Sustainable construction: Robots instead of people?

Experts from academia and LafargeHolcim shape the next Forum of the LafargeHolcim Foundation

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    Roundtable participants (by row from top, l-r): Edelio Bermejo, (LafargeHolcim Innovation Center – LHIC), Luisa Pastore, (LafargeHolcim Foundation), Marilyne Andersen (EPFL Lausanne), Francis Steiner, (LafargeHolcim), Magali Anderson (LafargeHolcim), Christophe Levy, (LHIC), Mohsen Ech, (LHIC), Philippe Block, (ETH Zurich), Guillaume Habert, (ETH Zurich), Priyanka Pande, (ACC Limited), Sandra Boivin, (LHIC), Dirk Hebel, (Karlsruher Institut für Technologie), Philipp Leutiger, (LafargeHolcim), Michael Scharpf, (LafargeHolcim), Simon Wiedemann, (LafargeHolcim), Mouloud Behloul (Lafarge France), and Hélène Lombois (LHIC).

Experts including members of the Academic Committee (AC) of the LafargeHolcim Foundation and from top management of the LafargeHolcim Group took an active role in the first ever “internal” Roundtable for Sustainable Construction led by Marilyne Andersen, professor at EPFL Lausanne. The virtual meeting was the launchpad to define topics and speakers for the next symposium of the global LafargeHolcim Foundation – the LafargeHolcim Forum on “Re-manufacturing Construction” is scheduled for early 2022 in São Paulo, Brazil. The Forum will focus on sustainable construction in the scientific field to promote interdisciplinary dialog, bring forward new ideas, and examine potential solutions.

Last updated: November 13, 2020 Zurich, Switzerland

Experts including members of the Academic Committee (AC) of the LafargeHolcim Foundation and from top management of the LafargeHolcim Group took an active role in the first ever “internal” Roundtable for Sustainable Construction led by Marilyne Andersen, professor at EPFL Lausanne. The virtual meeting was the launchpad to define topics and speakers for the next symposium of the global LafargeHolcim Foundation – the LafargeHolcim Forum on “Re-manufacturing Construction” is scheduled for early 2022 in São Paulo, Brazil. The Forum will focus on sustainable construction in the scientific field to promote interdisciplinary dialog, bring forward new ideas, and examine potential solutions.

The Roundtable participants agreed that the construction sector must undergo a paradigm shift to be equipped to meet the climate-positive mandates of circularity and decarbonization. The thorny issue of whether people or robots will construct buildings and infrastructure in the near future becomes even more challenging in view of current demands for more environmentally-conscious modes of construction – a goal to which LafargeHolcim strives by promoting circular economy and pledging to achieve net zero CO2 footprint.

Construction must account for the future of its labor force 

The scope of discussions at the Roundtable extended far beyond the materials production sector with engaged and passionate discussions between the members of the AC including Philippe Block, professor at ETH Zurich and Member of the Board of LafargeHolcim, Dirk Hebel, professor at KIT Karlsruhe, and Guillaume Habert, professor at ETH Zurich. If we build more with robots, the social impact on labor must be considered. The multi-faceted input for the discussions drew on the extensive knowledge of internationally-renowned researchers and industry specialists from LafargeHolcim including Chief Sustainability Officer, Magali Anderson; Head of the Innovation Center, Edelio Bermejo; and Chief Digital Officer, Philipp Leutiger.

While recognizing there is mounting evidence that construction processes must be more extensively digitalized in order to make the building sector future-viable, the topic of the human element in the long-term must be addressed in the context of sustainability. The future of construction must account for the future of its labor force and accommodate the social and cultural values embedded in the “bricks-and-mortar” traditions of making buildings premised on manual work.

Causal nexus between construction, technological advancement and sustainability 

The Roundtable confirmed the importance of the topic for the next symposium of the LafargeHolcim Foundation. The LafargeHolcim Forum will investigate how design and construction are changing in the digitalized world. Looking at how widespread use of digital technologies have progressively transformed traditional production and business techniques of most sectors of the economy, it will explore how this paradigm shift is affecting the building sector, marked by the causal nexus between construction, technological advancement and sustainability. The event will represent an opportunity to broaden the international debate on the impact of contemporary work practices of design firms and construction industries on the built environment, at different scales and taking environmental, social, aesthetic and economic parameters into consideration.

An “external” Roundtable bringing potential keynote speakers, workshop moderators and other experts together will take place next year to fine-tune the program of the three-day 7th LafargeHolcim Forum for Sustainable Construction – an interdisciplinary platform for academics, architects, engineers, construction professionals and specialists of all generations to exchange information on creating a sustainable built environment. Registration for the Forum will open mid-2021.

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