The Complexities of Construction

Architecture Dated:  Oct. 27, 2015
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Possibilities of design

Distracted from distraction by distraction”  – T.S. Eliot

Modern day architecture is not confined to the realms of serving as a mere solution alone. It is rather melodramatic, extending beyond the tectonic and setting itself into the metaphysical. Thoughts, or sometimes whims, are given priority to achieve the desired transcendental experience the architect foresees in his or her “spectacle”. This spectacle, being one man’s dream, often turns out to be the nightmare for engineers who attempt building it. However, it is this challenge that has provoked building construction technologies to reach great heights in the modern era.

The complexities of construction processes depend on the scale and typology of projects. The parameters determining the complexity of construction would, in many cases, be entirely subjective, based on the discretion of the investor, project manager or the architect. However, to make a more generalised judgement, exceptions and special cases may be overlooked.

To begin with, one must understand the primary areas of concern - the availability of resources being foremost,  followed by the prevalent laws for construction. Therefore, the first challenge is to come up with an affordable and legitimate plan of action to get the wheels turning.

Arguably in the construction field, land is the primary resource, leaving aside the financial constraints. Available land would always be tagged with its legally permitted use. According to the National Building Code, NBC 2005, the land use pattern is classified as residential(R), commercial(C), manufacturing (M), public and semi-public (PS), recreational (P), transportation and communication (T), agriculture and special areas. Based on these land use patterns, appropriate building typologies such as residential, educational, institutional, assembly, business, mercantile, industrial, storage and hazardous, are identified as suitable. In all the above mentioned typologies, the complexities may be broadly analysed at two separate levels- The structural design level and the construction management level. While the first would essentially deal with the problems that are addressed prior to the construction process and in some cases predict the building’s performance under various conditions, the other would involve strategies to overcome constraints of time, labour, safety factors, material maintenance and so forth. Thus the larger the scale of the project, more complex becomes its construction.

National Building Code 2005

Figure 2: National Building Code 2005

Construction process

Figure 3: Construction processa

Every typology of built form has its own level of complexity and parameters that determine its feasibility for construction. For instance, in the residential typology, construction complexities would in general be low as the budget would be the key factor controlling the parameters of complexity. These parameters would include the design approach, choice of material, available skilled labour and time. On the other hand, a project of a greater scale such as housing would include an additional parameter of homogeneity of design. In order to maintain uniformity in the design, and to manage the whole construction process within the stipulated time and budget, it becomes essential to have a systematic approach from the cradle to the

grave of the construction work schedule. This becomes even more profound in the case of apartments and large complexes.

Apartment construction processFigure 4, 5: Apartment construction process

The complexities increase with the occupational density and demand for common services such as water, sanitation, hygiene, ecology, security and safety. For projects having a very high occupational density, it becomes necessary to predict and evaluate the environmental impacts that are likely to occur after construction. This is generally in the form of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) reports depending on the scale of the project. Computer generated models predicting structural stability, response to natural calamities, energy efficiency, thermal analysis and overall efficiency of the building system also become an essential part of the construction process to ensure a safe and efficient built environment.Institutional, educational and assembly building 

typologies would form the next strata of construction based complexities. In such cases, the average footfall would be high and varying. Thus to calculate the live loads that the building is likely to withstand becomes extremely complicated. The process not only would involve the consideration of an average influx of people, but it must 

EIA approval for projectsFigure 6: EIA approval for projects

also be capable to cater to higher demands depending of future requirements. Safety factors become very important and to ensure them at an economical rate and within a stipulated time frame and limited resources makes the whole operation far more complicated. The complications are just not limited within the perimeter of the building envelope but must also account for its surrounding landscape and the area surrounding the site. The problems keep on increasing with the number of users and their service requirements.

The world today has this inextinguishable spirit of looking out for the new and the exclusive. Architects and designers kindle this spirit to fulfil their own desires of exclusivity and uniqueness. And finally, investors expect their profits, desires and ambitions to be incorporated within the built up mass. To sum up all this and weave out a safe and effective structure becomes the challenging part. The next and perhaps most difficult step is the execution of the project from paper to the ground. More often than not, this is severely faced while constructing offices, commercial spaces, hotels, retail outlets, or any space where there is a demand for advertisement and a show of flamboyance. In such cases, the built forms may not always be a simple reflection of the architect’s intent but might include complex geometries and bizarre forms to establish its experiential value. In many cases, the built-up form may be doubled skinned with the interiors having no connection whatsoever with the exteriors. The possibilities on paper are infinite and fight to commensurate with those in practice.

Safety for workers
Figure 7: Safety for workers

Achieving all this is just not enough without the safety and wellbeing of the site workers. Contractors and project managers often tend to overlook the safety and well-being of the working staff at the site. Many cases of on-site accidents and deaths occur because of inadequate safety measures and policies.

Another problem faced time and again during project execution is dealing with waste. Waste water management, solid waste management and most importantly the management and storage of materials for construction contribute vitally to the overall outcome of the project.

While the first two are enforceable by law, the third must be a self-conscious effort to ensure its proper storage as unnecessary wastage may lead to a lot of surplus expenditure. Especially in the case of Industrial typologies, use of steel section and large quantities of binding material results in the generation of a huge quantity of construction

C&D waste managementFigure 8: C&D waste management

and demolition (C&D) waste. This waste, if disposed before being treated, pollutes the surrounding water bodies and waste yards. Several reports across the world have clearly the ill effects of improper C&D waste treatment. This becomes even more profound when the issue is with storage and hazardous building typologies. It is essential to identify the complexities of construction in order to ensure a smooth and timely execution of the whole operation but also to reduce expenditure and the generation of waste. Various computer aided project monitoring

systems and planning professionals are employed for the systematic management of the construction operations. Prototypes and models for construction management are also good methods tostudy the development of operation of mega projects which in turn might help in execution of newer projects. At the design level, various computer simulations and planning may be conducted to plan out each and every stage of the project in detail. With the advances in research on building sciences, the room for doubt and error has greatly reduced in this modern era. And probably it is about time when we can give ourselves the liberty and luxury to say that nothing is indeed impossible despite all the constraints of construction. Thus, let us be, “distracted from distraction by distraction and keep building.”

Modern construction processFigure 9: Modern construction process
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