The GCC’s first 3D printed office was unveiled in the UAE last month. ‘Office of the Future’, which took 17 days to develop, was inaugurated by Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The project forms part of the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy, which was launched in April 2016 with the aim of 3D printing 25% of Dubai’s buildings by 2030.

Office of the Future’s launch marks the commencement of an era wherein off-site building works will assert their benefits in the GCC’s construction sector. Global shifts in the market are bound to impact the UAE’s construction market. In this context, the emergence of off-site construction practices in the GCC is hardly surprising, and Dubai’s Office of the Future is the region’s next step towards building better and faster.
 
Syska Hennessy Group, a global consulting, engineering, and commissioning firm, was involved in the making of this one-of-a-kind project. They collaborated with the 3D printing technology firm WinSun Global and international architecture and engineering firms Gensler and Thornton Tomasetti and provided the systems engineering consulting services and development facets on how to design and embed MEP systems and lighting design within the 3D printing process. Greg Jasmin, a Principal, and Managing Director, Syska Hennessy Group MENA office in Dubai, spoke to Megha S Anthony about the future of this technology.

Tell us the vision behind the Office of the Future.

The vision behind the ‘Office of the Future’ was to bring an innovative technology here in Dubai and since our team was working on a 3D printing building concept and so it made sense to do the first one in Dubai. Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum unveiled his vision to 2030 to have 25 percent of all buildings in Dubai to be 3D printed. So this ‘Office of the Future’ fits well into that vision. Having completed this project, we certainly have learnt many lessons that will help the 3D technology market go forth. While there are more teams in the US, Europe and China who are working with this technology, it will take more players in the market to make this a more common technology for all to use and really change the way we build and construct buildings.

What has been Syska’s role in this project?

Syska Hennessy Group has been the MEP and lighting design consultant to this project. We came up with a clearcut vision for this project in terms of the aesthetics as well as how to incorporate the mechanical, plumbing and electrical and the lighting systems within the given space. Considering the uniqueness of the project, we had to figure out how to incorporate our systems into the overall project at the same time not let it overtake it. For example, we had to see where to place the HVAC system so that it could cool the place, but not stand out as the main feature. The project demanded a lot of co-ordination and teamwork and working with the 3D Revit environment helped us achieve this.

What were some of the challenges faced during the making of this building?

Challenges are always the same. How do you keep the client and architects’ vision in line and how do you make the space functional from an MEP standpoint. It took a lot of coordination and teamwork between us, the architect, the structural engineer and the construction company. But once we figured the program out, the installation was quite smooth. Most of the planning was done at the design stage itself and this helped. Some of the lessons learned in this project would definitely have implications for the next one. The key to this or any project is to help the client figure out their program and how they want to achieve it. It was important to remember that once the drawings were in place and we went to into printing mode, that’s it, there’s no second chance to get it right. We certainly have a lot more insight now into the process which will help us overcome future challenges.

How sustainable are these buildings?

When you look at these buildings from different perspectives, they are very sustainable. The material used feels like concrete, but it is made out of a composite material that is recyclable. And the fact that this was printed in a factory, we were able to minimize the construction waste as well. Some of the measures taken in terms of the building insulations and u-values add to the overall sustainability of the building. I also feel that as time goes by, these projects will get more sustainable and will be able to have LEED accreditation as well.
 
The building can also sustain the harsh weather conditions in the region. During the planning stage, the materials underwent a series of tests in the UK, US, and China, that showed us how much wind and heat a building like this can sustain. Specific to the GCC this material works well here and as we go along after the first year we can see how the material holds up and we can improve on it.

What are the advantages of such buildings and what kind of benefits can the clients get?

Clients will see a big benefit for their project. Clients are focused on the speed at which their project gets done, the cost and the quality. Since we are basically building this project in a controlled environment and industrializing the construction process, we are giving the client the speed at which the building can be constructed, better quality resulting in cost reduction as well. So, instead of having ten guys do one thing, which might not come out right, here in a controlled environment the printer prints out exactly what has been designed.

When it comes to MEP how different will the approach be for a building of this sort?

For a project like this, the process of designing MEP system was a more collaborative especially with the structural engineer. We had to be aware of every nook and corner of the building, what space we could and could not use and where penetration could occur. Our constraint for this project was that these models had to fit in the shipping container, be delivered to the site and then assembled. We had to make sure that we understood this and coordinate with all the different disciplines so that by the time it got to the actual assembling there were not many discrepancies in the field.

Will there be any difference when it comes to maintaining a 3D printed building?

When it comes to maintenance, from an MEP perspective it is the same. It is the same air conditioning that we are used to, that has to be maintained. From a building perspective, the facilities management team has to be aware of the particulars of the construction type. For example, where can they use or not use water, or if they want to make an extra penetration into the building, they need to know that you can’t drill in a location unless it was part of the design process or the master plan. That being said, since it’s the first 3D printed office building, there is no data yet for what happens 10 years from
now. We will start gathering a lot of data for the first year of operations.

Would you say 3-D printing is the future of GCC construction?

When you look at the construction market here in the GCC, it uses a lot of unskilled labour and sometimes that drives inefficiencies in time management. The 3D technology can improve efficiency and elevate quality into the project. The next evolution would be getting the printer to be more mobile so that all the work can be done on the site instead of a factory. People are concerned about the future of the construction labour, with this new technology there is the potential to eliminate some jobs as efficiency increases in the construction industry.
 
In reality when you look at the evolution of technology, there has always been this change at the same time there are more sub-markets that grow alongside it to support this market. So people may have to be re-trained and learn new skill sets to be able to support the 3D printing method.
 
 

 
 
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