Setting the pace: The key themes at BAU 2021

Setting the pace and giving structure to the wide range of products and services on show—the four key themes chosen for BAU 2021. Many exhibitors will align their presentations with these themes and showcase the solutions that they are offering. In the forums in the supporting program, the key themes will be explored and discussed from a range of different aspects. And in the special shows they will be illustrated using examples of products and projects.

The building sector is in the throes of a digital revolution. The shift away from analog ways of thinking and organizing towards a professional digital-based approach in decision-making and operations is producing a wide range of options and opening up new possibilities. What is important now is to recognize those opportunities and seize them. For building as a collaborative process, in which many partners are involved, digital transformation means above all one thing: an open way of thinking in integrated structures. That is not actually new, in fact, as teamwork and cooperative exchange have always been anchored in the building process. Yet the processes are changing—how in future we plan, build, operate, renovate, demolish and recycle buildings will change. Along with this, open communication in the project and integrated working processes are becoming more and more relevant and important.

Digital planning and building processes that focus on the entire life cycle of a building are going to shape the future of the building sector. This affects not only BIM, the often quoted new digital model for planning in architectural and engineering offices, on the building site and in ongoing management. It also extends to the vast quantity of data and information, checklists, specialist planning information, protocols and monitoring that arise in a project, and the challenge of making these data available for use. The potential of these data for the entire planning and building process, and for subsequent buildings operation is decisive. We must identify this information and learn to use it sensibly.

Adopting new ways in how we build means, at this stage, transferring building processes into a new digital future for the industry. Yet it is also true that digital tools alone do not create better architecture, nor do they imply a loss of architectural quality through advancing automation. They are simply tools available to architects, planners, the building trades and clients, and when used correctly they facilitate the correct implementation of digitalization.

» More on the key theme: Digital transformation


Science has shown, as it says on the website of Munich Re, that the rise in temperature registered in the atmosphere and in the oceans is due in large part to greenhouse gas emissions caused by mankind since the beginning of industrialization. Natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, storms and droughts will be the “weather” of the future, unless we succeed in bringing down global warming to well below an increase of 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels. This was precisely the goal identified by the UN’s Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.

Although the building sector has launched many innovations over the last 20 years in energy-efficient planning and building, it is still considered to be one of the biggest energy consumers. 14% of all CO2 emissions in Germany are said to come from the building sector. So much more still has to be done, on the one hand to stabilize or reduce how much energy buildings consume, and on the other to introduce measures for making buildings more resilient and thereby avoiding significant damage to property through extreme weather. Planning now doesn’t just focus on individual buildings but on the particular context. The aim is to improve energy efficiency in whole districts. Any energy surplus in one district can then be shared with a neighboring district where there is a deficit. In addition, stored energy should be made available for use in e-mobility offers. But that’s not all! The choice of materials also plays a big part in view of the high level of consumption of natural resources. Architects, planners and processors must bear even more responsibility for the environment, in terms of opting for new types of structures and materials made from regenerative and recyclable resources in a functional, aesthetic and ecologically sensible way. In architectural design, the new has always been a welcome source of inspiration.

» More on the key theme: Challenge climate change

Walls made of building rubble, insulation from old trouser material and screw connections instead of welded seams: things are happening on building sites as regards the “circular economy,” or “closed-cycle economy.” The idea of recycling and re-using has taken hold in the building sector. Pilot projects and research initiatives are showing the diverse opportunities there are for recycling in building: facade material, windows, wall and floor coverings and cables—all of them can be fitted in such a way that they can subsequently be completely removed and made available for re-use or recycling. Recovered metals, concrete, bricks, plaster and even clay can now be made into new building materials.

All of these are serious ideas, and the stark figures underline the need for them. Worldwide our sector, the building sector, consumes over half the resources and generates over half the waste volumes. In order to achieve the sustainability goals set by society, all areas of building—from demolition and renovation to new-build—must be re-thought. The one-way mentality needs to be replaced by a way of thinking that prioritizes recovery and re-use. (This also applies to the avoidance of waste on the building site.)

With regard to dwindling resources (example: sand) and the limited capacities of landfills for building rubble, it is clear that closed cycles in the building sector also bring economic benefits. In addition the re-use of building materials (ideally locally and regionally) can also play a large part in reducing the high energy consumption in extraction and manufacturing, and for transport to the building site.

A new way of thinking is required, and new, resource-saving solutions—and the onus here is just as much on manufacturers, architects and engineers as it is on the building trades and building companies. It is not always easy, but initial recycling projects are showing that there are significant opportunities and competitive advantages in this approach, for all those involved in the building process.

» More on the key theme: Ressources + Recycling

Quality housing that is also affordable has long been a Utopia in big cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Stuttgart and Munich. At the same time many other German cities with an established infrastructure and a robust stock of buildings are struggling with an uncertain future: Empty properties in Halle, Frankfurt an der Oder, Salzgitter, and an exodus of people from regions like the Saarland, the Uckermark and the Ruhr district. How, then, should we react, when in many places there is a shortage of housing but in others perfectly good properties remain unused for a long time and perhaps even deteriorate?

A Federal Government housing campaign has the aim of creating 1.5 million new apartments and 100,000 social housing units by 2021. State-funded housing construction programs are without question important factors in helping to ease the currently overheated, indifferent housing market. Yet these must not detract from the fact that social and global developments such as digitalization and the energy revolution are already bringing far-reaching change to our lives and way of working. New concepts are therefore urgently needed—concepts that address the increasing urbanization and also the exodus of people from the countryside, the housing shortage and the empty properties—and that present workable solutions for the future. Ideas such as cluster apartments that take account of the different lifestyles of people nowadays and their different stages in life are already being generated. Models for housing that enable community, participation and privacy, are now well established. And, in terms of the resource-efficient increase in development density in urban areas, where accommodation is being created on top of car parks, on the roofs of supermarkets and in unused office buildings, solutions are already being realized.

Yet getting it right as regards housing and community in the coming decades requires far more than isolated initiatives, however successful they may be. Now we are starting to see responses to the digital future, where new qualities will be needed. Cities, towns, villages and regions are becoming more closely connected, new ideas in private mobility and mass mobility are being tried out, and work processes are being developed to enable decentralized and location-independent activities.

» More on the key theme: Future of living

Special theme

The building sector after Corona—what now? More on this in BAU MAG 03 (Issue:September 2020)

Published on April 20, 2020