The Rise of BuildtechBy Salvador Rivas | Fri, 07/29/2022 - 13:00
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs
When I started my architecture degree, I had to use traditional drawing methods and tools to portray my ideas on paper. It was a great way to learn the craft of the profession, since there was very little margin for error, unless I wanted to start all over again with a new drawing in the middle of the night. In addition, one of my mentors always kept pushing to develop our ideas in physical models, regardless of the complexity and scale of the project, as was the case for the planning of a 2,500-seat concert hall in Xalapa, Mexico — not a small feat back in 1998.
My generation experienced the incredible transition between hand-drawing techniques and CAD (Computer Assisted Design) methods, which provided new opportunities for the AEC industry since we were able to produce, amend and implement projects more efficiently. Another great advantage was the possibility of exchanging information digitally to different construction trades, in different locations. In the past 20 years, the progress of architectural design tools has been astonishing, having moved from drawings on paper to projects in the metaverse.
One of these technologies has been Building Information Modeling (BIM), which in some countries like the United Kingdom and Chile has been set as the standard for the development of projects in both the public and private sectors for some years now. In Mexico, projects like the Mexico New International Airport in Texcoco and the Toluca–Mexico City train have pushed the boundaries of what is possible when it comes to the development, coordination and implementation of “intelligent” three-dimensional models, which have key project information embedded to be used in “real time.”
To further promote these initiatives, Mexico’s BIM Task Group has been created as “a working group made up of companies that participate in the construction sector and academic institutions, with the aim of promoting transparency, control of resources and logistics, time and quality, both in public and private works.”  This is of key importance as it provides our industry with a set of standards, resources and tools to design, coordinate and develop public and private projects in a more efficient manner, optimizing all the resources available.
And this accelerated evolution in building design has permeated into other areas of construction technology with the introduction of 3D printing, robotics and manufacturing, which are making the construction of buildings and structures more efficient and financially, socially and environmentally sustainable. This represents a great opportunity for our AEC industry as new technologies, materials and processes have been identified as one of the four main trends to improve its productivity, as has been the case in the aerospace, automotive and electronic industries.
However, despite all these advancements in technology, most of the projects are still being constructed using “conventional” building methods, which respond to the materials, systems and labor skills available in the market. Because of this, there is a real need to optimize construction methodologies that recently have been exposed by events such as the pandemic, where many building typologies, both in design and construction, were affected by unexpected challenges in their stages of investment, procurement, and final delivery.
In recent years we have witnessed the development of fintech, proptech and other sophisticated ecosystems providing innovative tools and resources to develop different aspects of the global economy. It is now time for buildtech, “as an ecosystem to create new tools and applications to improve the way companies design, plan and execute projects, seeking to eliminate the challenges that have eliminated the projects that have affected the industry for decades.” This is indeed a great opportunity to develop new integrated building solutions.
This is neither a trend nor a fashion but an actual need to overcome the current and future challenges facing the AEC industry and the real estate sector and promptly develop and implement solutions that can effectively address these. In conversations with some of the most important developers and investors in Mexico, we have identified some of the key challenges in our region: such as uncertainty for some building typologies (offices), increasing costs for construction materials (steel), changes in consumer habits (millennial markets) and climate change (water scarcity).
Within these challenges, there are also great opportunities to implement efficient design methodologies across different building typologies. Can we imagine spaces in the office, residential and other building typologies that can be easily and physically adapted to changes in the workforce, family, and other users’ habits? These integrated solutions would represent major savings in the finances, time and overall resources that are required for the successful development, return on investment and end-user satisfaction of a real estate project.
There are certainly great areas of opportunity across different real estate markets, like residential, as most of the world economies are still not able to cope with the demand for housing, which in England alone totals 345,000 suitable new homes needed in 2020 with similar situations in the US, Mexico and Latin America. There are also opportunities in markets like offices, hospitality, healthcare, education and others, where optimized building solutions can provide better results in the design, construction and operation of the built environment.
And with our world now moving into another major challenge, with what seems a coming global economic recession, it is of key importance to seriously consider other alternatives with better results in the development of efficient, adaptable and sustainable building solutions. This can benefit investors, designers and builders, and all those involved in the AEC industry and real estate sector, as new projects can have better standards of cost, time and quality, which are needed to remain competitive in a highly challenging environment.
Referring to Steve Job’s initial quote, design is how things work indeed. Companies like Apple, Tesla and Dyson remain at the forefront of their industries because they constantly invest in research and development and have introduced to the market integrated design solutions that have challenged conventions. The power of good design is that it can analyze the challenges and develop alternative and effective solutions to improve people’s lives around the world. It seems this is really the time for the imminent rise of buildtech. Can we wait any longer?