This overview explores the concept of Architecture 4.0 and its relation to digital information and communication technologies. It is important to emphasise that the digital transformation, as described by the European Commission, is characterised by a fusion of advanced technologies and the integration of physical and digital systems, the predominance of innovative business models and new processes, and the creation of smart products and services.
The integration of digital and IT technologies (3rd Industrial Revolution) started with designers and engineers moving away from their drawing boards to computer aided design practice some decades ago. Digitalisation, and the technological innovation that supports it, is steadily becoming more important in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. It is changing the way projects are planned and built. With the constant improvement of digital technologies, the construction sector has progressively embedded the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM). BIM is a digital information management approach, and has been comprehensively addressed on the Build Up portal. BIM has been adopted by the construction industry to improve productivity and quality in building and infrastructure projects, from design to construction, operation and end of life, and to provide a basis for developing future services.
The reference to Architecture 4.0 emphasises the way architects conceive buildings and how it will change with the technologies that come with the fourth industrial revolution. It relates to an array of techniques and methodologies allowing indicators for an informed design, aiming, for example to reduce building environmental impact over its life cycle, or to evaluate the affordability of a new technology, or even the financial viability of a deep renovation over the life span of a building. This availability of technologies allows for new methodologies aiming at a more efficient use of resources consumed by new and renovated public and private buildings, both residential and tertiary, and to reduce their overall economic and environmental impacts throughout the full life cycle. One of the available methods to achieve this is Life Cycle Cost (LCC). LCC is a methodology which allows for the evaluation of the costs along the whole lifetime of a product or project, from production to construction to replacement or disposal. Therefore, looking at the whole life cycle it may be useful to determine the most convenient option, also considering the necessary maintenance works. LCC is different from LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) which has been set out previously in the Build Up portal.
In a recent interview on this topic during the Klimahouse Congress of January 2020, Ulrich Santa (Agenzia CasaClima) shared some insightful views on Architecture 4.0, the emergence of new technologies and how they impact the planning and construction of energy efficient buildings. In this interview, Ulrich Santa defined digitalisation and technological innovation as a “disruptive change in the industry”, highlighting how the uptake of these new technologies has an impact on occupation as the industry is increasingly seeking technically and digitally skilled workers. This is despite the fact that the construction industry will still use traditional techniques alongside technological innovation. He also emphasised the pressing need for training courses for professionals from the whole value chain of the construction industry. According to Ulrich Santa, there should be at high-quality planning as well as the execution quality to achieve real sustainable and energy efficient buildings. Ulrich Santa concluded this interview with his view on the pressing and increasing necessity to consider energy not only during the operational phase but also the energy required to build a building (embodied energy) and the fact that BIM based tools can be used to assess this embodied energy and also to reduce the construction times (and hence costs) and to avoid problems during the construction phase. Thus, improving the overall quality of the construction.
Among other interventions on the Klimahouse Congress, Armand Paardekooper Overman (architect from the architectural firm Mecanoo) underlined that while the construction sector is well-equipped for climate action (in terms of ambition, technology, the finance and the skills to integrate different disciplines) there is still room for improvement in terms of scaling up and speeding up processes in the construction sector.
EU H2020 PROJECTS
The European Commission is promoting the development of methodologies for the whole life cost calculation of buildings. In this sense, many projects are looking at introducing methodologies and benchmarks to test the environmental sustainability of buildings and achieve cost reductions in all life cycle phases of nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEBs) and renovation projects, from urban planning to building design, construction, and building operation. These projects are also considering additional benefits, such as architectural quality, indoor environmental and comfort improvements, and health aspects.
Difficulties in the planning, construction, and operation processes are some of the reasons when NZEBs fail to achieve the targets for performance and costs. The EU-Horizon 2020 project CRAVEzero focuses on proven and new approaches involving digital technology to reduce costs and improve NZEBs at all stages of the life cycle. The main goal is to identify and eliminate the extra costs for NZEBs related to inefficient processes and technologies and to promote innovative business models considering the cost-effectiveness for all the stakeholders.
The CINDERELA project aims to develop a new Circular Economy Business Model (CEBM) for use of secondary raw materials (SRM) in urban areas. Connecting different industries, the construction sector and municipal services, decision makers and the general public with the support of CinderOSS, a One-Stop-Shop service, providing a digital environment for tracking and modelling urban waste-to-product flows, on-line marketing and sharing knowledge and information along the value chain for the creation of circular business models. Building with SRM-based construction products supported by BIM is also considered. With this methodology the project could contribute to a 20% reduction of environmental impacts along the value and supply chain, reducing virgin material exploitation and converting waste to products. Sustainability of CEBM will be proven with the environmental, economic and social assessment through whole life LCA and LCC.
In addition, the Commission has been driving BIM innovation by funding research projects, some of which are summed up below to give a broad (but not exhaustive) landscape of the research focus. For instance, HIT2GAP aims to reduce the gap between the theoretical energy performance of buildings and the actual consumption in use by focusing on what causes this and on what could be done while a building is in operation. This is pursued by the use of highly innovative building control tools tackling the energy performance gap via an energy reporting platform, to which the partners of the project are currently working on.
In reference to the latest generation of digital and IT tools addressing energy efficiency in buildings, it is worth mentioning the BIMEET (BIM-based EU-wide Standardized Qualification Framework for achieving Energy Efficiency) project. This aims at leveraging the take-up of ICT and BIM through a significant upgrade of the skills and capacities of the EU construction workforce. BIMEET is currently developing skills matrices related to BIM and energy-efficiency and the description of skills will be given in the form of the European Qualifications Framework. BIMEET has developed specific BIM training suitable across different levels of the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) sector.
Another concept related to Architecture 4.0 refers to digital twins. A Digital Twin Environment is a virtual model of a physical product, process, system or service. It has two main purposes: to predict future behaviour and performance of the physical product, and as a source of information for the current and past actions in relation to the physical product Twinning this virtual information model with real data significantly helps the decision-making process during each phase of the whole building’s lifespan. It also increases collaboration across building related disciplines and reduces errors while improving the energy efficiency and reducing time and costs. To achieve this challenge the SPHERE project has implemented a concept of layers (such as design layer, an integrated ICT layer, building and construction apps, demonstration layer and maintenance layer) where each previous layer will underpin the development of the following one. The multitude of layers and their tools could provide a flexible and scalable solution for the future Assets Lifecycle Management of residential stock.
The BIM4REN project aims to innovate and allow every kind of construction actor to easily use novel and adequate BIM based digital tools and by doing so it aims to overcome current barriers in culture, knowledge, tradition, affordability and opportunity that hinder the access to the digital revolution. The project aspires to achieve this by proposing an independent and collaborative service platform which has the ambition to engage all stakeholders in the whole technology design and development process in line with the Open Innovation 2.0 approach.
To conclude, we can underline that new methodologies, such as BIM and LCC tools, cited in this article, but also IoT and AI, are among the main components to be considered in Architecture 4.0, which includes parametric design, customised prefabrication and building modelling. Such methods can be incorporated in all phases of the building in a diverse array of forms on which this article provides a glimpse on the changes expected in the sector.