Will Changing States Improve the Built Environment?

Partisan hosts Eighty Twenty a fortnightly roundtable event, where we invite business leaders connected with the built environment to discuss the issues that are close to them over breakfast.

This week, the discussion focused on innovation in materials and how this might open new opportunities for design, with a positive impact on how we live.

Changing States

Certain innovations offer tremendous potential with wide-ranging, long-term possibilities for the built environment.

One such innovation is Graphene.

Graphene is made up of carbon atoms arranged in an hexagonal lattice, one atom thick. It is the thinnest material known to man, but it is also incredibly strong, around 200 times stronger than steel.

It is also an extremely effective conductor of electricity and heat.

Graphene’s strength and versatility mean make it highly adaptable for a broad range of uses and applications, including building components.

It has the potential to transform materials, making them stronger, lighter and more sustainable. This offers significant opportunities for architects, engineers and designers.

It is part of an age of innovation.

The Age of Innovation and Open Source

Regardless of current economic and political uncertainties, we are in an age of innovation where the next decade or so is likely to mark a transformative period of technology-driven advances.

What is interesting about innovation is that often, at the inception of something new, it is released freely into the world.

A notable example is Tim Berners Lee’s pioneering work in computer science, which led to the invention of the World Wide Web. Berners Lee also created the first web browser and editor.

Similarly, Elon Musk released all of Tesla’s patents to help tackle climate change.

Another example, and one which inspired Elon Musk’s move, is the open-source-software movement. This supports open collaboration through spreading the concept of open-source software, helping to drive software development and innovation forward.

Graphene has no patent. It was first isolated as a material at the University of Manchester. How can designers and others make practical use of it?

Example: the plan is to build a road surface using Graphene on Sackville Street in Manchester. In theory, this surface may reduce or even eliminate potholes.

This is where innovation can have an enormous, practical impact on the environment and infrastructure that binds urban centres together.

However, there will still be various practical hurdles to overcome.

Positive Strategic Partnerships

When it comes to construction projects, who is the most important person on site? Someone has to bridge the gap between design and construction, if innovation is going to work practically.

Does the future lie in positive strategic partnerships, where greater transparency earlier in a project’s lifecycle could yield more effective results sooner, with a marked social impact?

The collapse of Carillion should be a wake-up call to the industries involved in the built environment, that true value lies in transparency and an adversarial system of working is not effective and can hinder progress.

Changing states are not restricted to materials and innovation. They can be also about human relationships, transforming the way we work together.

Our Guests This Time

Our guests at this Partisan Eighty Twenty breakfast were:

Adam Ash, Plincke
James Baker, Graphene@Manchester
Paul Cook, ISG
Michael Cunniff, Jeffrey Bell Architects
David Spacey, ARP Consulting Engineers
Geoff Willis, Craigleith Property Group

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Eighty Twenty is a once a month invite only event for business leaders within the built environment - hosted by Partisan

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