There is a long list of innovative new technologies starting to gain traction in the development industry, with potentially profound consequences.
That was the underlying theme at an international symposium held by Urban Land Institute (ULI) and the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The 2nd Asia Pacific Leadership Symposium – The Future is Now in Hong Kong discussed areas ranging from computer-aided design, to development of new construction materials and technologies, to the use of augmented-reality marketing solutions.
According to a white paper developed after the event, the issue for developers is how to pick out the most promising new technologies amidst a sea of potentially disruptive candidates.
“Cutting-edge tech that may seem appealing at first glance may still be unsuited for real-world applications because it is either underdeveloped, too expensive, or too hard to scale,” the report said.
Some examples highlighted by participants include fascinating and potentially transformative advances in materials technology, such as an organic admixtures that uses mushroom-derived or calcium-secreting bacteria that allow buildings to be “grown” or repaired. However, while such advances are promising, they remain under development.
One area that developers are more certain about is the potential of new software design tools to manage construction work.
The event revealed that the system gaining most traction was Building Information Modeling (BIM), which replaces traditional hardcopy blueprints with 3-D computer modeling. The system, combined with the easy availability of handheld devices allowing the concept to be applied onsite, gives it “a game-changing advantage over legacy paper-based systems, helping architects and contractors to collaborate more easily and make on-the-fly alterations to existing designs".
The symposium noted that there were a number of factors for why the pace of change in the industry could be slow, like the usefulness of resilient old buildings that do not contain all the bells and whistles.
Another notable obstacle was resistance from the status quo. A developer who attended the symposium pointed out that architects tasked with customising individual units are often resistant to the idea because they prefer the ease of standardised design to the alternative which is dealing with so many individual players. Also, contractors are still reluctant to invest in new technology, even as tech costs continue to fall.
The report states, however, that the biggest roadblock of all was regulation. The high level of oversight in Asia’s construction industries is a result of a “need to ensure building safety, creating deep bureaucratic roots with a byproduct of this culture being that widespread adoption of new technologies requires wholesale changes in existing building codes and approval processes”.
While in a few markets, notably Singapore, governments have encouraged the industry to embrace new tech, bureaucratic inertia was considered the invisible hand inhibiting change.
In Hong Kong for example, alterations are prohibited until an occupation permit is issued meaning that customisation on the go is impossible, and the desire for buildings to be adaptable for mixed use purposes is also frustrated by a zoning system that controls buildings serving multiple functions.
ULI CEO John Fitzgerald said we are nearing a global tipping point and digital transformation is an area that the real estate industry cannot ignore.