Among developers, officials, academics and architects, there is a universal recognition of the challenges posed by the global housing demand. The United Nations highlights that approximately 1.6 billion people currently live in inadequate, unsafe and overcrowded housing. From Milan to London to Brazil, we see the lack of quality affordable housing driving a cycle of poverty, fuelling inequality and destabilising communities.
When I discuss Planet Smart City’s commitment to addressing this issue through smart affordable housing, there is always interest coupled with variants on the same question: how can you make housing both smarter and more affordable? Surely smart solutions lead to more expensive homes? There is no silver bullet or technological magic that suddenly makes everything cheaper; however, through intelligent planning, an attention to detail in worker training and on-site processes and a shift towards increased digitalisation, this apparent paradox can be solved.
To make savings during the construction phase, developers must make efficiency a core tenet of their plans. Each home in Smart City Laguna was designed to be constructed using replicable processes. When we developed the world’s first affordable smart city, Laguna, in northeast Brazil, we analysed every element of the supply chain to ensure we were sourcing, transporting and using materials in the most efficient way possible. We even built a factory on-site to cost-effectively produce the paving blocks we need for high quality road surfaces throughout the smart city.
Although efficient planning is the foundation of an affordable project, the best plans in the world cannot overcome inefficient execution. This requires an investment in worker training. For Laguna, we provided rigorous training to local workers, so they fully understood how the building site should operate, the processes involved in construction, and the timings for each stage of the project. The replicable processes used to build the houses meant that, for each home, workers could follow the same construction routine – saving both time and money.
In many ways, the efficiency savings for Smart City Laguna were limited by local requirements to use traditional materials and specific processes; however, in the future, increased digitalisation of the development process provides great potential for efficiency savings. The increasing sophistication of business information management (BIM) systems will allow developers to create digital visualisations of their projects, down to every brick, screw and pipe. These systems will enable companies to plan the exact quantity of materials needed for each development, delivering both a financial benefit and conserving valuable environmental resources.
What’s more, digitalisation will allow developers to better map every hill and valley of the land marked for development, minimizing earth-moving operations (i.e. costs and time) and working in greater harmony with the environment. The design and layout of houses, businesses and social spaces will be optimised thanks to data-enhanced planning, which factors in everything from orographical to geological details.
Once construction begins, developers can look to off-site construction methods as opportunities for additional cost and quality control. With these methods, parts of houses are built in specialised factories then transported to the site, giving businesses greater certainty over costs, timings and quality. Moreover, the potential to deploy future smart solutions such as 3D printing in these factories further enhances efficiency benefits. As Planet Smart City looks to expand quickly, we are looking at all these solutions – from BIM to off-site construction – as we strive for improvements in every area of the smart real estate value chain.
Finding solutions to the affordable housing global demand is a continuous learning process. At every stage of planning, construction, and maintenance, developers can find lessons about how to drive down costs, both through greater efficiency and the latest smart solutions. Just look closely at the bustle of a construction site in full flow and you’ll see a thousand small changes that add up to a huge difference: a difference not only for businesses, which increase their margin on projects, but also future residents.
It is incumbent on developers to push ceaselessly for these efficiencies, not just because they present a better way to build houses, but because they can deliver affordability for the millions of people worldwide who want a place to call home.
Head of Construction, Planet Smart City