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What’s happening in Urban living and Built environment?

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Cities are made up of a collection of buildings right? So it makes sense to have a team that covers both? As Head of Urban Living & Built Environment at Innovate UK I have found there are parallels to draw but the link isn’t about what makes a city; it is more on how innovative companies address these key global markets of the future.

Cities are a collection of citizens

First up, cities are better described as a collection of citizens rather than buildings. City government structures exist to provide services to its citizens, a fit for purpose built environment is just one aspect. As cities have become more important to humanity (since 2008 more of us live in cities that don’t and by 2050 over 70% of us will) they have become more complex.

Need to break silos in cities

Strain is being placed on critical city systems such as:

  • transport
  • energy
  • water
  • waste

These are increasingly intertwined with:

  • cultural
  • education
  • digital
  • security systems

Dealing with each challenge in silos, without understanding the inter-reliance with other systems has if anything exacerbated the problems.

Health as an inter-related urban challenge

To take a simple inter-relationship: improving health outcomes for citizens means dealing with transport networks and making it easier to walk and cycle, whereas improving access to healthcare for an aging population could relieve congestion in cities - 30% of all the traffic in Birmingham is NHS-related.

Managing upsides and downsides of growing cities

The upsides of cities need to be maintained while managing the (often linked) downsides. For example as cities become denser the carbon footprint of its citizens decreases, innovation increases and culture thrives. But densification brings challenges such as:

Innovate UK’s Urban Living programme is sector-agnostic

Innovate UK’s Urban Living programme is outcome focused and sector- and silo-agnostic. It helps cities translate these sorts of challenges in ways which business can respond. We help cities analyse their needs and model potential options.

The Future Cities catapult has critical strengths and facilities in helping cities to do this. We then fund projects to demonstrate the solutions work to decrease the risk for companies to create products and services for cities and build confidence for further investment.

Our mission is to meet the changing needs of cities

UK academic expertise on urban living is broad and key to developing a greater understanding of city challenges. The UK is world renowned for its architecture, infrastructure project management, finance and digital expertise. If you are developing a city, London is one of the best places to come to get the whole package. We estimate the market for integrated city systems will be £200bn per annum by 2030 and the mission of our programme is to help UK firms develop the products and services to meet the changing needs of cities, and to sell them to the world.

Data is changing how we understand the built environment

In the Built Environment sector the end clients (building and infrastructure managers) are also trying to improve the performance and services of their assets. Like cities, the ability to obtain, measure and model increasing amounts of data is changing how we understand the built environment and what we demand of it, i.e. the market is changing with technology.

Building Information Modelling will be mandatory on all government projects from 2016

To improve productivity and better connect the use of a building (where most value is generated) with the design and construction phases, digital tools and approaches (such as Building Information Modelling, BIM) need to be developed and adopted. BIM will be mandatory on all government projects from 2016 and has already been shown to have saved £840 million from UK central government infrastructure spending in 2013/14, and £1.2 billion in 2014/15.

Internet-of-thing technology will provide data on buildings

Construction companies and their supply chains are alive to the need to adopt BIM to win future contracts. Buildings and infrastructure will continue to provide increasing amounts of data as internet-of-thing technology is widely deployed.

Construction sector needs to adopt process industry approaches

The construction sector can also improve productivity through greater adoption of process industry approaches. Due to the reliance on skilled workers to construct houses, if we were to increase housebuilding in the UK from its current levels to the rate needed to alleviate pressure on hosing, the cost per home would increase due to the increased demand for skills such as bricklaying. This goes against manufacturing principles of economics of scale.

Manufacturing technologies enable construction to prosper

Being a sector reliant on artisanal methods also contributes to the variance in building quality, which affects performance in use and whole life costs. Integration of new manufacturing technologies such as robotics and additive manufacture are enabling offsite construction (to high tolerances) to prosper and retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency to be carried out more cost effectively.

Buildings need to integrate new energy technologies

As well as being more energy efficient, buildings increasingly need to integrate new energy technologies to reduce demand. Working with the innovators in this area will help us produce the low impact buildings needed by society.

Built Environment programme develops a sector led by digital processes

Our Built Environment programme connects:

  • architecture
  • engineering
  • construction industries

with innovators in:

  • digital
  • high-value manufacturing
  • energy

to develop a sector led by digital processes producing better performing buildings and infrastructure with a lower lifetime cost of ownership.

Programme past activities: design and performance gap

Past activities from the programme looked at:

Data from these and other projects is being made available through the Digital Catapult for the sector to innovate with.

UK has world leading academic research

The UK has world leading academic research in BIM, engineering and architecture and five of the world’s top 25 architecture, engineering and design firms by turnover. Major projects such as Crossrail are pulling through innovation (for example, see our Innovation and Knowledge Centre: CSIC). Collecting up the specific opportunities outlined gives a global addressable market of around £60 billion per annum.

Winning companies will stay ahead of the customer through partnering and innovating

For both areas the market is changing as technology disrupts what good looks like and the end customer demands on outcomes changes as a result. The winning companies in both areas will adapt to stay ahead of the customer through:

  • partnering with other disciplines
  • integrating the best technology
  • innovating new services

The role for Innovate UK is clear – we need to help bring together the cutting edge innovation from across the economy and support the scale up of companies in tackling these major global challenges.

Follow me on Twitter: @pittso

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