A finger on the pulse of the latest construction trends - 30/03/2016

From an increasingly urban and digital society, to ever-faster innovation and sustainability: major trends are shaping the world around us and, with it, the world of construction. "The building industry is far from stagnant", says Fons Peeters, former CEO of Etex. “Slowly but surely, it is responding to these trends — moving towards low-energy buildings in Western markets and faster construction techniques in developing countries.” Being of the same mind, Paul Van Oyen, the current CEO of Etex, adds: “We are not talking about yet another smartphone upgrade. What makes trends in the construction sector so instrumental, is how they profoundly influence the way people live. Contributing to solutions that can really make a difference is exciting, to say the least.

Present around the globe, Etex has witnessed the global construction trends from up close. What is more, the building materials group continues to successfully adapt to a constantly changing industry. How? Etex voices from around the globe talk you through the biggest trends in construction of the past two decades.

“The construction industry may be changing slowly compared to other sectors, yet some trends are clearly influencing its future development.” — Fons Peeters, former CEO of Etex.

“Developments and trends in construction profoundly influence the way people live. That is what makes the building industry so instrumental. Contributing to solutions that can really make a difference is exciting, to say the least.” — Paul Van Oyen, CEO of Etex.

A brave new world: different expectations

Imagine a world without Google, social media or mobile phones. Hard to believe how much society has changed in just two decades. “There have been revolutionary changes in communication”, says Fons Peeters, “and these are rapidly altering the way companies behave.Michael Fenlon, Head of Etex Cladding Division: “In a world where we have all the information we need right at our fingertips, customer expectations have also changed a lot. This is no different in the construction sector and building materials market.

What has remained constant is that customers still want to make an informed decision on price, quality and design”, Michael Fenlon continues. “However, today customers have access to much more information and choice than ever before in the construction sector. Online marketing is completely changing how we communicate with our customers and we can now build long-term relationships directly with homeowners and architects.

Innovation going through the roof

Exploring new ways to market building materials is one thing, but it all starts with market-driven product development and manufacturing. “Here, innovation is key, especially as product life cycles are getting shorter and shorter”, says Tanguy Vanderborght, Regional Manager Central and Eastern Europe for Etex Building Performance. Agustin Cozzi, Managing Director of Etex company Gyplac Colombia, shares this view: “Fifteen years ago, we could only talk about product benefits such as speed of installation and affordability. Today, innovative features such as eco-friendliness, sustainability, product safety and versatility are indispensable.

There is a need for buildings that perform better than ever before and, at the same time, we must satisfy the growing demand for individual expression. “Buildings need to meet strict environmental guidelines whilst also allowing a wide variety of aesthetic options”, Michael Fenlon adds. “Today, software tools for engineering and architectural design have transformed what and how we can build. Thanks to enhanced manufacturing and construction techniques, we can use our materials to create buildings we only dreamed of in the past.

Innovation knows no bounds, that much is certain. It also transcends continental borders. Juan Guillermo Lugo and Marc Vanoverbeke: “In Africa, for instance, cladding solutions are becoming more and more sophisticated for commercial and institutional architecture. South Africa, in particular, is a regional frontrunner in using high-end technologies.” Juan Guillermo Lugo gives Marketing and Technical Solutions Support to Etex’s AMEA and Latam Divisions. Marc Vanoverbeke is the Regional Director of Africa.

"Manufacturing techniques have greatly improved in recent decades: we can do things we only dreamed of in the past." — Michael Fenlon, Head of Etex Cladding Division

Lightweight construction

Unlike manufacturing techniques, building methods change at a slower pace. Having been around for quite some time, dry or lightweight construction is, however, becoming increasingly popular. This technique combines interior building boards and exterior cladding boards on timber or steel frames. The building method has become a major driver of growth for the construction industry in emerging and urbanising countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia — where the need for affordable housing is on the rise.

Rodrigo Palacios, Managing Director of Etex’s Pizarreño company in Chile, gives a telling example: “In Chile, there was a huge need for new houses in the 1990s and early 2000s. This triggered the need for building techniques that are fast yet affordable, like lightweight construction. Etex made sure to tap into this trend, and did it successfully.

This is also evident in Peru, where Etex’s local Eternit company opened its first plasterboard plant in 2015. As a result, Eternit Peru now ensures local production of the main ingredients for dry construction, being fibre cement flat sheets and plasterboards — thus consolidating Etex’s local leadership in this market segment.

Eternit Peru exists for 75 years Eternit Peru 75 years Eternit Peru 75 years

Eternit Peru celebrated its 75th anniversary and the opening of its first plasterboard plant. An important step to tap into the demand for lightweight construction solutions in the region.

The world is a town

While demand for building materials remains strong all over the world, it has taken on new forms in recent decades. The main trigger? Demographic changes, like urbanisation. “We notice an increasing demand to make cities more attractive and aesthetic”, explains Paul Van Oyen, CEO of Etex.

This urbanisation — and the resulting popularity of high rises — is not limited to emerging countries, such as India and China”, Paul Van Oyen continues. “Ten years ago, 72% of all roofs in Germany were residential. Today, this figure is 48%, indicating just how popular high rises have become. This creates opportunities for our lightweight construction solutions which combine gypsum and fibre cement.

Sustainability top of mind

In a rapidly urbanising world, sustainable building can make a huge difference. “From nearly zero-energy buildings (nZEB) to cradle-to-cradle solutions, the demand for sustainability in the construction industry went up considerably in recent decades”, comments Patrick Balemans, Managing Director of Etex company Eternit Belgium. Again, dry construction has a role to play. Not only does it ensure that buildings meet today’s stringent insulation standards. It also involves materials that are easier to dismantle and 100% recyclable.

Community first

Sustainability also means supporting the communities in which Etex operates. Patrick Balemans: “We try to have a positive impact in and around our production plant in Kapelle-op-den-Bos. Some examples: transportation by barge to reduce road traffic, the use of solar panels to generate clean energy and a strong focus on safety at work.

To show its commitment, Eternit Belgium invited employees and their families, neighbours and friends to celebrate its 110th anniversary. Patrick Balemans: “Eternit puts Kapelle-op-den-Bos on the map, yet our company could never have become what it is today without the town.” After all, people are the driving force to steer a company through an ever-evolving world.

Eternit family day Eternit family day Eternit family day

About 400 grandparents, parents, children and neighbours gathered at Eternit’s Family Day to celebrate its 110th anniversary on 30 August 2015.
Photographer: Marcel Van Coile - Etex employee: Danny Voorbraeck

Back to news overview