BBC World News Horizons explores the innovations making the construction industry more efficient and environmentally friendly

One of the criticisms that could be raised at the old, modular off-site constructions is that the quality wasn’t good enough. Here we are talking about a very high quality product, better than you can build on-site."Gavin Davies, Engineering Excellence Group, Laing O’Rourke
Date: 25.10.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.08
Category: BBC World News
In the 14th episode of the Horizons series, presenter Adam Shaw travels to the UK and Brazil to explore innovations that could make the construction industry more efficient and more environmentally friendly.

The planet is rapidly urbanising. We are pouring concrete into the ground and building tower blocks up to the skies. The construction industry accounts for 11 per cent of global GDP and will grow by 67 percent to $12 trillion over the next decade. Most of this growth will be driven by India and China. Emerging economies in Asia and Latin America are making massive investments in public infrastructure – new roads, new houses, new facilities and even new cities are popping up all over the world.

Adam Shaw visits a British construction company, Laing O’ Rourke, which has a factory the size of six football pitches, which is used for constructing schools, hospitals and other buildings off-site. The $150 million plant in central England is one of the largest in Europe, and aims to slash labour costs at building sites by 60 per cent, and reduce the carbon footprint of construction. By using off-site manufacture, the company has cut the amount of time it would take to build a school by 35 weeks.

Gavin Davies, Engineering Excellence Group at Laing O’Rourke says: “One of the criticisms that could be raised at the old, modular off-site constructions is that the quality wasn’t good enough. Here we are talking about a very high quality product, better than you can build on-site.”

Adam Shaw also visits Novacem, a British company that has developed a concrete based on magnesium silicates rather than the conventional calcium carbonate, which they claim will dramatically cut pollution from the construction industry by absorbing carbon dioxide rather than adding to CO2 emissions. Several patents have already been filed and Novacem is now in a race with a handful of others to transform an industry worth $170 billion dollars a year.

Stuart Evans, Executive Chairman, Novacem says: “By 2020, there’ll probably be half a dozen Novacem cement works working. There’ll be a fantastic momentum and, by 2030, there will be hundreds of millions of tons of Novacem...The world changes more rapidly than you think.”

Adam Shaw then heads for Heliopolis, Sao Paulo, one of the biggest slums in the Americas. Poorly constructed slums or favelas are a major problem for growing cities. One of Brazil’s most famous architects, Ruy Ohtake, was challenged by community leaders to make Heliopolis a better place to live. His response was to build 11 brightly coloured cylindrical blocks, designed so that every family has an open view.