San Diego’s Building Industry Association played host to an outstanding and dynamic presentation earlier this morning on the topic of energy and the 2016 California building codes that went into effect at the beginning of this year.

The panelists included a great mix of building professionals and thought leaders that don’t merely speculate on the impact of green building — they live it:

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Jason Vander Griendt, founder of Render3DQuickly, posted a pretty decent roundup of some current applications for VR in the construction industry:

Humans are emotional and the more you connect with them emotionally the easier you can communicate, and this is what virtual reality helps you to achieve. Giving an immersive experience whereby your prospective clients can preview the elegance of your projects increases the chances of them approving of your request to work on their projects. Virtual reality gives a sense of satisfaction as it helps to satisfy the urge to know what lies behind a project.

The following points really resonated with me:

Even before some projects begin, there is a high chance there could be some dispute later. You don’t want to spent time and money working hard on a project only for it to be rejected later. This problem can be eliminated by offering a detailed illustration of the project so the client can see what will be included and some of the features that could be added to make it better. It provides a basis on which a client can make a decision whether to implement a project or to reject it before work commences.

Virtual reality also provides an easy guide to those who are not able to read technical scripts and maps. Everything that is provided is within the imagination of the client, and this makes it easy for them to understand because they can relate with most of the features included.

Technische Universiteit Eindhoven (TU/e) in Netherlands reports the following:

Today the Built Environment department’s concrete printer starts printing the world’s first 3D printed reinforced, pre-stressed concrete bridge. The cycle bridge will be part of a new section of ring road around Gemert in which the BAM Infra construction company is using innovative techniques.

One of the advantages of printing a bridge is that much less concrete is needed than in the conventional technique in which a mold is filled. By contrast, a printer deposits only the concrete where it is needed. This has benefits since in the production of cement a lot of CO2 is released and much less of this is needed for printed concrete. Another benefit lies in freedom of form: the printer can make any desired shape, and no wooden molding frames are needed.

An extra detail is that the researchers in the group of Theo Salet, professor of concrete construction, have succeeded in developing a process to also print the steel reinforcement at the same time. When laying a strip of concrete the concrete printer adds a steel cable so that the bridge is ‘pre-stressed’ so that no tensile stress can occur in the concrete, because this is something that concrete is not able to cope with adequately.

This is quite a feat! By including steel reinforcement and the ability to pre-stress, 3D printing is truly beginning to become a viable option for certain projects. What is especially fascinating to me is how this technology might be able to in the future avoid a common issue in structural concrete erection: congestion.

I have about $15-million in claims sitting on my virtual desk right now in which reinforcing congestion resulted in delays that had a material impact on the job.

Here’s a video:

Construction Junkie’s Shane Hedmond shared a video marking completion of work on the foundation at “The Tower” in Jeddah:

The final height of the building has yet to be announced, which is common for supertall buildings, as those involved want to avoid tipping their hand to fellow supertall building developers. It’s expected that the tower will end up between 3,600 feet and 4,413 feet tall. The Burj Khalifa is 2,722 feet tall.

Once completed, the building will likely enjoy a somewhat short-lived recognition as the next world’s tallest building.

From the video’s description:

Since The Tower’s ground-breaking ceremony in October 2016, more than 145 barrette piles have been laid to depths of over 72m. These piles are now being trimmed in preparation for the laying of the 19m-thick pile cap.

Designed by Spanish-Swiss architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava Valls, The Tower will have multiple several observation decks delivering 360 degree views of the city.

The project is currently on schedule for a 2020 completion with the final height of the structure yet to be revealed.

Annalee Newitz wrote an awesome piece for Ars Technica on a subject that most people would probably not care much about: Ancient Rome’s plumbing and sewage system:

The ancient Roman plumbing system was a legendary achievement in civil engineering, bringing fresh water to urbanites from hundreds of kilometers away. Wealthy Romans had hot and cold running water, as well as a sewage system that whisked waste away. Then, about 2,200 years ago, the waterworks got an upgrade: the discovery of lead pipes (called fistulae in Latin) meant the entire system could be expanded dramatically. The city’s infatuation with lead pipes led to the popular (and disputed) theory that Rome fell due to lead poisoning. Now, a new study reveals that the city’s lead plumbing infrastructure was at its biggest and most complicated during the centuries leading up to the empire’s peak.

Hugo Delile, an archaeologist with France’s National Center for Scientific Research, worked with a team to analyze lead content in 12-meter soil cores taken from Rome’s two harbors: the ancient Ostia (now 3km inland) and the artificially created Portus. In a recent paper for Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers explain how water gushing through Rome’s pipes picked up lead particles. Runoff from Rome’s plumbing system was dumped into the Tiber River, whose waters passed through both harbors. But the lead particles quickly sank in the less turbulent harbor waters, so Delile and his team hypothesized that depositional layers of lead in the soil cores would correlate to a more extensive network of lead pipes.

