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AESG: Trends set to shape the Middle East’s buildings sector

EXCLUSIVE: AESG’s managing director, Saeed Al Abbar, shares his insights to CW on what to expect for the industry in 2020

AESG managing director Saeed Al Abbar (pictured) shares his trends for 2020
AESG managing director Saeed Al Abbar (pictured) shares his trends for 2020

2020 is set to be a milestone year for the Middle East as Expo 2020 looms brightly on the horizon.

Oil prices too have been picking up steadily since mid-2017 which has worked to stabilise regional economies, foster renewed infrastructure spending by governments and attract foreign direct investment in various sectors.

As a result, the building sector can look to the year ahead with cautious optimism.

The past year was another successful twelve months for AESG as we extended offerings into new markets and once again recorded growth figures of over 30%. 

We were able to achieve this despite challenging market conditions by focussing on key opportunities in our markets and staying ahead of the curve of mega trends shaping our industries.

As new opportunities for growth present themselves, companies must keep up-to-date with the latest advancements to remain competitive.

As we enter a new year, I have shared what I believe will be some of the key trends that will shape our industry as we enter the new decade.

The Quest for Value and Yield

With real estate holdings delivering reduced yields, ‘sweating’ assets has become key to profitability, thereby placing a pronounced focus on life cycle costs.

This means it is crucial that real estate assets not only perform efficiently from an operation and maintenance perspective, but also provide a high level of safety and service during operation, in order to maintain market attractiveness and yield.

Concepts such as advanced commissioning and handover management, ‘soft landings’ and the use of digital twins are coming to the forefront to assist developers in maximizing the performance of their assets and we are already working with some of the savvier developers in this regard.

Another major factor that ultimately drives yield for developers is a laser focus on controlling construction costs. This will be a major trend globally, and it is now inevitable that the inefficiencies that have plagued construction for over 150 years will be broken down by major disruptors in the sector. 

Looking to 2020 and the decade ahead, there is no doubt plenty of innovation and rapid advancement in store. The industry will be transformed through processes such as generative design, off-site manufacturing and integrated delivery teams. 

Currently, as a sector, we have only scratched the surface of these efficiency gains as these advancements are yet to reach their full potential.  With new tech players entering the sector, the next ten years promise to be revolutionary for the sector. 

Net Zero Buildings

Globally, the drive for net zero buildings has gained considerable momentum and this has been underpinned by the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment.

The commitment challenges companies, cities, states and regions to reach Net Zero operating emissions in their portfolios by 2030, and to advocate for all buildings to be Net Zero in operation by 2050.

Traditional barriers to adoption such as perceived higher costs and lack of awareness are being eroded by a clearer understanding of what is required to reach net zero, made possible by tools such as AESG’s ‘Pathway to Net Zero’, which we have committed to implementing on every design project from 2020.

Besides enabling projects to achieve carbon neutrality, the net zero approach offers cost savings in the long term which is why we are beginning to see specific standards being specified for the region.

With an unprecedented global focus on net zero buildings in 2019 and with a number of net zero projects currently under design or construction within our portfolio we are confident that net zero buildings will be the mega trend of the next decade.

Digital Design

The next decade is set to see a revolution in the way architects and engineers design buildings, with the advancement of technology and automation driving optimisation and efficiency of design trades. 

At the forefront of this industry transformation is parametric design, which is being applied to resolve complex engineering challenges at any stage in a project’s lifecycle.

At pre-concept architectural stages, digital tools have proven their effectiveness in creating geometry generating algorithms that optimise building massing and street orientation in a manner that enhances occupant and pedestrian comfort, while addressing solar irradiation and daylight requirements.

During pre-construction, using parametric modelling empowers teams to rationalise free-form geometry of complex façades, enabling architects to realize their vision for breath taking structures without overshooting budgets or deadlines.

Similarly, post occupancy, ‘digital twins’ of buildings, which reliably simulate how building systems are expected to perform, are providing owners with a clearer basis for managing the performance of their building.

With its ability to test thousands of iterations in days rather than weeks, parametric design will begin to play an increasingly important role in every phase of the construction lifecycle and will be crucial in meeting increasingly challenging sustainability, performance and budgetary targets.

Façade Fires

The issue of façade fires continues to place a high liability and burden on the building sector, costing the global building industry billions of dollars in 2019 alone.

While the implementation rate of relevant regional fire codes among new properties has been steadily growing over the last two years, retroactive implementation has lagged in existing properties.

This however is set to change, particularly as property insurers begin to demand stricter adherence to fire safety standards. We can therefore expect to see portfolio owners in particular take proactive measures such as replacing facades that are clad with combustible materials.

Driven by the insurance sector, the next few years will likely see a step change in the industry’s approach to tackling façade fires.

2020 represents one of the most challenging and exciting times for the building industry.  With major issues to tackle, ranging from climate change, lack of productivity and the safety of our building stock, the next decade really requires a transformational change in how we design, construct and manage our buildings. 

This will undoubtedly lead to disruption and pain in the sector, but at the same time, presents an unprecedented opportunity for those that are at the cutting edge of the industry’s transformation.

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Construction Week - Issue 764
May 31, 2020