A new prime minister in Number 10 means a new political administration with opportunities as well as concerns for the construction sector, says ACE’s Julian Francis.

With Boris Johnson about to enter Downing Street as the 55th person to become the country’s prime minister, we must all prepare for the reality of a new administration headed by a man that has been called both the Heineken politician for his ability to reach part of the electorate others can’t as well as the Marmite candidate, as you either love him or hate him.

Depending on your views of Boris Johnson, you may well see his ascent as either a new dawn or an unmitigated disaster for the country, but either way he is now a new reality, which we as an industry must prepare engage with.

ACE will, therefore, be making the case for the investment in the UKs social and economic infrastructure with as much vigour as we have always done, as we see this new administration as one with opportunities for our industry as well as some concerns.

High on our agenda will be calling on the government to commitment to infrastructure delivery by ensuring that a National Infrastructure Strategy is published in the autumn. This would allow for a long-term strategic approach that enables infrastructure to deliver the best possible outcomes to the economy and society more widely. This long-term pipeline would provide our industry with the confidence it needs to continue to invest and develop our infrastructure networks. So far, Boris and his team have shown themselves as supporters of investment in infrastructure as a way to meet the UK’s economic needs.

That said, many may have concerns over past statements on Heathrow and HS2, but even here we have seen movement from our premier-in-waiting as he has now accepted that Heathrow must progress and has moved away from his harsh statements on HS2 by calling for a review of the project.

Alongside this, he has shown a great deal of enthusiasm for HS3/Northern Powerhouse Rail and east/west connectivity and there are signs that housing and property development are also likely to be high on the agenda with the new prime minister. We would hope that any new approach to property development would also embrace ACE’s place-making campaign.

Education investment will also be on the new government’s docket as we foresee a greater commitment to a new school building programme alongside an increased investment in our digital networks as a way of improving equality and productivity across the whole of the UK. We further envisage that the government will continue to pursue a carbon-neutral target and the corresponding investment in green energy production that has already been started by the May administration.

All of these issues have been part of recent ACE campaigns and we are confident that the new government will lead to considerable opportunities for our members, but everything will depend on how effectively the new prime minister is able to cut the political gordian knot that is Brexit. Now more than ever must our industry speak with one voice and ACE stands ready to do its part.

Julian Francis is the director of policy and external affairs at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.

Source: Infracstructure Intelligence

The government is proposing to invest up to £18 million to help develop what will be the first mini nuclear power station in the UK.

The funding for small and advanced modular reactors will be less expensive to build that traditional nuclear plants – they will be designed so much of the plant can be built in a factor and transported to site for construction.

The news comes as a consortium led by Rolls-Royce has proposed a joint investment of more than £500 million on designing a first-of-a-kind small modular reactor (SMR), with a working model expected to be up and running in the early 2030s.

The project is expected to create 40,000 jobs at its peak, with each power station producing enough clean energy to power 750,000 homes.

The government funding, expected to be awarded in early Autumn 2019, is subject to a final decision to invest.

The announcement has been made as part of government proposals to explore a new financing model, the Regulated Asset Base (RAB) approach, to attract significant private investment for future nuclear power in the UK.

BEIS says the alternative model – already used in major infrastructure projects like the Thames Tideway Tunnel – could reduce the cost of financing infrastructure and risk for developers while limiting the impact on consumer bills in the long term.

It is seeking views from stakeholders and interested parties – until 14th October 2019 – on how a Nuclear RAB model could be implemented within the current energy system in a way that allows new nuclear to be built at low cost to consumers.

Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “A critically important step in reaching net zero emissions will be transforming the energy system so the economy can be powered by affordable, secure and clean energy. We will need to change not just the way we use energy in our homes and businesses but also how it is produced and delivered. We need to do this in a way that keeps the cost of energy as low as possible and ensures our energy security is never compromised.

“Through our modern Industrial Strategy we are building on our international leadership in clean growth to invest and develop the technologies and funding models we will need to reach net zero emissions.

“This new funding model has the potential to help UK industry seize the global challenge of the low carbon transition by building the infrastructure we need, while offering value for money for consumers and taxpayers.”

The government is also providing up to £40 million through the Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) programme and is currently considering project bids.

Up to £5 million will be provided to the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency to build readiness for SMRs and AMRs.


Source: Energy Live



CEMEX Ventures has celebrated its Pitch Day, an event at which the 10 winners of the Construction Startup Competition 2019 presented their solutions to a jury of experts in construction, innovation, and entrepreneurship. This global challenge, which doubled its participation compared to the 2018 competition, seeks new business models that work in the six priority opportunity areas defined by CEMEX Ventures.

