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More than 270 architects, planners, engineers, contractors and suppliers from around the world accepted Aquatherm GmbH’s invitation to gain insights into the latest trends in commercial and industrial construction at the company’s inaugural BIGGEXCHANGE.
The event, held Sept. 11-13 at Aquatherm’s world headquarters in Attendorn, Germany, drew attendees from Germany, the United States, South Korea, China, Finland, and New Zealand to hear the insights of 16 world-class experts from architecture, industry and science.
The event derived its name from the Bigge River, which runs behind the company’s manufacturing facilities.
But the name naturally took on the added meaning of “big” as in large buildings that are increasingly playing an important role in terms of the event’s topics of urbanization and sustainability.
In fact, one of the presenters on the first day shared data from the World Bank that projects the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050 with 6.4 billion living in urban areas. If that pace becomes reality, 200,000 people a day will be moving into cities. Urbanization demands are inextricably linked to environmental concerns since commercial buildings consume 40 percent of global energy, 25 percent global water and produce 30 percent of the planet’s carbon emissions.
A “big exchange” is also a fitting description for the information shared by the speakers and the networking opportunities presented by such a gathering.
The two-day event grouped discussions into two broad themes. For example, the first day was dedicated to “People & Digitization.”
Keynote speaker Matthias Horx, who is considered one of the foremost futurists in Germany, discussed “The Power of Megatrends — How Digitalization, Urbanization and NEO-ecology are Changing Our World for the Better.”
He explained various megatrends as well as their corresponding countertrends.
What will the future look like for the construction sector? According to Horx, in the past, the megatrend of urbanization was always followed by the countertrend “homeland desire.”
Even today, urban regions can be identified in the intermediate form of village and city, each of which has its own characteristics. In addition, digitization will take on an increasingly important status, and more jobs will ultimately be created by automation in certain areas.
“In this whole process, we have just arrived, and we decide how to proceed,” he explained.
Dr. Alexander Rieck, who conducts research at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering and Organization in Stuttgart, Germany and is a partner and director of the international architecture firm Lava, spoke about “Future Construction Digital — How Building Will Change in the Digital Age.”
“We have a construction industry that has not been productive in the last 20 years,” Dr. Rieck said. “Instead of investing in new planning methods, it has been invested in cheap labor. We need to change that.”
Dr. Rieck said this could be done with “non-linear planning” rather than a straightforward approach to a task. The challenge is that all eventualities must be checked in parallel in order to determine the best planning for the task.
“We need the right tools for this,” he said, adding that BIM is one option, but far from the only one.
He also explained the need for a simulator system, perhaps based on artificial intelligence, which deals with all building rules — from DIN standards to European specifications — and offers planners scope for creative work. With this freedom, success in making the construction industry more economically viable could be anticipated.
Dr. Ing. Matthias Jacob from the structural engineering firms, Implenia Hochbau GmbH demonstrated how innovative tools are changing the construction industry.
His presentation included 3D-printed concrete houses, a digital wood construction process with the help of robots, and the collection of data by drones, which is becoming increasingly important in the construction industry.
According to Dr. Jacob, the trend is increasingly towards networked construction sites, including BIM.
“BIM is not rocket science, but for the first time it provides the chance for all parties to work simultaneously with the same database,” Dr. Jacob said.
He added that based on his experience, projects with BIM support were more effective in terms of quality and deadlines and costs.
“Our way of working must change,” he said. “It’s time to leave the comfort zone of the well-known business and embark on an error-prone learning process that must ultimately ensure that the company still exists in 50 years.”
The focus on BIM continued with the next speaker. Professor David Chua, a registered professional engineer, who teaches in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the National University of Singapore, reported about BIM in the context of manufacturing and assembly-ready product design.
He began his presentation with a study by his university and the Singapore Building and Construction Authority, which identified and analyzed 150 technologies and applications. According to this study, BIM is one of the most important technologies of the future.
“The future of construction lies in the field of prefabrication with integrated BIM and lean construction,” he said. “BIM forms the core of an integrated building information system that facilitates collaboration in construction, production, and logistics. BIM enables automation for precast production and assemble, and facilitates process optimization.”
Steve Butler, senior industry strategist for MEP at Autodesk, noted that low productivity and environmental concerns are forcing changes in how buildings are designed, constructed and maintained, and he discussed some of the emerging trends that are enabling those changes and suggested where the commercial MEP industry might be headed in the near future.
