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:

When the Oroville Dam failed earlier this year, it prompted a review of numerous major infrastructure projects throughout California. The news is not good, as it is clear that many billions of dollars of tax-funded projects were designed and constructed to withstand significant seismic events. That’s because we’ve learned that our previous codes and standards were too lax.

A preliminary report reviewing the failure of the Oroville site specifically shows that even the less stringent codes and standards or yesteryear were not adhered to. According to Steve Schooner of the Chico Enterprise-Record:

The result was a spillway as thin as 7 inches in places, much of it built on rock that was not sound enough for anchors driven into it to hold the concrete slabs in place.

The concrete was prone to crack in the thin spots, letting more water though the concrete than the drainage system was built to handle. The drainage system was designed just to carry away groundwater seepage, according to John France, leader of the forensic team, who spoke to reporters during a conference call Tuesday afternoon.

Repairs were also faulted as “generally limited in extent, rather than designed to reliably and durably withstand high-velocity flows.”

The truly scary part: Oroville’s situation is far from resolved, and (based on inside information I have access to) there isn’t a ton of confidence that the fix proposed will adequately address the issues.

Becoming licensed as an architect, engineer or contractor is the culmination of many years of hard work. Since humans often like shortcuts, I suppose it should come as no surprise that someone felt that impersonating an architect would be a lot easier than actually becoming one.

As you might expect, hilarity did not ensue.

Consumerist’s Laura Northrop has the story:

If someone is a successful architect, people assume that he or she actually is an architect. Yet a man in upstate New York who drew up renderings of over 100 buildings and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments for designing commercial and residential buildings has been charged with pretending to be an architect for more than half a decade.

According to New York’s state Attorney General, the alleged fake architect’s crimes go beyond just telling people that he was an architect when he wanted to impress them. He’s accused posed as an architect from 2010 to 2016, designing buildings and submitting site plans for projects in and around Albany, NY. These included apartment buildings with hundreds of units, a development of townhouses, and a a retail store.

You’ll want to read the full story, but I did want to point out the hilarious Seinfeld clip that Northrop included with her post:

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.

Vancouver, British Colombia played host for a couple decades to a dramatic uprising of concrete-clad condos that permanently altered the city’s skyline. Developers rushing to sell units to (oftentimes  foreign) investors and empty-nesters cut corners, leading to years of litigation followed by tougher standards and improved oversight — particularly regarding the building envelope.

Despite the progress, construction defects have been far from eradicated in the Vancouver region.  According to CTV’s John Woodward, the (presumably unrelated) Woodward building located in the historic Gastown neighborhood is subject to a $1-million (CAD) lawsuit over failing — and falling — concrete. Here’s more:

The suit, which was filed in 2016, refers to a 2014 engineering report done five years after the building opened with designs of transforming the Downtown Eastside.

That survey found fourteen cases of exposed rebar in the exterior of the building, and warned: “Unrepaired exposed steel will corrode and cause more of the surrounding concrete to spall and break off, creating a safety hazard for vehicles and pedestrians below.”

The review found nine cases of staining from corrosion, 12 cases of concrete cracks, as well as 13 cases of efflorescence of concrete–a streaking that is a sign of moisture ingress–and two cases of missing sealant.

Kevin Nute, writing for the Washington Post:

A building’s primary purpose may be to keep the weather out, but most of them do such an effective job of this that they also inadvertently deprive us of contact with two key requirements for our well-being and effectiveness: nature and change.

In the 1950s, Donald Hebb’s “arousal theory” established that people need a degree of changing sensory stimulation to remain fully attentive. And 30 years later, landmark research by health-care designer Roger Ulrich showed that hospital patients in rooms with views of nature had lower stress levels and recovered more quickly than patients whose rooms looked out at a brick wall.

Unfortunately, many buildings — especially in cities — are not blessed with green surroundings. I am part of a group of architects and psychologists at the University of Oregon that has been examining ways to overcome this problem using an aspect of nature available anywhere: the weather. Think of rippling sunlight reflecting from water onto the underside of a boat, or the dappled shadows from foliage swaying in a breeze. Other examples can be seen at vitalarchitecture.org.

How a building’s design, use of materials, the amount of natural air and light allowed, and — perhaps most importantly — how it is operated, all have measurable and well-established impacts on building occupants.

As Megan Fowler point out at ArchDaily in response, these concepts shouldn’t be reserved solely for new buildings, but in fact, we desperately need to apply them to the existing buildings that make up the vast majority of our building stock.

The dilemma of course, is how do you allow more weather in, while simultaneously protecting occupants (and sensitive building components) from that weather in order to comply with basic building code requirements? Besides integrating advanced technologies into the design and construction process, I predict this challenge will become critical to the future of our industry in coming years.