Launched in February, the competition challenged the most promising startups to become leaders of the construction revolution. 10 solutions focused on the Contech space are one step closer to CEMEX Ventures’ offering and its challenge launched this year: to leave its mark on the industry. After an exhaustive analysis, those that stood out for their innovative and technological merit were named winners for providing solutions in one of the six areas of focus of CEMEX Ventures, or for improving the value offer of CEMEX in the countries in which it already operates or can open new markets.

The entrepreneurs who were invited for this three day event in Monterrey, Mexico, came from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Norway, the US, and the UK. The winners constituted the central axis of the event where, in addition to presenting their project, they engaged with multidisciplinary teams from CEMEX to explore possible opportunities for collaboration. They also conducted workshops with Google to optimise their search for customers and to understand how digital media helps generate value for attracting customers.

Winning startups offered solutions in the following areas:

  • 360 Smart Connect: Intelligent traceability to increase efficiency in construction processes (France).
  • Arqlite: Production of artificial gravel entirely from recycled plastics, which is three times lighter and 10 times more insulating that conventional gravel (Argentina).
  • BuildStream: Real-time management of heavy equipment and logistics in complex construction projects and their supply chains (US).
  • BldBox: Predictive analytics platform that takes advantage of historical project data and produces accurate estimates for new construction and development projects (US).
  • Matrak: Tracking network of construction materials that digitalises the supply chain (Australia).
  • Morta: Coding and automation for compliance and building regulations (UK).
  • PlanRadar: SaaS solution for documentation and communication in construction and real-estate projects (Austria).
  • Rebartek: Automation of the prefabrication of reinforcement cages by industrial robots (Norway).
  • Thunderbolt pipeline: Intelligent end-to-end platform that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to reduce risks and allow preconstruction teams to make more competitive offers (US).
  • Vero Solutions: Modular design builder that applies a disruptive and patentable technology for steel and cement (Canada).

The Pitch Day event was chaired by an integrated, multidisciplinary jury, with high functional and experience levels in the industry. It managed to combine leaders from the construction industry, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship on an international scale, including companies such as Google, 500Startups, TEKFEN Ventures, WND Ventures, and Dalus Capital.


Source: Cement World



Apple’s new Vancouver office looks absolutely spectacular, whether it’s taking space in iconic buildings or creating one of Earth’s most valuable offices, Apple sure has an eye for architecture.

Occupying two floors in a spectacular, still-under-construction development in Vancouver, BC. The 400 West Georgia building is set to open in 2020.

Apple didn’t have a role in the design, which is carried out by Merrick Architecture. However, it totally looks like something Apple would have created. The 24-story building will be 367,000 square feet in total. This is divided into a series of “reflective yet transparent” stacked boxes.

It kind of looks like a collection of modular G4 Power Mac Cubes stacked on top of each other at strange angles. Each box contains four floors and has a width roughly equivalent to its height. Merrick Architecture notes that:

“The stacked boxes create natural compartments within a continuous floorplate, allowing offices to be variously partitioned while also staying close to the façade. The floors and ceilings of the cantilevering portions are glazed to visually link the garden, the offices, and the street below. The resulting diversity of spaces is complimented by the diversity of views, whose orientation is not only horizontal, but also vertical.”

As noted, this is far from the first time Apple has picked out an impressive location for its new offices. In London, for example, it is currently refurbishing space in the iconic Battersea Power Station.

It’s not clear from the Bloomberg report exactly what work will be carried out in the new Vancouver office. (And, given Apple’s secrecy, we’ll probably never know.) One thing we can say, though, is that we’re certainly envious of anyone who gets to work in this amazing space!


Source: Cult of Mac



London’s construction market appears to be losing patience with Brexit uncertainty, as output growth gains speed and workload expectations gather pace for the year ahead.

According to a quarterly industry survey by RICS, 14 per cent more respondents reported an increase in construction workloads across London in the second three months of 2019. This is up from a minus two per cent net balance in the first quarter of the year.

Workloads in the London infrastructure sector also improved in the second quarter, as did those in private housing, social housing, commercial non-housing and public non-housing.

Meanwhile, workloads for the year ahead are projected to be resilient in housing, with 23 per cent of public sector and 27 per cent of private sector surveyors anticipating a rise in activity.

