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Are we really building a smart city smartly, asks Ishaan Rajankar, MSc, Imperial College, London

To build a smart city smartly, we must first begin with smart construction

Are we really building a smart city smartly, asks Ishaan Rajankar, MSc, Imperial College, London

Sustainability is a complex concept and an endless learning process. This presents a significant challenge to both policymakers and industry practitioners. Construction enterprises have taken commendable measures towards sustainability, but we still have a long way to go.


The UK government has a legally binding commitment to achieve an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. According to the latest Infrastructure Carbon Review, the impact of UK’s infrastructure is projected to increase from 53 per cent of UK emissions in 2010 to over 80 per cent of the carbon increase in 2025, rising to 90 per cent in 2050. Achieving an 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 is extremely challenging.


This calls for an urgent review of our current norms. Why for example, do pipelines have to be underground? Are we using efficient concrete and if not what would be the substitute? Can we begin recycling water at the construction sites to avoid building unnecessary assets? We need a fresh perspective to reduce artificial light through smart architecture because studies show lighting increases the carbon footprint. We need to find new ways of recycling waste and in many more areas to reduce carbon.


In constructing the Burj Khalifa, Dubai’s famed megatall skyscraper, it took 22 million man-hours, 45,000m3 (110,000 tonnes) of concrete for the foundations, and a further 330, 000m3 of concrete for the structure in a top-down construction method.


Approximately 900 kg of CO2 is emitted for each ton of concrete produced. For this building alone, the concrete emitted approximately 726,000,000 kg of CO2.


We need to think beyond traditional construction materials and methods, look to utilise hempcrete, ferrock or any eco-friendly cement instead of concrete; install geothermal piles in the foundations of a building so as to utilise ground energy in heating systems. Recycling water at the construction site too, makes the construction process much more sustainable over a long-term period.


According to data from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, UK emissions per capita decreased from 6.9 tonnes in 2013 to 6.3 tonnes in 2014. Swansea and Middleborough accounted for the highest per capita emissions, mainly due to the steel plants located there. London accounted for 10.6 per cent of the total UK pollution.


It figures that in high emission areas, future construction projects methods must focus on very high levels of sustainability. It might be that we may have to stop construction completely in these areas and think about reusing existing assets.


To build a smart city smartly we must first begin with smart construction where the construction materials, logistics and design are at their most effective. Through smart construction we can reduce the cost of constructing new assets that could be done by interlinking the latest technological tools such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and big data with real time logistics.


Predicting breakdown and maintenance schedules in construction projects would also help to reduce carbon emissions. Regularly monitoring assets would help to reduce the overall cost, increase the efficiency of the project and increase the life of the asset.


Every construction project has a large amount of data that can be used to determine the most efficient route to increase the production rate of the built asset. A sudden breakdown in tunnel construction due to the variable geology of the TBM (Tunnel Boring Machine could be avoided for example, if the soil ahead was predicted, and

pre-emptive activity such as pumping in shotcrete, injecting bentonite, adding rock bolts or dowels, using stronger lining were taken early on, saving time and money.


Today, it’s time to introduce social media in every construction project, where assets act like profiles that communicate with every stakeholder to ensure efficient and continuous process.


By analysing large data assets from previous construction projects, we will learn and automate the construction of a new project.


Once the construction has been efficiently completed, we study the maintenance through the lifetime of the asset. For example, the United States government spends around $200 billion on maintenance jobs and around 15-40 per cent of this is invested in operating costs but according to collected data, approximately 28-35 per cent of this is unnecessary.


Implementing reliable methodologies and systems could significantly reduce costs. Condition Based Monitoring (CBM) could be one of the methods applied to have an efficient maintenance monitoring system of assets as it seeks to optimise predictive, proactive and preventive maintenance practices.


Monitoring the sentiments of commuters i.e. through social media channels after the asset has been constructed is also an effective tool to determine their requirements while using the built asset. It is also a pathway to determine the faults caused during the construction of the project so that they can be rectified for the next.


Effective action can only be achieved when all stakeholders (government, contractors, designers, engineers, and citizens) of the eco-system can work together responsibly. The balanced interplay between Innovation, collaboration and transformation underpinned by sustainable practice is the point at which we can really start to call our smart city development smart.


Ishaan Rajankar is a graduate student of soil mechanics in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Imperial College, London. He is a strong believer of leveraging sustainability during the construction process of assets and linking the industry with Artificial Intelligence.


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