Was it an act of folly or an act of faith when, with the all-consuming political debate on Brexit swirling all around like a great mist, and the potential departure date only three weeks away, to hold a major 3-day event on future ideas and innovations in the construction industry.
Someone had to do it, to look to the future. The Government certainly isn’t doing it.
Futurebuild returned to Excel at a time when the need for the construction industry to be ever-more innovative and productive is no longer an option, but a necessity, given the housing crisis and the potential impact on labour of Brexit with the sheer scale of Eastern-European craftsmen that we currently have working on construction sites, plus professionals from Europe across all the design and project disciplines.
I did feel a little sorry for the brave companies from from Europe, including Italy, Denmark, Flanders, Austria, Poland (such as Bramax) and even Lithuania, plus, as always, from China. While some of the products were interesting to explore (Italy in particular mixing its classical past and innovative future), is anyone going to place long terms orders until the swirling mist of Brexit or No-Brexit has receded? On the other hand, it is a good opportunity for UK companies, universities and institutions to sell their knowledge, expertise, technology and products in the brave new world, though on the afternoon of the third day it all felt a little subdued.
Futurebuild has developed and changed over the years and the best way to get the most out of it is to attend one or more of the various seminars held in the different conference areas across Futurebuild. Indeed many organisations such as BRE and Herman Miller did not have display stands in the traditional sense, but rather they had their own or collaborative conference/seminar spaces, the most popular one being the series ‘Time for Action’, focussing on the industry in 2030, which is not that far away……
While it is evident that the industry is changing in all sorts of ways, both in small craft-based projects and larger developments, it is perhaps not fast enough. We need to be smarter, increase off-site fabrication, embrace the circular economy by recycling waste into new building materials (Magna Glaskeramik), use concrete (Cemex) steel and (increasingly) timber structures to best advantage create zero-energy houses (ZED Generation) and look at how to make local energy generation much easier with, for example, domestic-scale wind generators (Marlec), not just large wind farms. One of the simplest, yet potentially most game-changing products are roofing tiles which look like tiles but are photo-voltaic generators (Solarmass Energy). Goodbye to all those roofs with ugly shiny solar panels under which pigeons can roost in the warm. Organisations such as the Centre for Alternative Technology continue to challenge us to do things in different ways, very often going to back to how it used to be done when we lived in a more balanced and sustainable world.
There are glimmers of hope, but we need more, such as the £55 million regeneration project in Wirral by Peel Land & Property and Urban Splash which will include 347 modular homes, with individual interior choices by by the occupants/owners before being assembled in Urban Splash’s office-site factory and an ongoing collaboration between Barratt Developments and Stewart Milne Timber Systems, with Barratt aiming to build 20% of its development pipeline using off-site construction by 2020. The growth in structural timber technology – sustainable and natural – continues, with, for example, architects Kaden-Lager along with Stadtsiedlung Heilbronn GmbH and Zublin Timber achieving a remarkable ten storey building in Heilbronn, the tallest structural timber building in Germany, following on from Zublin Timber’s 14 storey residential development in Bergen in Norway. Building in the Community had their excellent new report ‘The Circular Office Guide’ which should be taken as a call to arms by anyone involved in property management.
The prize for the most artistic stand goes to the Proctor Group, which I’m pleased to say has its HQ in Scotland – hooray! – in Blairgowrie, otherwise known for golf, soft fruit and jam.
A group of exhibitors, such as the Zip Water Bar, demonstrated that we can change. More and more places that you visit such as airports and public buildings now provide filtered water supplies to recharge your water bottle, thus saving many millions of one-use plastic bottles which then pollute our cities, towns, countryside, beaches and sea. Five years ago, this was unknown – today it is increasingly expected as the norm along with tap water in restaurants and bars. We can achieve change!