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Building Innovation Awards: Salute the shapers of the future

by Tim Clark
Building Innovation Awards: Salute the shapers of the future

The Building Innovation Awards has launched its latest quest to find the genius ideas and cutting edge programmes that are shaping tomorrow’s construction industry today. Tim Clark invites the sector’s change-makers to make their pitch to join the ranks of previous winners

As the wintry weather rolled across the UK last December, most people hunkered down indoors, cracked open the egg-nogg and thought about warmer months. However three teams of construction pioneers, from Gateshead to Cambridge braved the storms to trial new AI-powered innovations to reduce what can be considered the scourge of many a motorist: roadworks.

National Highways, the body responsible for the road infrastructure in England, was testing out three innovations aimed at “taking the pain out of roadworks” while maintaining and improving the road network.

It is the pioneering work which pushes the envelope in an industry that can often seem stubbornly unable to foster change.

“Roadworks are frustrating but they are an essential part of managing our roads so anything we can do to ease the impact of these vital works is to be welcomed,” said National Highways executive director for major projects, Nicola Bell.

“Our goal in launching the competition was to find new ideas to help reduce the impact of roadworks on people.”

Celebrating innovation

The annual Building Innovation Awards was founded to celebrate the exact innovation that Highways England sought out with its AI trials. Aimed squarely at the brightest and best in the construction sector, the awards showcase the genius ideas and programmes that will, collectively, push the dial when it comes to productivity and innovation in the construction sector.

How does a firm enhance concrete with graphene on site using a 3D printer? Can a construction firm improve its profits and deliver social value? Just which firms are pushing the boundaries when it comes to embedding a digital blueprint into their own business plans?

The 2024 Building Innovation Awards are currently looking for projects that address the UK’s need for resilient infrastructure, urban regeneration, affordable housing and utilising advanced materials and modern build methods, and many more.

In the rail industry previous award winner ChangeMaker has worked with the Skanska Costain joint venture undertaking tunnelling works for a major section of the HS2 rail line to cut carbon emissions by up to half.

Utilising 3D printing technology, the firm managed to remove the need for the Tier One contractors to develop logistical plans, which saved on costs, and time. Computer-aided robots printed concrete on-site, and replaced the need for precast slabs to be transported to the construction site.

Others are following in ChangeMaker’s footsteps. The Digital Construction report, published by the NBS, surveyed over 700 construction professionals. It showed how some firms have striven to get ahead, while others have stagnated in their digital pathway. The industry is, as the NBS says, at a turning point.

Ahead of the awards this coming October, Build in Digital is scouring the country and beyond for the latest and greatest in technological triumphs, digital derring-do, and innovative ideas that deserve recognition.

Up to 30 awards are up for grabs with categories covering most innovative SME, best carbon reduction innovation, most sustainable building project, and much much more. The full list of categories can be found at the Building Innovation Awards site here.

Contractors are set to be awarded for innovation, partnerships, inclusivity and well-being, efficiency innovation, as well as the most innovative urban regeneration project.

Within the technology realm, the awards are seeking out the most innovative use of advanced materials, best new product to come to market, retrofit innovation,

And of course, Build in Digital will be crowning the UK digital construction team of the year on the night, as well as Innovator of the Year 2024.

Dublin down on retrofit success

Ireland’s capital, Dublin. Building Innovation Winner IES travelled to the city to create digital twins of three residential blocks, and used that twin to assess the energy/ carbon impact of different retrofit strategies.

Those strategies were able to align with the city council’s climate agenda and prove that over a 60-year period, adopting a retrofit approach would allow for an 85% reduction in carbon emissions. The project gained plaudits, a Building Innovation Award, and showed others how far digital twin technology has come, and where it will lead decision-making in the future.

Standing tall

Standing in the heart of the City of London, 40 Leadenhall Street is one of a plethora of new towers which have reached up to the sky within the square mile in the last decade.

The project by M&G Real Estate stands out from the skyscraper crowd however due to the breadth of its retail, office and leisure offering, as well as the ability to include cutting-edge technology within its delivery.

The 900,000 sq ft neighbourhood was built by main contractor Mace, designed by Make Architects and was praised by Building Innovation Award judges for its high use of digital tools and inclusive nature of the supply chain in delivering the complex project.

Can London’s next skyscraper stand as tall as 40 Leadenhall when it comes to innovation, or will the gong be scooped by one of Birmingham or Manchester’s emerging schemes?

When it comes to sustainability, can 2024 see any housebuilder beat Bellway for its Future Home @ Energy Use project? The scheme not only considered the carbon emission issues with its project but took affordability into their calculations with the Energy House.

With the ESG agenda becoming ever-more important, sustainability is a key topic for developers and architects. The Building Innovation Awards will be not only showcasing the top sustainability project’s in the field, but casting a view on how far the sector has come in terms of delivering on net-zero.

Starting up the innovation engine

Projects that will be crowned winners at this year’s awards could be designed to help save lives, promote better site safety, allow for remote monitoring of sites, combat damp and mould, or allow for a revolutionary change in how assets are managed.

Previous winners include Allia Future Homes modular innovation, which integrated the circular economy into the modular housing industry; Preoptima utilised AI and the carbon twin concept to allow for real-time whole life carbon assessments.

By harnessing the power of AI to predict material quantities and evaluate the whole life carbon impact of buildings from the earliest design stages, Preoptima disrupts traditional carbon measurement with continuous Carbon Twin benchmarking.

Another start-up, backed by Innovate UK, One Engage allows its resident engagement platform to help landlords and contractors meet their commitments under the Building Safety Act by connecting fire and rescue services with residents and landlords, and leveraging digital information management process and data for public good.

Tunnel vision

It isn’t only start-ups that are scooping the innovation accolades. Laing O’Rourke was singled out in 2023 for its use of alternative fuels in the building industry to lower carbon emissions.

One project which caught the judges attention in 2023 was hyperTunnel’s visionary plan to revolutionise the entire tunnelling process.

Following its worthy win at last year’s awards, HyperTunnel has secured funding to trial its swarm construction technique for an underpass in Wales. The firm has researched and taken to market a new method that allows robots to build tunnels

A new 20metre-long tunnel in South Wales will demonstrate technology which utilises a suite of automated robots to effectively “print” a tunnel in situ before any digging takes place. The method allows for less waste, less risk and less disruption.

If your innovation can save National Highways or Network Rail millions from their budget, or spark a whole new way of building a familiar structure in a new, and more productive way, then the Building Innovation Awards wants to hear about it.

It is not only the realms of BIM and Digital Twins that are leading the way when it comes to innovation. The world of construction finance has also changed over the past half-decade. 2023 Building Innovation Award winners Webcontractor has revolutionised how subcontractors can be paid.

Founded in 2016 as a response to the challenge of prompt payment of subcontractors – a necessity for many large Tier One contractors following the UK Construction Act – Webcontractor formally launched in 2021, and aims to take the pain out of payment processing, with self-billing, assurances and bond tools, compliance and payment processes.

Budding entrepreneurs, savvy tech gurus and construction experts can enter their innovative projects at the Awards, which have launched for this year here.

Representing an industry worth over £110bn annually, construction innovators deserve to be celebrated. Join Build in Digital at the Hilton Deansgate, Manchester this October to find out who is leading the digital construction pack.

The Building Innovation Awards is being held on 17 October 2024. For entries, sponsorship opportunities, or those looking to attend, find out more here.

Read next: Building Innovation Awards 2023: Meet The Winners

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