Adaptability & Infrastructure – the end?

What is to come?

This is the last post for this month, and for our current theme on Adaptability in Infrastructure, but it is clearly not the end of the issues that we need to consider on this subject and so we will return to it later in 2018.  Some of the issues remaining include:

Adaptability v Flexibility?  Are they the same?  Mark Neaseby suggests that it is dangerous for us to think of these terms as interchangeable. Flexibility has connotations of deciding now what may occur in the future and ‘building it in’.   I think of the technical college in the UK that, allowing for a potential future need for super tall machines, built one of its instructional areas with extra high ceilings. The need never eventuated, but the cost of heating that building in the cold UK winters greatly increased their operating costs and reduced the use that could be made of that space.  Adaptability does not mean that we decide NOW what will be needed in the future, but rather that we design so that WHEN we know what is required, we are easily able to change.

Adapting v Adaptability?   Adaptability is a functional characteristic, and one that is going to be essential for future infrastructure design.  Adapting is an action, and there is going to be considerable need for this as well, as we cope with infrastructure that is no longer suitable for its designed task, or where its designed task no longer exists.

Questions now include:

  • What are the other key questions/ issues that you would like to discuss?
  • What examples of successful Adaptation or Adaptability in design do you know of?
  • Please share with us, who is working in this area and what are they doing.

Wishing everyone a most prosperous and exciting 2018!  Please rejoin us January 9 as we now take a short seasonal break.

Adaptable Infrastructure: Design for Wanted Lifespan

It still works!

‘Sure, the infrastructure is overdesigned/excessive at present but, with growth, it will be adequate in the longer term’.  Thirty years ago, this was the accepted theory underlying much building construction, particularly in electricity generation.  When you have grown up with a particular mindset, it is hard to shift it.  Even when all the evidence points in the other direction.

At my first presentation on infrastructure renewal in 1987 I had a keen audience and question time went for over an hour.  Then one fellow asked ‘With the technology we now have, surely we could make our buildings last for 300 years’.  My response brought question time to a sudden close. What I said was. ‘My goodness!  Why would we want to?’  Peter Erkelens, of the Eindhoven University of Technology, is one professional who has been considering this problem for more than a decade now and he has developed the ‘lifespan approach’.  His view is that we should design and select the components and their connections in such a way that they function in accordance with the wanted lifespan.

He suggests we think in terms of the relationship between the economic (or functional) lifespan and the technical lifespan and that we look at three scenarios:

A. Economic life span < Technical life span.

The components of this infrastructure should be re-usable and/or recyclable

B. Economic life span = Technical life span.

The components should be recoverable and then recyclable

C. Economic life span > Technical life span.

The components of the infrastructure should be replaceable and recyclable

Peter Erkelens argues that ‘the design efforts should be such, that the resulting products are sustainable. This requires thinking about environmental effects and should include options for re-use, replacement and recycling’.

To see detailed ideas about how this concept can be applied to buildings, both offices and housing, See Peter Erkelens

Adaptability in Recovery

Hein Aucamp, Director, WA Integrated Asset Management, and member of our Perth City Chapter, WA, continues his exploration of adaptable infrastructure.

The linear scarring of a redundant road and the tons of aggregate mean that the disposal cost is significant. So we tend to resist discussing that such a situation would benefit from adaptation; our problems begin in earnest when people agree with us and want to know how to do it.

I can offer a tentative suggestion in another direction, but applications may prove elusive. The most adaptable infrastructure is that which supports the services with the greatest degrees of freedom. For example, compare air transport with road transport.

Consider air transport. The physical infrastructure to connect Australian States by air is a small length of runways, some sophisticated buildings, and an expensive fit-out of smart electronic equipment with highly trained personnel. Every aspect is reconfigurable by procedures and routing schedules except for the landing and take-off points: and even these can be by-passed.

On the other hand, the physical infrastructure to connect Australian States by road is a byzantine spider’s web of expensive roads and bridges of varying degrees or repair. Compared to air travel, nothing is reconfigurable by policy except speeds or standards when reconstruction is done.

It is not always possible to transport goods and services by air rather than road; we will probably always need both.

But my tentative suggestion is that where possible, choose services with the greatest degrees of freedom, and build the infrastructure to support those services. Provide virtual library services. Choose wireless or satellite services rather than cable services.

I would really appreciate comments that could improve my line of thought.

Adaptable Infrastructure – what does it mean?

Hein Aucamp, Director, WA Integrated Asset Management, and member of the Perth City Chapter, WA, is our guest blogger this week. In this, the first of his two posts, he looks at what adaptable infrastructure means.

A Maunsell Fort

One of the earliest examples of adaptable infrastructure was in the 1940s. Guy Maunsell assisted the war effort by designing his famous Maunsell Forts, which were floating concrete structures, sunk in strategic positions. Their deployment was similar to offshore oil platforms. They were adaptable in their deployment. One outside Britain’s territorial waters eventually became famous after being proclaimed as a principality – similar to the Principality of Hutt River in WA.

