COVID-19 has had monumental impact on the world’s economy. With country-wide lockdowns and physical distancing restrictions, countries now face the challenge of restarting the economy, and catching up on lost time. Post-pandemic construction is one such area where a significant amount of ‘catch up’ is required. With ever-increasing demands for construction across a variety of sectors, the industry needs to adapt and gain efficiencies in as many areas as possible.
Post-pandemic building utilisation
One of the hardest hit industries during the pandemic was retailers, particularly those who had no online presence or sales channel. A stand out example is retailer Primark, a UK clothing store, who reportedly fell from £650 million a month to zero during lockdown. Whilst shops around the world gradually re-open, they continue to face the challenges of social distancing and strict capacity limits, also restricting their ability to “return to normal”.
Commercial properties have been vacated, and office buildings running at reduced staffing levels as remote working became standard practice for a large portion of the workforce. Whilst remote working proved challenging for many businesses that had yet to embrace technology, on the whole the benefits have been widely recognised including improved productivity, better air quality and lower office maintenance costs.
“The sudden shift to working from home moved the centre of gravity of places overnight – away from city centre shopping malls and office blocks, and into our homes and local high streets. Real estate owners and planning authorities can help restore a greener, healthier city centre hustle and bustle by embracing innovation and imagining and enabling new types of use for buildings and estates.” Lucy Yu, Entrepreneur and policy specialist
What does this mean for construction in a post-pandemic era?
Whilst remote working has been embraced across a variety of industries, the reality of this being embraced at such a high level for sustained periods is negligible. However, the risk and implications of the pandemic will continue to impact construction. From an architectural perspective, the need for better air flow through buildings, more open space, and other design elements are just one area to highlight.
One of the hardest-hit areas of the construction industry is the severe restrictions imposed when it comes to labour on site. Crowded construction sites are a thing of the past, with movement across sites limited in particular on high-rise building site lifts. In Australia, both Sydney and Melbourne have seen the construction sector limited to just 25% of workforce on site. During lockdown in France, 90% of onsite construction was halted. Despite this, deadlines remain and new projects continue to come in at a steady rate.
“COVID-19 has shown us just how fragile the eco-system for traditional construction is”, said Patrick Vrignon, President at BTP Consultants. “One actor involved in the project can bring the entire thing to a standstill.”
“We’ve reached the end of the rope for traditional construction,” said Patrick Vrignon.
Gaining efficiencies in construction now and post-pandemic
In Australia we are still in the throes of the pandemic, with New South Wales recording record-breaking case numbers for the country and Victoria staring at the face of their third wave. Some say the pandemic will continue to cause restrictions for up to the next twelve months and even beyond; gaining efficiencies wherever possible within the industry should be a high priority.
The efficiency and pace of modular construction makes projects significantly cheaper. For the same quality, if not better, modular construction can get a project done faster, and as many industry professionals know, every extra day on a project costs extra money.
Source: Building Enclosure Online
The advantages of prefabricated and modular construction are too significant to ignore. Extensive studies across the UK, America, Germany and Australia highlight the opportunity to enhance productivity compared to traditional construction, avoid errors by up to 30% or more, reduce costs and speed up construction.
Throughout the pandemic, expanding healthcare facilities without any disruption has been critically important. Modular construction allows this to occur with minimum impact on the hospital, with off-site production reducing on-site traffic, impact and labour requirements.
Labour shortages, material shortages, and material cost rises
As if the impact of social distancing and the pandemic were not enough, add in a sprinkle of labour shortages, a teaspoon of material shortages, and a cup full of price hikes on materials and it’s a dreadful recipe. As developers look for ways to save time and money in other areas, prefab and modular should be a high priority.
One of the primary benefits of prefab construction is economy of scale, which leads to higher productivity and a reduced cost per unit. Further, experts estimate that 30-40% of the materials used in traditional construction go to waste, as compared with 2% of material waste in prefab construction.
Besides creating cost savings, prefab construction can produce time savings. Workers can construct building components offsite while developers make on-site preparations — such as permitting and grading. Weather and other environmental factors can have less of an impact on a project’s timeline, as workers can complete the bulk of the construction indoors.
Embracing BIM (Building Information Modelling) Post-Pandemic
In one of our latest blogs, we discuss what is BIM and the important role it plays in the construction industry, but never has it been more important than during and post-pandemic. Remote working has forced the construction industry into the digital arena like never before.
An intelligent 3D model of buildings; BIM; allows the design, collaboration and management of construction projects across all key stakeholders. With the limited ability to travel, meet and discuss projects, BIM allows the project to advance and update automatically with data such as the number of doors, what the rooms are, what their fire ratings are, what building services are delivered, and so much more.
A 2019 report by the European Commission (EC) on the importance of adopting BIM suggests that full-scale digitalisation would lead to an annual global cost savings of EUR 0.6 trillion to EUR 1.0 trillion in the engineering and construction phases, and EUR 0.3 trillion to EUR 0.4 trillion in the operations phase of non-residential construction alone.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced the hand on many issues within the construction issues. Whilst countries such as the UK and America have innovated and embraced change and advances in technology, other countries such as France and Australia have not done so. By leveraging Building Information Modelling (BIM), prefabrication and modular building services and construction, the Australian construction industry can not only deliver existing projects, but do so at a reduced cost and in a reduced timeline.