Opinion: Construction Industry in the Dark Ages

Contributed by Nick Deeks.

According to the latest ABS projections, our population is set to double in 50 years. This requires our cities to drastically change.

We need more housing, services and infrastructure and we need them fast. However, Australia’s construction practices are outdated and inefficient. As the rest of the world experiments with new materials and methods of construction, we’re still essentially building the same way we did 100 years ago.

Australian construction is still largely in the dark ages and harnessing technology is our only way out.

We need to expand our thinking and extend our research and development in technologies such as drones -- "unmanned aerial vehicles" for those who fear the word drone -- 3D printing, artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation, that will enable us to build smarter cities with greater efficiency, cost savings and are considerate of environmental impact.

Related reading: What Will The Construction Downturn Actually Look Like?

Countries around the world are future-proofing their cities by investing in and experimenting with these technologies. Recently in Russia, a 3D house was printed in only 24 hours. The 3D printer "printed" self-bearing walls and partitions, saving up to 70 per cent on traditional construction techniques.

By removing the need to bring in equipment to the site, oversee builders and risk of human error, the 38 square metre house cost only $10,000 to build. A construction firm in Dubai recently announced plans to build the world’s first 3D printed skyscraper using a technique called "crane printing". Australia needs to follow suit.

These low cost and speedy construction methods of residential and commercial building would propel our cities into the future and ensure Australian cities remain liveable and relevant.

Related reading: ‘Ripe For Disruption’ 5 New Construction Technologies Changing the Way we Build


Although Australian construction is lagging behind, there are positive signs of change.

Prefabricated modular construction (although a methodology first utilised in 1850) is becoming more prevalent in the Australian construction industry, composite panel construction is not far off for residential construction and we are seeing more and more modular solutions for education, hotels and prisons.

There is hope for the future of our cities with investment in new construction technologies.

In July 2017, Perth-based company Fastbrick Robotics signed a deal with global construction manufacturer, Caterpillar to develop The Hadrian X, a digital construction system which will change the way homes are constructed, making housing affordable for everyone (they claim).

Imagine printing the walls of the house with a machine that you drive to the site and set up by unfolding a boom. Fastbrick Robotics is set to transform the construction industry with technology that does just this.

Their first construction robot, the technology demonstrating Hadrian 105, successfully completed the first block printed structure from a mobile base 20 meters (65 feet) away in 2015.

It's the first stage of a revolution in human/machine collaborative digital construction, taking the benefits of fully automated machines onto the construction site.

The "Hadrian X" prototype lays up to 1000 bricks in one hour, which is the equivalent output of two human bricklayers for one day. The catch? -- Hadrian X will cost about $2 million when it goes into commercial production in 2019, however at 2 days per dwelling cost savings will be quickly realised.

Related reading: The Robots Are Coming! Six New Construction Jobs that May Exist in 2036


Australian researchers are leading the way in developing solar paint for buildings, that can help to take care of a home’s energy needs.

This goes to show that we have the technology at our fingertips to transform our construction sector, but the pace of change is too slow. We are held back due to vested interests and obstructive legislation.

We are too risk averse and too comfortably bound by existing constructions methods. We don’t know how to build it, cost it or design it, and we seemingly don’t want to learn.

Progress is being halted by unions and regulation that is restricting the industry’s ability to future-proof our cities.

While we have a 60-storey building in Sydney’s CBD and a 100-storey building in Melbourne CBD, it’s not world class. A token skyscraper is not enough to keep up with immense numbers of people arriving and calling our cities home.

Our industry needs change for the sake of our future. In construction and in Australia’s fast-growing society, it’s not enough to be looking 10 years ahead. We need to be looking 100 years ahead, which we can only do if we truly embrace the technology we have.


Contributed by Nick Deeks.

Nick is the managing director of WT Partnership Australia and joint chairman of WT International. Nick is involved in major infrastructure projects in Australia and globally. Nick argues that the construction, retail and property industries must speed up their embrace of technology.


The Urban Developer will occasionally

 publish opinion pieces written by outside contributors representing a wide range of viewpoints. 

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