Grenfell Tower, a UK public housing project that caught fire recently, was a true disaster that is most likely directly attributable to incompatible design specifications and implementation by established architecture, engineering and construction professionals.  I’ve been holding off publishing much about the event until there is more consensus from the forensic experts regarding root cause, but I felt this was worth sharing in the meantime.

Peter Murray, writing for Archinect, offered his take following a talk by the CEO of a UK housing developer discussing the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster. Specifically, Murray focuses on the UK (and, it should be noted, US) practice of relying on subcontractors to transfer away risk. The title of his article: “The return of the master builder?”

In the coming months and years there will be numerous inquiries into the cause of the fire and its effect. There will be investigations to ascertain blame – corporate, personal and institutional. All to ensure that nothing similar happens again. While the results of forensic analysis and judicial process will potentially take years to publish, it is appropriate that attention is paid to key concerns that have emerged in the immediate aftermath. The testing of cladding materials and their context is the most publicised of these, but the issues highlighted by Vlessing have subsequently been picked up by many professionals and by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The institute’s recent statement points out that current building procurement methods mean that the lead designer (architect or engineer) is frequently not responsible throughout the project for the design and the specification of materials or the inspection of their installation. The RIBA also commented on the disappearance of the clerk of works who would traditionally inspect the work of contractors and report non-compliance to the client.

Architects have argued for some time that not having the authority to insist on specific products being used in design build contracts allows contractors to change specifications to cheaper materials, without understanding the knock-on effect. In some cases architects are discouraged from going to site, but when they do manage to influence the process they are often seen as adding cost. Which of course is frequently the case if they are stopping the contractor from using the less expensive and possibly inappropriate spec.

[…]

As the construction industry discusses the aftermath of Grenfell and the changes that need to take place in the procurement of buildings it should ensure that there is greater consistency of quality control throughout the process. In the era of BIM, VR, MMC and an industry that is committed to collaboration, perhaps we should look again at the master builder role that Fosters carried out in Hong Kong. The idea of the architect as master builder was described by Paul Morrell when he was Government Construction Advisor as a’role that many still romantically profess an ambition for’. But however romantic it may be and whether it is an architect or other professional, the industry which has discussed collaboration for so long but has ended up with buck passing, needs a new mechanism for delivering a fully integrated end product.

 

Emily Lipstein, writing for Gizmodo Australia reported the following:

After long years of research, your efforts have paid off: the archaeological site you’re digging in has turned up a stash of rare, striking bones, no doubt the beginning of a groundbreaking discovery. Only then, you find the KFC wrapper, revealing that this “ancient burial ground” is just the leftovers of someone’s lunch.

In the summer of 2015, scientists on Twitter started describing research mishaps like this — which happen more often than you’d think — as “fieldwork fails.” The #fieldworkfail hashtag went viral, and two years later, it’s getting an encore in a new book by French illustrator Jim Jourdane  (available for pre-order later this year), thanks to his blog and a successful Kickstarter campaign.

As Jourdane reveals in Fieldwork Fail, things often don’t go as planned in science. The book contains fieldwork mishaps from the fun and harmless, like realising the “bat” you thought you were tracking was actually a crosswalk signal, to the more dangerous, like peeing on a jaguar’s marked tree and getting stalked through the jungle for three weeks. It’s a great starting point for scientists to communicate some of the less-sexy aspects of their work.

This is a book I’ll definitely be adding to my wish list.

Here’s three examples of my own fieldwork fails:

  1. During an investigation of a home owned by a judge who was also the lead plaintiff in a construction defect lawsuit, a tool on my tool belt just barely touched the judge’s glass desk as I was walking by. The judge’s wife heard the sound, ran into the room and sure enough, she found a less than 1/16″ mark in the glass surface. The cost of replacing the top was deducted from my pay, and I kept the original in storage for more than 15 years, before deciding the piece was too tacky to make into a desk for myself.
  2. Representing the country’s largest homebuilder in a highly contentious case in Nevada, I unfortunately had to skip the inspection of several homes due to contracting swine flu. The worst part was trying to drive home 5 hours with an extremely high fever. The best part was that once I got home, there was a Mad Men marathon going on that I thoroughly enjoyed over the next week it took for me to recover.
  3. I was making a cut in the drywall below an electrical panel at a condo unit that was part of a major claim against the builder. I needed to expose wiring below the panel to be inspected by about a dozen experts and the attorneys they worked for. Just as the team of experts walked into the door to start taking their pictures, my blade went through the electrical main, causing a short that shut down power to the entire building. Oh yeah, and it also disintegrated most of my blade, and the surge of electricity through my body knocked me out and caused my heart rate to go crazy for a couple hours.