[…]

The very existence of the pipe system was a sign of Rome’s fantastic wealth and power. Most lead in Rome came from distant colonies in today’s France, Germany, England, and Spain, which meant the Empire needed an extensive trade network to build out its water infrastructure. Plus, the cost of maintenance was huge. All pipes were recycled, but the city still had to repair underground leaks, check water source quality, and prevent the massive aqueducts from crumbling. In the first century CE, Roman water commissioner Julius Frontinus wrote a two-volume treatise for the emperor on the city’s water system, including a discussion of how to prevent rampant water piracy, in which people would tap the aqueducts illegally for agricultural use—or just for drinking.

What is fascinating to me is how researchers were able to correlate the economic status of Rome at different historical periods with the quality of the water and sewage infrastructure. The fact that such an infrastructure even existed over 2,000 years ago is astonishing enough.

Procore, an all-encompassing software suite for managing construction projects, is a tool I use daily, and have become quite fond of. Moreover, the company is extremely forward-thinking in its approach to business, and the software development team is a fully Agile shop that, as I know from personal experience, is committed to constant improvement of their product for the benefit of end users.

The company also has a pretty great blog that focuses on lessons learned, best practices and highly effective teams. In a recent post at the Procore blog, UK construction freelance writer Paul Wilkinson discusses a major difference between European design/construction practices and those of the US: mandatory adoption of BIM.

Given that US federal and state administrations may be reluctant to mandate BIM as the UK did, perhaps the US can learn from the wider European experiences? In 2016, the European Commission asked the EU BIM Task Group to help align public sector use of BIM across the region. The group has developed a handbook, published in July 2017, covering procurement measures, technical considerations, cultural, and skills development, and the benefits case for BIM and ‘going digital’ for policy makers and public clients. It collates experiences from over 20 countries and presents a strategic framework to deliver robust and effective BIM programmes, identifying four key areas for action:

1. Establishing public leadership

2. Communicating vision and fostering communities

3. Developing a collaborative framework

4. Growing client and industry capability and capacity

It is all too easy to look at BIM as the obvious answer to so many outstanding issues and inefficiencies that exist in the built environment. However, as Wilkinson points out, that may be easier said than done:

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is more than just adoption of digital modeling technologies for design and construction. Its successful adoption also requires deep changes to how clients procure their projects, and new professional roles and responsibilities. These are significant steps, and, in an industry long prone to inertia, they may deter many from even starting.

According to The Engineer, a UK publication:

A consortium led by civil engineering visualisation expert Soluis Group has received £1 million of funding from Innovate UK to develop a so-called Augmented Worker System (AWE) for the construction industry.

Aimed at enabling engineers to make the most of the Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools that are now widely used by the construction sector, the project hopes to replace paper or handheld devices with hands free heads-up augmented reality (AR) displays that would provide real time access to data, and enable greater collaboration between teams and partners.

The project, which will kick off in September 2017, will build on earlier work Soluis carried out with Laing O’Rourke on the development of an AR asset management tool, that was piloted at Crossrail’s Liverpool Street station.

Notice that last sentence — this project builds on previous work developing asset management software. It is the handoff from the design and construction team to the facilities management team that really epitomizes the value of BIM in the built environment, in my opinion.

I predict that within 10 years, most major real estate portfolios will leverage BIM and augmented reality (AR) to manage facilities.

Consulting, as a profession, is in my humble opinion an extremely honorable pursuit that can bring tremendous value to the purchasers of consulting services. But that’s only when applying a very narrow definition of the “consulting.”

What is that definition?

A true consultant is an independent professional that through the application of their unique knowledge, experience and (occasionally) intellectual property, transforms the outcome of their client’s situation. (Kudos to Alan Weiss for that insight…)

But unfortunately, the majority of “consultants” out there are simply supplying outsourced labor.

And perhaps that’s why Lucas Miller’s post at TNW bothers me a little. The title of his post kind of says it all: Why you’re more qualified to be a consultant than you think.

From the intro:

This post isn’t just to boost your mood, although that would be a good side effect. The real purpose here is to show that you can utilize your talents in such a way that they pay the bills. The name of the game here is “consulting.”

I think words like “freelancing” or “subcontracting” are much more accurate than “consulting” when it comes to describing the work that most self-professed consultants perform.

To be fair, Miller does make mention of a consultant he knows that is producing measurable ROI for their clients, despite being only 18 — a real outlier. Unfortunately, it gives the impression that anybody can leverage skills picked up in between homework assignments and school dances.

Nervous about launching your career as consultant?

Don’t be — all you need is some successful experience, some productive failures, a lot of sweat equity, and the willingness to scrap a plan on a minute’s notice. If this sounds like you, congrats — you’re already qualified to be a consultant.

What’s missing? If you want to be a true consultant, make sure that the efforts of your client work produce measurable results, and ideally, implement value-based fees as opposed to billing based on increments of time.

But ultimately, perhaps the real test for who is and who is not a consultant comes down to their relationship with their client. A real consultant is a peer of their client, engaged in a collaborative process.