Changing the World – Rethinking the Design and Construction Process

This past week, Rhomberg Holding Group founder and CEO Hubert Rhomberg presented the keynote at the Wood Design & Construction Solutions Conference in Vancouver, BC.  His talk, Construction in the 21st Century – Rethinking the Design and Construction Process to Enhance Performance and Reduce Impact, touched on a topic that lies at the very heart of what we’re doing here at Element5.

Mr. Rhomberg graciously shared some of his thoughts with us on the subject.

E5: The construction industry uses about 40 percent of resources worldwide, so our goal should be to use less—less materials, fewer workers, less capital and less time. At the conference, you talked about smart design as being more efficient—not only for human and financial resources, but also more efficient for the environment in terms of job site impact, materials, and other factors. How can we do this?

Mr. Rhomberg: It depends on your approach. If your goal is to minimize resources, then every component that is part of the building has to follow. This leads to wood anyway because wood, in combination with other materials in our hybrid system, is always more resource-efficient in terms of energy or carbon. And by fabricating components offsite, we bring so many other advantages in terms of quality, time and cost.

With a wood hybrid system, we can prefabricate everything to within millimeters in terms of accuracy. By putting together components from different suppliers or different sources, there has to be focused quality management. In the wood industry, this is not an issue because mass timber manufacturers already know how to fabricate accurately.

We also have to take care with interfaces. With every new element you bring to the concept, you must make sure it fits with other parts. Once you’ve done that, it is part of the archive. This is why it’s so important to repeat, to learn, to work together and to collaborate. When you bring suppliers together with designers, you push the know-how to a common platform.

To work together and share knowledge… this is less a technical issue and more a mindset, an organizational issue. And those companies who will change that mindset more quickly will succeed. As I said at the conference, it will take 15 to 20 years from now until the whole industry changes. And the decisions which are being made now and in the next three to five years will determine who will be the leader.

E5:  When Cree, the company you formed in 2010, completed the innovative LifeCycle Tower (LCT One) in Austria, you realized your goal to build a resource and energy-efficient building using a system of design and construction that can be adapted to efficiently build more high performance buildings. How does cross laminated timber (CLT) and mass timber fit into that system?

Rhomberg: We already use glulam and CLT fits perfectly into our LCT concept. We can use CLT panels as load-bearing walls or separation walls… it can easily be part of the solution. Our platform requires that interfaces are met and components fit together, and CLT works well for that.

E5: You are working to promote strategies for more natural construction methods… to reduce the use of resources and energy throughout the life-cycle of the building and to deliver the technology needed to build high-rise buildings using system construction methods that are based on wood as a raw material. Separate components of the Cree building technology (core, ceiling, facade columns) can be prefabricated and then used in a modular manner. Is this a design trend that is common across Europe or unique to Rhomberg and Cree?

Rhomberg: There is some movement where companies are trying something similar. Engineers and architects have begun sharing but so far, it has just been in the design. We believe that we need more than just a common design tool or platform, so we’ve added other elements, including production, logistics, local and regional collaboration, and more. Our goal is to create a community with builders, developers, architects, regulators and suppliers who are motivated to share best practice because they share a common vision. I think at the moment we are one of the leaders in this, but I don’t know if we are too early.

E5: We hope not! Our goal at Element5 is to capitalize on the environmental benefits of wood in construction, and to do exactly what you’re doing here… to systematize the way in which we approach construction so that everything isn’t always a brand new experience for those involved.

Rhomberg: Yes, those are all good but like you, we know it’s not enough to focus just on sustainable concepts. We need to combine sustainability with efficiency and logistics and utilization and collaboration. Only then will we really make a change in the world. I think we’re already making great progress.


IZM – Illwerke Zentrum Montafon, – by Cree, Photo Credit: Norman A Muller