In order to predict the future of construction engineering, we need to start by looking at current trends. What do people need and want? What new materials are being developed?
The construction industry is under increasing pressure to create sustainable structures resistant to natural forces such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and structures that are environmentally friendly.
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In the wake of disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of the United States in 2012, there is an urgency that our structures be stronger and more resistant to natural disaster. Especially in light of most people’s opinion that as a result of global warming these incidences are only on the rise.
Concrete Coalition Project
In June 2012, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) began its Concrete Coalition Project to study the damage done to concrete buildings by earthquakes. Their objective is to build an online database for use as a reference tool by modelers, researchers and engineers to help them find better ways to prevent earthquake damage.
Other research groups are looking at making buildings more wind-resistant. For example, the “Wall of Wind” (WoW) facility at Florida International University performs testing to learn about the effects of hurricane-force winds to assist in the development of more sustainable structures.
The Need to be Green
Another aspect of the sustainability trend that is not likely to go out of style is the growing demand for green construction. Green construction is not just for residential buildings; in 2011, the Taipei 101 skyscraper in Taiwan was awarded LEED Platinum certification.
Computer technology provides us with a growing array of tools to accelerate the rate at which we gather and assimilate data and tools to aid in design, such as Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) to create 3D models.
- Nanotechnology offers the prospect of breathtaking innovations.
- Carbon nanotubes present the possibility of super-strong electrical wiring that is 1/10 the weight of copper.
- Concrete reinforced with micro-thin steel fibers and carbon nanotubes is stronger and more flexible to prevent cracking and improve seismic performance.
Advancements in Construction Materials
Other advancements in concrete include the addition of optical fibers to make it translucent, and insulated. Concrete Form (ICF) walls, which are more resistant to fire and high winds, and are also more sound-proof and energy-efficient. Likewise, there have been advances in steel to make it stronger, lighter, more flexible and more durable.
The Future of Construction Engineering
All of these trends taken together can revolutionize not only the effectiveness of buildings and other structures, but their look as well. Hurricane-resistant building use simpler, smoother, rounder surfaces and steep roof slopes, green buildings may be literally covered with green foliage!. Lighter, stronger building materials, along with sophisticated computer technology, offer the prospect of exciting new looks for bridges, buildings and other structures.
While it is impossible to know exactly what amazing new materials will be developed in the future, a good guess is that they will be lighter, stronger, more durable and “greener”. It is another good guess that these new materials will lend themselves to more imaginative and exciting designs and a very exciting future for the field of construction engineering!