RICS’ market confidence indicator – a composite measure of workload, employment and profit margin expectations over the coming 12 months – rebounded to 21 per cent from 13 per cent in the first quarter.

RICS Senior Economist Jeffrey Matsu said: “Three years on and the long, unrelenting shadow of Brexit uncertainty is testing the mettle of the construction industry.

“After a prolonged period of delays and underinvestment, businesses now appear to be fed up and are proceeding cautiously with new hiring and intentions to invest.

“While much of this is likely to be backfilling or maintaining existing capacity, the requirements of larger projects such as Hinkley Point C and HS2 are constraining growth opportunities elsewhere.

“With the range of possible outcomes related to Brexit as wide as ever, we expect to see continued volatility in the construction output data but in the meanwhile foresee workload activity stabilising.”


Source: City A.M.


More than 100 more tower blocks must be urgently stripped of combustible cladding panels in a significant widening of the fire safety crisis since the Grenfell Tower disaster.

High-pressure laminate (HPL) panels, often made from compressed wood and paper and used to produce colourful patterns on new buildings, should be removed “as soon as possible” from housing taller than 18 metres, the government’s expert panel on fire safety demanded on Thursday.

The order (pdf) could affect thousands of tenants and leaseholders who previously believed their homes were safe. Industry experts believe at least 100 residential tower blocks will be affected.


Delays to safety reforms ‘risk a repeat of Grenfell disaster’

It is not the first time concerns have been raised over HPL cladding. Essex University is removing the panels from a student accommodation block in Southend after it was found to be in breach of building regulations despite being signed off by a building inspector.

The announcement is likely to mean fresh rows over who should pick up the bill, with the cost of stripping and replacing cladding often exceeding £20,000 for each household. There is no sign that the government is planning a bailout.

Experts, led by Roy Wilsher, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said that following fire tests it had become clear that many HPL panels were “very unlikely to adequately resist the spread of fire”.

“Building owners with these systems should immediately take action,” the fire safety panel said. “Action to remediate unsafe HPL should be carried out as soon as possible.”

HPL is widely used but the government has only recently tested it, having focused on cladding similar to the aluminium composite material (ACM) that helped spread the fire that claimed 72 lives at Grenfell.

The order applies to most forms of HPL cladding, which is categorised by fire resistance. Those below class B fire resistance should not be used, while class B, if used with combustible insulation, should also be removed. Class B, used with non-combustible insulation, had passed a fire test, the government said, and class A was considered safe.

Labour said it was a disgrace that ministers “waited until two years after Grenfell to confirm to people that they have been living in potential death traps”.

Sarah Jones, the shadow housing minister, said: “The government must immediately require building owners to check for this cladding, as they did with ACM, so we know the scale of this problem. Ministers must set a hard deadline to replace all dangerous cladding and toughen sanctions against block owners that won’t do the work.”

Work to remove ACM panels have been slow, with only a quarter of the 433 high-rise residential and publicly owned buildings identified as needing remediation having been fixed, leaving tens of thousands of people living in potentially dangerous buildings.

Householders have mounted night patrols to look out for fires. Many have described serious mental health problems and even suicidal thoughts as a result of the stress that comes from potential bills in the tens of thousands of pounds and homes plunging in value.

“We have seen the distress caused to tenants and leaseholders and that will now increase,” said Stephen Mackenzie, an independent fire safety consultant. “This could affect thousands of people. The government needs to get a grip of this.”

The government said it had always insisted it was the obligation of building owners to ensure that homes met building regulations and that materials used have undergone fire testing.

James Brokenshire, the housing secretary, said on Thursday that all buildings with ACM cladding must be fixed by June 2020 or their owners would face “enforcement action”, although he did not specify what that would be.

The new order for HPL to be removed is likely to fuel fears that further fire safety problems could yet emerge. This week Neil O’Connor, the director of the Ministry of Housing’s building safety programme, wrote to all local authority chief executives requesting that they identify the external wall materials and insulation used on every high-rise residential building over 18 metres tall in council or private ownership in their areas.

He did the same with social housing landlords and said the government “continues to consider safety risks to high-rise buildings”.

A housing ministry spokesperson said: “There should be no buildings in this country with this combination of cladding and insulation. Building owners are legally responsible for ensuring the safety of their buildings and need to make sure this is the case. They should be well aware of their responsibilities as we issued clear-cut advice in December 2017, reinforced last December, telling them to check that only safe cladding and insulation combinations had been used on their buildings.”


