After editing almost 20 of the 25 years of Research Focus and then IRF, it could be a good time for me to look back on highlights and on work we thought would revolutionise the built environment but did not. But I am increasingly interested not in ‘feedback’ but in ‘feed-forward’, a process focused on learning for the future. So, to complement Mike Chrimes’ excellent review of ICE’s role in I&R, here are a few connections from past articles to future I&R we need.
With so much strife around the world that is blighting – and ending early – so many peoples’ lives, it would be easy to give up on the ideals of sustainability and of engineering and architecture for a better quality of life for all. But I suspect readers of IRF are much more optimistic than that.
So, accepting that we have already done so much to improve environmental, social and economic conditions in very many parts of the world, what are the big challenges for engineers, architects, constructors and other built environment professionals as the 21st Century approaches middle age? Perhaps these match your ideas?
• continuing environmental degradation;
• huge disparities of human well-being, not only between countries but within most countries – water & energy supply, sanitation, earnings, living conditions, etc;
• climate change – coming at us fast if not already with us – and the need to reduce our carbon emissions;
• how to strike the right balance in solutions for these often-competing demands and pressures.
So, what current and/or future innovation and research strands might give us a chance of tackling these challenges?
• With urbanisation still increasing, high on the list must be Future Smart Cities – driving down per-capita consumption and waste, and improving human well-being.
• A combination of engineering a low-carbon future and social research into how we effect behaviour change – it seems that engineering alone will not meet our 2050 carbon targets.
• Seeking a step change in the efficiency of transport networks and reducing the need for travel.
• The best use of computing, information technology, communications and smart infrastructure – call it systems engineering if you wish – to drive down build costs, drive up quality, reliability and ease of maintenance, drive down adverse environmental and social impacts, and to deliver environmental and social enhancements as a matter of course.
What have I left out of this list? A great deal, no doubt. But if I have stimulated you to think about these issues, to contribute to IRF, or to read and apply more of what we include, it has served my purpose!