China is printing houses, why aren’t we?
Emerging technologies, materials, and products will play a crucial role in delivering affordable housing as targeted by Housing for All by 2022 mission. A bricks and sticks approach will not fulfil the goal of this mission
IIn 2014, a small company in China used 3D printing technology to print a housing unit of 2,200 square feet in a few hours at the cost of US$ 5,000. More recently in 2015, another Chinese company printed a five-storey building with 10 housing units in 24 hours. Technology is growing leaps and bounds, impacting every aspect of our lives. Are we in India keeping pace with technology in housing construction? Due to a plethora of reasons we are hesitant to adopt technology in addressing the housing challenge.
Emerging t echnolo gies, materials, and products will play a crucial role in delivering affordable housing as targeted by Housing for All by 2022 mission. A bricks and sticks approach will not fulfil the goal of this mission. If we have to build the targeted 20 million housing units then we must take steps to embrace technology that is appropriate in the Indian context.
It is encouraging to see that the government has included the much-anticipated technology sub-mission. It is high time that in addition to talking about land, finance and policy/regulation we also bring technology and delivery capability into our discussion. Without addressing design and planning issues, innovative technologies and materials in housing, sustainability and disaster resistance our mission would remain incomplete. For successful accomplishment of the objectives of the technology sub-mission the following broad initiatives are suggested:
Knowledge dissemination framework: The issue of urban housing is universal with a globally dispersed knowledge base. Access to this information and knowledge is crucial. A national portal is needed that helps connect people, processes, products, and practices in an open and neutral manner. Information will be disseminated properly and also promote an environment of innovation.
Research, development and testing infrastructure: As we embrace technology a national network of entities engaged in cutting edge useinspired R&D in housing construction will be needed. Alongside this we will need worldclass and modern testing centres so that testing of various aspects of selected technologies and products can be constructed in the spirit of ‘public-good’.
Modern regulatory framework: The discussion on regulatory issues generally begins and ends with approval delays and single-window clearance. Do we have adequate capacity to follow through with a regulatory framework that supports and encourages use of emerging technologies and products in a safe and secure fashion? Is quality of construction monitored adequately by local building authorities? A significant effort is needed to upgrade and modernise our codes, bylaws and ensuing capacity to implement them.
Evaluation framework for emerging technologies: We need a multi-criteria evaluation framework for emerging systems and technologies for residential construction. Rather than assessing technologies by their firstcost alone, and often rejecting them, this framework should allow evaluation of housing technologies at a more holistic scale by assessing mandatory, preferred, and desired attributes of the technology being considered. Attributes such as thermal and sound insulation, end-user acceptability, market availability, maintenance requirements etc. are to be considered in this framework. Such type of analysis will be needed for the technology sub-mission to promote innovation and competition.
National Technology Park for innovat i ve t e ch - nologies: Like in many other countries we need an innovation park that allows us to showcase and understand integrated housing technology solutions. This space should be designed to promote sustainable habitat providing intellectual capital coupled with physical infrastructure to demonstrate and mainstream innovative and emerging solutions to achieve sustainable habitat and to provide government, academia and industry a unique platform to work collaboratively on issues pertaining to habitat
Innovative design technologies: Housing projects need to be designed with the assistance of modern design technologies that are generative and parametric in nature. Building Information Modelling (BIM), also known as Virtual Design and Construction, can play a significant role in making our design sustainable, end-user friendly, efficient and mistake-proof.
Lean principles for efficient delivery: Mantra to success in today’s environment for affordable housing projects should be centred on efficient execution and delivery. While we keep debating about land, finance, policy and regulatory issues, it is high time we take delivery also seriously. Producing 20 million houses must also be viewed as a production problem allowing us to shift from traditional activity-centric worldview to a more value-driven worldview. Lean principles, borrowed from manufacturing, can help reduce waste in construction as well as speed up delivery while maintaining a line of sight on value and quality.
Offsite technologies : Traditional onsite-based construction processes are now outdated and must be rethought and reengineered if we have to meet the lofty targets of the Housing for All by 2022 mission. Offsite technologies will play a crucial role in this. We must start shifting towards offsite construction (manufacturing) and onsite assembly. This shift will have a multitude of benefits including better quality, speed of construction, sustainability, lower costs etc.
We must appreciate that the Indian housing sector’s value chain is very complex making diffusion of emerging and innovative technologies difficult. This cannot deter us from moving ahead with a progressive agenda that meets the goals and expectations of this mission. Our quest must be guided by “whole building approach”, “whole life approach” and “whole industry approach”. This will allow us to develop implementation models that are integrated, work over the entire life of the building and ensure general uplifting of all stakeholders in the industry. There is a significant value creation opportunity in this, but we must keep the end-user in mind in all activities we undertake as part of this mission.