New light through old windows: building in 2021

2021 is set to be an exciting, if challenging year for the construction industry. With significant changes to building regulations underway and a new regulator set to come into force, we will no doubt witness a change in industry culture and ways of doing things.

Modular housing, digital adoption and Net Zero 2050 will certainly dominate discussions as we look to make the construction sector safer, smarter and more efficient. As such, there’s plenty to be excited about.

As the year gets underway in earnest, with a surer feel of what the future holds than in December 2020, Rachel Davis, Director at leading structural and civil engineering practice Perega, offers her perspective on those trends she feels will drive industry decisions:

This is the Modern World

Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), is set to dominate residential construction in 2021, with huge advances being made over the last few years. Now the focus is beginning to shift towards commercial structures, particularly as COVID-19 has fostered a sea change, with more and more people moving to a work-from-home and flexible office space model.

Companies such as Modulr Space Ltd are starting to offer imaginative and attractive office environments which can be produced volumetrically, on any scale. This can accommodate for the needs of a self-employed creative to a massive conglomerate. Quality-controlled, sustainable and flexible, modular has great potential to provide the solution for a new world of work.

Improve don’t Move

With a stagnant property market, there has been a significant increase in improvement and renovation projects nationwide. With this in mind, the role of the structural engineer will grow in significance. Each year we hear of more and more mismanaged or under-informed jobs which end in catastrophe. The collapse of two Chelsea townhouses during extensive internal alterations is a recent and prominent example.

“As such, we hope homeowners, specifiers and contractors draw on the expertise of a structural engineer’s skillset when they lack relevant knowledge and information, however modest the project appears. 2021 will see a drive for quality across the board in construction and this should extend to the advice available when undertaking any structural change.”

Air Supply

Changes to Part F of Building Standards are going to have a significant impact on the way buildings are designed, as well as the components specified for them. While we often think of air quality in terms of controlled systems and mechanical engineering, the design of a building’s structure can also promote better airflow to promote passive ventilation. As we look towards our net-zero 2050 targets, we can see adoption of this low impact approach increase, moving away from carbon intensive HVAC systems.

Primarily, we will start to see structures specifically planned to harness and exploit the natural elements to promote airflow. This can be achieved in a number of ways, from specifying facades which capture a prevailing wind to creating high-ceiled, open plan interiors and creating architectural features throughout to direct airflow. One thing’s for certain, the days of cramped, confined rooms in commercial offices, full of stagnant, recycled air are set to become a thing of the past!

Seize the Day

Ultimately, 2021 looks likely to see opportunity tempered with reality. There are obvious hurdles to overcome, COVID-19 being the most pressing but also other long-term persistent issues such as the housing crisis and skills shortage.

However, if the sector makes the investment now into incremental innovation, new technology and fresh ways of going about business, they stand to benefit significantly in the future. We have already laid the foundations of continued success, let’s use this year to build on them.