Dr. Nicolai Ritter, solicitor at the Berlin office of the international law company CMS, talked about BIM and law.
“This method for optimizing the planning, building and administrating of real estate by means of digital models is legally not problematic nor does it raise new legal risks,” Ritter said. “However, it is necessary to correctly understand the legally applicable rules and to accurately represent BIM.” In his presentation he gave tips on contracting, fees and liability issues.
Communication expert Peter Heinrich discussed the importance of voluntary corporate social responsibility. Heinrich, the managing partner of communications firm, Heinrich GmbH, explained which points are essential for successful CSR communications.
Finally, management consultant Robert Egger explained how the latest findings from "neurophysics" could help boost worker efficiency. Egger finished off the first conference day by leading attendees into various relaxation methods.
Sustainability & Technology
The second day started with keynote speaker Arab Hoballah, who served for 25 years as an expert on urbanization and sustainability for the United Nations.
“We have the technology to do business sustainably, but we do not use it,” Hoballah said, noting that he sees it as a responsibility of politicians to change this situation.
“There is optimism through transformative change,” Hoballah explained. “We need to be proactive; it is up to us. Mitigating climate change starts with buildings.”
Hoballah also discussed his concept of ’“urban metabolism,” which views buildings similar to our own bodies, with positive impacts based on what is “ingested.”
Following Hoballah, Julia Goerke from Thinkstep AG, which provides sustainability software, data and consulting services, pointed out the importance of sustainable building.
“The construction sector plays a key role in international and national climate policy because it causes one-third of global CO2 emissions from construction site through use to demolition,” Goerke said. “For this reason, measures have been taken for years to reduce environmental pollution from the construction sector.”
She introduced participants to a number of certification systems for sustainable buildings and spoke about the requirements in the field of building services.
Information about the interaction between building construction and building fire protection was provided by Manfred Lippe, one of the leading experts in building fire protection in Germany. He discussed various bulk heading options for walls or ceilings and provided examples of how to prevent the transmission of fire and smoke during a building fire.
Heiko Lüdemann explained how ice energy storage and power-generating roofs can contribute to energy transition. The managing director of Viessmann Eis-Energiespeicher GmbH showed the participants tools through which they can best meet the heating and cooling requirements in new and existing buildings while making them nearly carbon dioxide-free.
Bernd Schwarzfeld, the founder of the Ökoplan engineering office and an expert on building technical plants, illustrated why climate change is the result of planned actions.
The attendees learned from Martin Palsa, managing director of Grundfos GmbH, how digitization will change the role of pumps. Palsa presented the concept “iSolutions,” in which pumps are integrated into complex systems. Monitoring, operation, and analysis of pumps by cloud-based applications are all elements in this new concept.
Professor Brian Cody, head of the faculty for building and energy of the Graz Technical University, talked about the maximization of building energy performance by using natural forces.
“In the design of buildings, we have to work with the existing natural forces,” he said, providing numerous examples of how this can succeed.
The second day ended with a presentation by Jürgen Hahnrath, head of industry solution sales at Cisco Systems Deutschland. Hahnrath’s lecture dealt with the Internet of Things and showed how the vast amounts of data acquired from machines, buildings, and vehicles can be used for planning and controlling purposes. As an example, he mentioned the optimization of lighting
A session designed especially for architects and planners featured three additional speakers. Eike Becker (Eike Becker – Architects, Berlin), Stefan Holst (Transsolar Energietechnik, Stuttgart) and Jan Musikowski (Richter Musikowski, Berlin) presented technologically challenging design examples from their practices.
The numerous lectures were an important part of the event, but of equal importance was the exchange of knowledge among participants.
As a result, the event also built in plenty of time for coffee breaks and lunch during the day and also included dinner on both nights.
“If we don’t start communicating and building stronger alliances, we will never turn the construction industry into something more positive,” Dirk Rosenberg told us during a break.
Often, Dirk says the architects, engineers, designers, contractors and distributors don’t even talk about the very projects they are all working on together.
“Everyone knows there is an urgent need to change something, but many don’t have the time,” Rosenberg said, who along with his brothers, Maik and Christof, are managing directors of Aquatherm. “But intense communication between people means that today’s visions can be put into reality tomorrow.”
The brothers do have plans to continue to present other BIGGEXCHANGEs in the future.
“The BIGGEXCHANGE is a good brand for social responsibility, sustainability and education,” Dirk said. “We have to put more energy into this to keep connecting. This is only the starting point."