Definitions of sustainability emphasis three aspects – environment, finance and society. This week’s EcoBuild exhibition at Excel London seemed to be moving away from the environment towards finance, linked with society. Sure, there were plenty of companies showing their latest innovations in district heating, thermally-efficient building materials, water and drainage systems, solar panels, controls and the like. Perhaps it is a sign of success that many of these technologies now appear to be main-stream and increasingly adopted as the norm in new building projects, though retrofit remains a challenge.
There was a new focus on off-site and modular construction, responding to the Government’s challenge to increase housebuilding and, perhaps at last, starting a transformation of the construction industry, which still remains quite traditional. Architects however need to embrace the change and grasp this new opportunity for a new form of architectural design, as the best projects on show from the 2016 Offsite awards didn’t excite architecturally, though Willmot Dixon’s Sunesis was one of the better ones, compared with other projects that have more sustainable construction, but otherwise use traditional construction techniques, such as the Copenhagen International School whose façade is covered in 12,000 solar panels making it one of the largest building-integrated solar-power generators in Denmark.
The exhibition is planned around a central arena which shows how flexible these conference spaces can be and there was some tradition, with masonry construction that seemed slightly out of place here, and the Dulux dog bringing visitors to see how modern water-based paints can be sustainable. In the adjacent exhibition, 4D imaging was on show, as relevant for large projects as for kitchens and bathrooms.
There was another economic focus: assistance for companies to develop their exports and, strangely in the month that Mrs May will press the Brexit button, a popular stand on how to gain European investment and development grants for new technologies and enterprise, something that the British Government should continue to fund after Brexit as the fact is that many of the exhibitors were not UK companies, and came from as far away as China. The UK has a long way to go to catch up.