Why Nigeria lags in modern building technology, designs – Guardian Nigeria

Tee Rasheed
11 Min Read

Despite advancements in building, construction and architectural technologies, operators in the built industry have not been able to invest and deploy innovations that can speed up building production processes to meet inherent challenges in housing, writes VICTOR GBONEGUN.
Notwithstanding advancement in new building construction techniques, many industry professionals and developers are not leveraging technology to make construction faster, safer, and more efficient, as well as increase the housing supply in the country.
Technology has brought about significant changes and helped to solve challenges that were previously faced by the industry, such as lack of skilled labour, construction delays, and cost overruns.
While housing is one of the most essential human needs, the use of innovative techniques to improve quality, affordability, and sustainability cannot be over emphasised. The security and safety needs of the people are met through housing quality to maintain health and well-being.
Diverse innovative solutions abound such as 3-D housing construction techniques, prefab and modular methodology, Building Information Modeling (BIM), cutting-edge software, advanced automation, and precision robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) have become new techniques rapidly revolutionising the industry.
In countries like the United States of America, Canada, Japan, Malawi and Kenya, affordable houses are built in less than 24 hours using 3-D printing technology to develop housing at scale, reduce labour costs, waste, build high-quality homes and reduce construction timeline.
For instance, the 3-D construction printer performs basic structural work of the house such as installation of components like windows, doors and others like electrical systems, which are achieved at high speed, enhancing the efficiency and accuracy of design.
Essentially, prefabricated construction and system buildings have emerged as credible solutions, allowing developers to build high-quality homes at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional construction.
The pre-construction, construction and post-construction phases of property development have greatly been influenced by technology, especially in carrying out physical activities like construction, monitoring, investment analysis, and risk management.
In recent years, some construction industry has embraced technology, and this has led to significant advancements in the sector. Technology has been integrated into various aspects of construction, such as design, planning, construction, and projects.
However, the rate of adoption of these tools by Nigerians has been slow, thereby worsening the housing supply, and increasing the cost of construction, quality of units, and real estate transactions.
For instance, tools like BIM started with the architectural profession, in recent times engineering has seen greater adoption of it. Across the world, the United States of America stands out as one of the pioneers of BIM adoption. Singapore and South Korea lead in BIM adoption in Asia, the Middle East stands at below 30 per cent, while in Africa, Nigeria is one of the lowest adopters of the technology.
Experts believe that government and private sector partnership, especially through investment in modern housing construction methodology and design could bring to reality the much-needed growth.
Expounding on the issue, the Managing Partner, Sowunmi Williams and Associate, an architectural firm, Mr Sowunmi Williams, said the high cost of most modern housing construction techniques make it difficult for most professionals in the housing industry to invest and deploy them at local levels.
According to him, houses built with the latest technology like 3-D printing will be costly. “For instance, the 3-D housing printing technique requires more use of cement and the cost of cement in the building materials market has risen from N3,500 to about N8,500. So, deploying such technology and design may cost more and many people may not afford it.
“Any construction methodology that uses cement will also require the use of reinforcement and the cost has also escalated from N450,000 per tonne to about N1.4 million,” Williams said.
He pointed out that most of the machines for housing production are expensive with costs running into millions of dollars, adding that with the increase in exchange rate, it’s unwise to invest in such construction techniques.
“What this means is that as a professional, you will be spending more money to buy equipment, which will be out of reach for many people. Technology may not be able to be deployed for affordable housing as of today in Nigeria because of the high cost of the components and the materials.
“In terms of designs, there are various software that are deployed. Even though some are considering Artificial Intelligence (AI) in architectural designs, AI cannot think like an architect. Virtual reality is being used for touring proposed buildings and adjusting before construction begins, but its use is still low due to poor awareness,” he added.
He said with existing challenges limiting the uptick in modern building construction techniques and architecture technology adoption, governments need to intervene by supporting professionals, as an average practitioner cannot invest in the technologies.
His words: “Government can provide grants for organisations, and put forward policies that would encourage investments such as tax waivers for imported machines in the real estate and construction industry.’’
A past president, the Nigerian Institute of Building, Mr Kunle Awobodu, expressed concerns that despite the dynamics in building construction and design around the world, innovations have not taken root in the housing industry, adding that the industry still relies on old process of bricks and mortar.
New technology unfolding in the building and construction industry
He explained that in a situation where most people, who have skills in the construction processes are not ready to welcome new techniques and designs, the adoption of such innovations will become difficult.
“There are complaints in a situation where a developer or homeowners expend their resources on the new technological approach in construction, but the people are not willing to accept the construction methodology. Look at the idea of interlocking blocks that was promoted by one of the University of Lagos professors.
“The idea seems not to be well embraced by everyone; you will discover that such inventions will be lying idle because of the people’s attitude to new techniques. Some of the new methods require training and retraining but most of the old masons are not susceptible to change,” he said.
Awobodu recommended the recruitment of young Nigerians into the construction industry; training them in modern construction techniques and designs, adding, “the issue that could arise is the reluctance of most youths to engage in stressful works in the real estate industry.
“However, we still have some of the youths that are willing to engage in such jobs, if sophisticated methods of construction are deployed and utilised effectively for development in our building industry,” he said.
He urged banks to support property developers and construction firms in funding equipment as imported fairly-used or new equipment, accessories and plants are costly. According to him, there was a need for improved advocacy to enable homeowners and developers to embrace and patronise new designs and modern housing construction methodologies.
Former president, Nigerian Institute of Structural Engineers, Victor Oyenuga, observed that the awareness and adoption of inventions like BIM in Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) is significantly low as key players are generally not familiar with it. He added that only a few professionals use BIM tools in operations processes in the building industry.
His words: “BIM integrates multi-disciplinary data to create detailed digital representations that are managed in an open cloud platform for real-time collaboration.”
Oyenuga, said despite the barriers, benefits are many, which include connecting teams, workflows and data across the entire project lifecycle from design and engineering to construction, as well as operations to realise better ways of working.
Specifically, he said the benefits of BIM in the pre-construction phase are effective site analysis to understand environmental and resource-related problems, improved effectiveness, accuracy of existing conditions’ documentation and effective design reviews leading to sustainable building design.

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