Construction trends

Sustainable living and smart building materials

The construction sector is experiencing considerable change. Alongside the increasing digitisation of working processes, social trends such as sustainable and healthy living are set to shape 2017. The German government is leading the way with its 2050 Climate Protection Plan and its decision to switch to Building Information Modelling (BIM) for large-scale infrastructure projects by 2020. Researchers around the world are also working on innovative building materials and façade systems, which will bring about lasting change.

1. Sustainability: Maximum energy efficiency

2017 will be another year in which the construction sector is dominated by sustainability. With its 2050 Climate Protection Plan, the German government is endeavouring to slash CO2 emissions by 2050. This specifically means a reduction in greenhouse gases of 80 to 95 percent compared to the levels in 1990. The aim is to create climate-neutral towns and municipalities, and to improve the quality of life for all residents. In this context, the new Act on Energy Performance, as drafted in 2017, provides that new public buildings will meet the nearly-zero energy standard from 2019 and new private buildings will do so from 2021. This means that they will consume almost no energy at all. Significant environmental benefits and low construction and management costs play a central role here. But the roofs, façades and building services of the existing building stock also need to be upgraded in order to increase energy efficiency.

2. Healthy living environment: Environmentally friendly building and insulation materials

Construction for a healthy living environment is closely connected with sustainability. This holistic approach includes the use of environmentally friendly building and insulation materials. Hemp, flax, cellulose and marine algae are establishing themselves as new materials on the market. The focus here is on renewable raw materials that can be recycled or disposed without damaging the environment. Some of the eco-friendly insulation materials even perform better than conventional materials in terms of their chemical and physical properties. Cellulose, for example, has impressively low production costs and low flammability. The trend in adhesive and sealant materials is similarly towards reducing harmful emissions as far as possible, by using innovative and environmentally friendly materials.

3.       Modular building systems: Flexible and fast

The tiny house trend in Germany has prompted a new type of building – modular houses. Against the background of the demographic challenges facing us today – many single people, frequent relocation, lack of accommodation in urban centres – these ready-made building systems offer a great deal of flexibility. They can be extended in any way you wish and taken with you when you move. This novel approach to building reduces construction times, meaning that large building complexes can be erected in just a few days. The modules are smaller than a conventional kit home, simplifying transport while at the same time opening up options for creative freedom.

4.       Innovative façade systems: Solar technology 2.0

The façades of the future will do more than just protect us from the weather. They will also support energy production by means of in-built solar technology. Various research institutions around the world are looking at ways to design photovoltaic elements so that they absorb solar energy and let through daylight. This includes innovative methods for faster production of wafer-based modules, solar concentrators and transparent wood. The aim of newly developed, automated shading and ventilation systems is to further optimise the exchange of heat between indoor and outdoor air.

5.       Smart building materials: Clever plants

Smart building materials are also being used in façades. Instead of being static, these materials are dynamic, meaning that they respond to changes in the environment. In a bio-reactor façade in Hamburg, for example, microalgae have been growing in special glass modules since 2013. This converts solar energy into thermal energy and produces biomass at the same time, which is also used to generate biogas. One of the classic building materials – wood – is currently undergoing something of a renaissance. Because wood stores carbon dioxide in its fibres, a building made from this inherently simple material can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. New smart building materials, as well as those that are already tried and tested, will change the construction sector in the long term.

6.       Home automation: The digital networking of buildings

One of the trends shaping the construction sector in 2017 is the concept of smart homes – the digital networking of building services, household appliances and entertainment electronics. This technical approach pursues three goals: efficient use of energy, increased security and higher comfort of living. There are already a large number of providers on the market, offering various wireless solutions. The current trend is for increased cooperation between different manufacturers. They are therefore creating systems that are universally compatible, offering more flexibility for device connection. The Fraunhofer Building Innovation Alliance sees much potential for the future in automated ventilation and shading systems, and in miniaturised sensor technology for example.

7.       Digital transformation in the building sector: BIM gaining ground

Some architects and contractors are already familiar with Building Information Modelling (BIM). This way of working is particularly in demand by clients in the public sector.  The German Federal Ministry of Transport envisages gradual introduction by 2020, in order to optimise large infrastructure projects. BIM ensures better communication between those involved in the project, increased transparency and reduced construction risks. Using a digital 3D model, engineers and technicians work through simulations of specialised plans to identify possible problems at an early stage. The different software manufacturers are continually improving their products to facilitate efficient project management – both for the construction phase and for the usage phase of buildings and facilities.

One thing is clear: The future of construction is efficient

The word ‘efficiency’ sums up the construction trends for 2017: efficient energy generation, efficient project management and efficient management of building technology, in the form of smart homes and automated façade systems for example. This is primarily due to requirements being imposed by government, science and society. Innovative research and digitisation will help the construction sector to achieve these goals. You can find more information on green issues in the building sector in our article ‘Sustainable building’.