Jane Embury, director, looks back to look forward
Last week, the UK marked a year from the first Covid-19 lockdown.
It was a solemn milestone, looking back on tragic events within families and communities.
But looking back is also an opportunity to look ahead with a new perspective, whether as individuals, companies or countries.
Because there’s no doubt that all our personal, corporate or national agendas have changed.
There is, I think, a general mood that the short-termism of the past needs to change. Covid-19 has taught us that we need to better plan for the future.
After all, the pandemic has brought our collective fragility in the face of the natural world into sharp focus.
That’s particularly pertinent when it comes to planning for our built environment. Resilience is now the keyword for planners and builders – and everyone else in the construction supply chain.
Resilience is about the design of buildings and wider communities to withstand climate change. That also involves moving toward a target of net zero carbon by, in the UK, 2050.
In turn, that means designing buildings that will last longer and, where possible, capable of being repurposed for other uses.
Designing for the future first involves a clear focus on sustainability, both in terms of carbon footprint, and recognising the impact of climate change.
That requires better planning decisions on, for example, locating new housing away from places susceptible to flooding – or actively putting in place flood defences.
When it comes to building design, better Building Information Modelling (BIM) is likely to grow in importance.
This involves real collaboration between contractors, owners, architects, engineers, and the project team. By setting clear objectives, not least for resilience, everyone knows from the outset what’s expected.
Meaningful collaboration from the start establishes better decision-making and can improve problem solving, solution simulations, and impact analyses.
Resilience is also about making use of sustainable building materials. For example, on new housing estates there’s no reason why whole communities couldn’t be built with shared electricity from solar generation.
That’s one of the innovative solutions adopted by Schoonchip Amsterdam, a new floating community in the Netherlands. It uses 500 solar panels and blockchain technology to generate electricity and exchange energy between households.
Schoonchip is built on cradle-to-cradle principles, which focus on renewable solutions to building. It also carries through to circular solutions for water and waste.
Cradle to Cradle is a set of design principles that describe the potentially infinite circulation of materials and nutrients in cycles where nothing is wasted and everything is reused.
Now, a year after the reality of Covid-19 struck home, it’s time for everyone in the design and construction sectors to work together.
That new way of working must no longer put people over planet. What the past year has taught us is that both are equally important.