Source: The Guardian

A McKinsey & Co. study gives construction industry low ranking for AI adoption.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has pervaded almost every industry; however, the construction industry is failing to take advantage of this technology, according to a 2018 report by the New York-based consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

When discussing AI in the construction industry, the report’s authors cite lack of resources as the impetus holding contractors back from embracing this technology. “Despite proven high return on investment (ROI) and widespread management interest in AI solutions, few [construction] firms or owners currently have the capabilities—including the personnel, processes and tools—to implement them,” the article states.

This may begin to change, as industries adjacent to construction, such as transportation and manufacturing, continue to advance AI. Because tools and solutions used in adjacent industries can be applied to construction, the industry may be forced to evolve and begin using AI, as well. “Stakeholders across the project lifecycle—including contractors, operators, owners and service providers—can no longer afford to conceive of AI as technology that’s pertinent only to other industries,” the article states.

Current state of AI in construction

Construction is falling behind in integrating AI into the industry. In a study conducted by McKinsey, researchers found that out of 12 industries, nine ranked higher than construction in the percent of firms integrating AI into their businesses. High tech and telecommunications led the industries with almost 32 percent AI adoption, while travel and tourism ranked last with about 11 percent AI adoption. Construction’s AI adoption rate was approximately 16 percent.

AI transferred from other industries

Because AI encompasses an array of possibilities, such as natural language processing and robotics, technology that has been formulated for other industries can be applicable to construction.

Authors of the McKinsey article explain that transportation route optimization algorithms can be transferrable for construction project planning optimization. Existing technology allows transportation companies to optimize routes and improve traffic navigation, the McKinsey article states, and once reinforcement learning—learning which allows algorithms to learn based on trial and error—is applied, more efficient methods of transportation may be created. “Such technology could be directly applicable to [construction] project planning and scheduling, as it has the potential to assess endless combinations and alternatives based on similar projects, optimizing the best path and correcting themselves over time,” the article states.

Retail supply chain has utilized AI to reduce manufacturing downtime, reduce oversupply and increase predictability of shipments, the article says. In the construction industry, this technology can be applied to inventory management of off-site materials.

Robotics is an element of AI that is already being applied in construction today; however, the article explains that there are opportunities for its uses to be maximized: “For example, robotics industry researchers have successfully trained robotic arms to move by learning from simulations. In [construction], this application might someday be applied to prefabrication techniques and maintenance operations for oil and gas as well as other industrial industries.”

Machine learning algorithms

Machine learning, both supervised and unsupervised, is an element of AI. The McKinsey study looked at various business applications where machine learning may be used.

One example the article cites is that owners and contractors can use supervised learning methods to aid them in decision making. “These applications can recommend to engineers and architects the use of a specific design, such as … architectural finishes (for example, curtain walls vs. window walls) based on various criteria (for example, total cost of ownership, timeline to complete execution, likelihood of defective construction mistakes during execution). The end result is that owners and contractors have more information with which to make an informed decision,” the article says.

How leaders can take advantage of AI

Stakeholders in the construction industry may want to consider implementing AI in their companies. Because of limited resources that construction companies currently have, AI should be used in the areas where it can have the most impact and where it can be most effective. The article also suggests that construction companies dedicate a portion of their research and development funding towards improving their digital capabilities. Without sustainable digitization, AI cannot flourish. McKinsey’s research found that companies with strong digitization efforts are 50 percent more likely to generate profit from using AI. Along with this, companies should be knowledgeable about what other industries are using AI for and consider if those applications can be translated to the construction industry.

Looking forward

Although the construction industry has not yet fully embraced AI, in the future, the industry may benefit from AI’s applications. Whether it be transferring existing applications from other industries or discovering applications unique to construction, AI can help optimize opportunities and increase revenues.


Source: Construction and Demolition Recycling

An affordable housing project will see 11 one- and two-bedroom ‘pods’ built using modular technology above the Chalks Road car park in Bristol.

A scheme to build 11 low-carbon, affordable homes above a car park has been granted planning permission by Bristol City Council.

The project was proposed by housing developer ZED Pods, which specialises in the manufacture of rapid build, affordable modular homes require minimal land for construction

The firm is now planning to build nine one-bedroom and two two-bedroom ‘pods’ above the Chalks Road car park next to St George Park in Bristol. Four of the units will be let at social rent, as the company seeks to signpost a way to create affordable, low carbon housing alongside existing land use.

