Disruptive Technology Forum

Monday 09 Feb 2015

Separating the hype from the crucial

“What technological advances do you think will have most impact on the design of and the buildings being delivered over the next decade?” This was the tough question we pitched at our international panel at the Bau 15 forum in Munich. The panel, representing architecture, engineering and manufacturing were …. Signe Kongebro, Henning Larsen, Andrew Best, Buro Happold Engineering and Bruce Nicol from Dow Corning.

The discussion at Bau 2015 was framed by the 30th anniversary of the first mobile phone call made in 1985 and the decade later launch of Tim Berners Lee’s world wide web.

The panel discussed a spectrum of advances that had for some time been heralded as being Game Changers from Nano Technology, advanced materials, light transmitting concrete, big data, Graphene, 3D printing through to driverless cars.

3D printing is already being adopted by architects in the design process but the panel felt that the  impact on the resultant buildings would be minimal in the short term at least, its value at the moment being mainly in prototyping.

The panel agreed that the technology changes in the last few decades had been staggering. Andrew Best reflected on the difference between his current role at Buro Happold Engineering and his early career behind a drawing board, “In those days, we could never have imagined the tools we use today. In particular the collaborative design process, using seamless communications with teams around the world. We’re working on projects in Africa, exchanging data in a way that’s just amazing.”

Bruce Nicol believed the transference of technologies across industries could have a major on impact our buildings. Describing some of the innovations currently under research, “ I can see the  interactive glass screen technology currently being used on tablet screens, being adopted in glass facades. The potential is clearly huge and companies are looking at it.” However, he countered,  “while this was technologically not a huge jump, one of the problems is that this type of development would require huge investment and this is difficult when “currently” there is no tangible market.”

Once on the subject of driverless cars, the panel moved up a gear and a lively discussion ensued. It was agreed that automation of this kind, when combined with smart software and Big Data could enable, or require complete re-configuration our major cities. Vast swathes of inner cities, currently used for parking could theoretically be freed up for a host of uses. Linear parks, cycle ways, walkways. Traffic signage could be virtually eliminated.

Electric cars themselves are hardly breakthrough, falling mostly into the evolution camp, however a breakthrough in energy storage could be just around the corner; A demonstration at leading Tech Show CES 2015 in Las Vegas by Israeli start up Storedot won the hearts and minds of the press by charging a flat Samsung mobile phone battery in a few minutes. If this could be scaled up, most of the barriers facing wholesale adoption of electric cars would be removed.

Signe Kongebro pointed out that the main obstacle now was now probably social, not technological. People will have to embrace the fundamental change from ownership to sharing, “This is inevitable, just a matter of time, but we’re not there yet,” Adding, “We are already seeing signs of this shift, across the whole spectrum, social through to workplace, schemes such as AirBnB and hot-desking. It is this change that will bring about wholesale change in the design and fundamental use of our buildings.”

By Michael Hammond

BAU 2017

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