaffold band together at specific locations. Once they are in a cinch, the strands are folded until a desired shape happens such as an octahedron (a 3D shape resembling two interconnected pyramids0 is achieved. Their points band to each other and a repeating pattern known as a lattice is created.

The DNA lattices are coated with a layer of silica glass about 5 nanometres in thickness. A nanometre is a billionth of a metre; it is a measure from the world of atoms. To ensure its ultra-lightweight nature, the inner spaces of the lattice are not filled in. To test its strength the researchers chose the nanoindentation technique by which they applied pressure to the DNA-glass material using a small probe as they measured its behaviour through an electron microscope. The testing proved they had struck gold—the material could reach a yield strength of between 1-5 gigapascals (a unit of pressure worth one billion pascals).Gigapascals is a unit of pressure in the International System of Units to quantify internal pressure, stress, and ultimate tensile strength. Faster, higher, stronger: construction tech is getting there with a back to basics approach and the science.

NOT JUST A BRICK IN THE WALL
You can now store energy in the bricks that are used to build houses. Researchers led by Washington University in St Louis, in Missouri, US, can turn the cheap and widely available building material into “smart bricks”, and use it like an energy storage device or supercapacitor. Apparently, scientists believe that walls made of these bricks “could store a substantial amount of energy” and can “be recharged hundreds of thousands of times within an hour”. All it needs is a coating of Pedot, which would seep through the porous structure and convert the bricks into “energy storing electrodes”. Iron oxide—already present in these bricks—would expedite the process.

Can concrete be a living mechanism? Some scientists think so. They have developed living concrete by using sand, gel and bacteria. This makes it self-healing and more environmentally friendly than concrete. The team from the University of Colorado Boulder believe that these could “heal their own cracks, suck up dangerous toxins from the air or even glow on command”.

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