Once all of the relevant planning conditions have been met, ZED Pods will begin production of the pods at the Peterborough factory of its partner Lesko Modular Group.

The modular ‘pods’ that are delivered to the site will include hard fixtures, such as a kitchen including fridge/cooker/hobs and a wet room with shower, loo, and washbasin.

Advocates of modular building techniques maintain that they can deliver high quality homes quickly and in a resource, carbon, and labour efficient manner that cuts down on costs and environmental impacts.

“The ZEDPods development rethinks existing land use, demonstrating a new possibility in helping solve the housing crisis, whilst at the same time providing beautiful, low carbon housing that lasts,” said Dr Rehan Khodabuccus, operations director at ZED Pods.

“Our focus on a 100 per cent sustainable end-of-life construction solution involves an integrated roof mounted solar array, a super insulated building envelope with triple glazed windows, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery coupled with a design that gives exceptional levels of daylighting resulting in extremely low running costs.”

This project is a collaboration between Bristol Housing Festival, ZED Pods Ltd, a Bristol based Housing Association, the YMCA Bristol, Bristol and Bath Regional Capital and Bristol City Council.

“Bristol City Council’s decision to support this development is great news for Bristol,” said Jez Sweetland, Project Director for Bristol Housing Festival. “Our initial plans were for seven pods, however we are now able to provide 11 pods through this planning approval. We are excited that this Festival project is a quality, low carbon build with great sustainability credentials and we look forward to seeing the pods completed.”

Source: BusinessGreen


Design practice Studio Precht teamed up with tiny-house startup Baumbau to design Bert, a tiny modular treehouse that’s expected to hit the market in spring 2020. Inspired by the Minion films, the playful periscope-like structures eschew hard angles and offer a livable and cozy environment with a minimal footprint and off-grid capabilities, including built-in solar and a water treatment facility.

Designed as a reaction to Bauhaus-style buildings found in cities worldwide, Bert embraces diversity and natural materials rather than cold concrete and steel. Built with a wood structure with fabric-lined interiors, the Bert treehouse mimics the shape of a tree, from its rounded trunk-like body to its brown leaf-like shingles on the facade that help camouflage the building into the surroundings. Large glass openings immerse users in the forest. As a modular structure, all parts of Bert will be prefabricated in a factory and assembled on site to reduce landscape impact.

Futuristic treehouse in Arkansas is designed to inspire imagination, “We are fully aware that architecture is this serious and profound craft with a long culture and tradition,” says the design team in a press statement. “You see that when we architects find reference for our projects in art, philosophy, literature or nature. For this project, we also looked at art to find reference. But not at Michelangelo or Dali. Rather we looked at cartoon characters of Sesame Street or Minions. We took a playful look at this project and wanted to create a rather unique character than a conventional building. A quirky looking character that becomes part of the wildlife of a forest. I think this quirkiness can create feelings and emotions. And maybe these are attributes in architecture that are missing these days.”

Modeled after a tiny home, Bert offers all the basic necessities within four floors. The entrance and living space is located on the ground floor, a bedroom and sitting area on the second floor, the kitchen and dining area with a secondary bedroom on the third floor, and the bathroom on the top floor. As a modular structure, the Bert treehouse can be customized to the buyer’s specifications to “grow” taller and wider with new modules, making it an ideal choice for eco-hotel operators. The smallest Bert structure starts at 120.000€ ($136,313 USD) and is expected to hit the market early next year.


Source: Inhabitat


A joint venture between Trafford Housing Trust, L&Q and contractor Willmott Dixon using modern methods of construction is set to deliver 250 homes on a Homes England site in Preston.

The development vehicle Laurus Partnership Homes will buy the land in the Fulwood area of the Lancashire town from the government’s housing delivery agency and subject to planning consent begin building the homes later this year.

The £47m scheme on D’Urton Lane will result in a mix of two, three and four-bedroom homes, with 127 being affordable through shared ownership and affordable rent. The remaining homes will be for private sale.

Larry Gold, chief executive at Sale-headquartered Trafford Housing Trust, called for the sector to take up his organisation’s business model which he said “sees us reinvest all profits into providing more new homes and supporting wider social purpose initiatives”.

Duncan Inglis, Homes England’s head of accelerated delivery, said modern methods of construction would be used on the Preston scheme to help increase the speed of the development.

The contractor would “adopt a sub-assemblies and components approach, which includes building techniques such as the installation of pre-cast ground floors, first floor cassettes, and installing pre-formed wiring looms”, Inglis added.


Source: Housing Today