But although military infrastructure is definitely adaptable from one perspective, it is also prohibitively expensive to imitate in peace time.

For infrastructure to be adaptable in a meaningful way, we don’t merely mean that adaptation can be done to it; the adaptation process must be relatively cheap and easy. For example, if our so-called adaptation process involves demolishing and rebuilding 50% of an item, we could (with at least equal honesty) describe our modification as demolition, disposal of economic value, and reconstruction.

Adaptability of infrastructure can apply to several different aspects of its responsiveness to changing needs. Ideally, we would require rapid, easy, and cheap ways to achieve the following:

  • Adaptability in deployment to allow efficient construction as needs become apparent.
  • Adaptability in function to allow efficient change in use for either a range or foreseen needs, or for emerging needs.
  • Adaptability in recovery to allow it to be moved or recycled and re-used when it unexpectedly emerges that it is no longer necessary – or that better alternatives have appeared.


Do we have any examples of infrastructure that is adaptable to this extent? We have modularisation which allows rapid building and extension of structures that follow a pattern. And we have some ability with roads and buildings to make rapid operational adjustments to accommodate a multipurpose environment.

But true adaptability is hard to achieve. The main problem is that when the need reduces or disappears, the infrastructure resists modification without loss of economic value – which is a polite way of saying we have to demolish it and pay to reinstate the environment.

Next: Adaptability in Recovery.

Adaptation – design in, or adapt later?

A recent study by Reza Taheriattar at the University of NSW describes a mathematical approach to assessing adaptability.  He distinguishes between ‘designed in adaptation’ (i.e. guessing at the likely future changes that will take place and allowing for them in the design) and ‘fortuitous adaptation’  (i.e guessing at them and calculating the cost of adjusting for them later.)   [Note: I do not use the word ‘guessing’ disparagingly!  Guesses, like assumptions, are extremely important, but we have to be careful we don’t mistake them for fact.]

Reza demonstrates a financial analysis model and an options analysis model but perhaps the most interesting is his social/environmental analysis where he includes non-measurables by the use of fuzzy numbers and qualitative analysis. He doesn’t give any detail of how these figures are obtained but the general idea is promising.

The example he gives is of rock seawalls where he compares a ‘designed in adaptation’ approach, (building a primary layer of larger armour units and building a parapet wall of stronger foundation) with a ‘fortuitious adaptation’ approach (later adding bigger armour units on seawall face and then strengthening parapet wall foundation’)

His general conclusion is that his method provides ‘ an easy to use method for financial valuation of investment in adaptable infrastructure’ and that  ‘Life cycle costing could indicate whether infrastructure adaptabiity is sustainable and whether inclusion of environmental/social criteria enhances viability.’

As with any such academic study, it is subject to further research and development and the engineers amongst you may like to refer to his presentation.

All of us, however, may want to consider whether a study which compares two approaches to ‘known’ events.  (‘known’ in the sense that you are able to put costs and timing on the outcomes) is really an answer to the problem of dealing with unknown events, where ‘adaptation’ may be more a question of how to efficiently and effectively leave your options open.

Your Thoughts?


Maintenance is King

“Renewal is so Yesterday” (December 5) argued that, in a changing world, we cannot afford to think of renewal as replacing what we currently have, perhaps with ‘better’or ‘higher’ quality which, when you think about it, is what we are currently doing.  We need to focus instead on ensuring that any infrastructure we build now is ‘future friendly’, meaning it can be adapted as needs and opportunities change.

However, new infrastructure – while it often occupies most of our thoughts and media column inches – is at any time really only a very tiny percent of our total infrastructure stock.

How do we defer the need to renew – and thus avoid committing ourselves to another 20, 40 or more years of 20th century assets?    The answer is obvious:  we need to put more effort into maintenance.  Well-maintained assets last!

So, if we are to maximise our chances to benefit from the changes that are coming – and avoid adding to the mounds of redundant, or stranded, assets that change has already brought about – then we need to focus on extending the lives of our existing assets by better maintenance.

It may not be as glamorous as renewal, but better maintenance is key to succeeding in a changing world.  It does what nothing else can – it gives us the chance to learn more about the future before we build for it.

Agree/Disagree?  Counter arguments welcome!

Special Note: The Asset Management Council is running a special webinar on Tuesday 19 December – “Life extension of a gas powered generator” the award winning presentation by Mark McKenzie and Giuliano Cangelosi,   Find out more and sign up here


Adaptable Infrastructure

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The strength of concrete – but with adaptability! Interblocs are large scale concrete lego blocks, and just like lego you can construct – and then reconstruct.  I was fascinated with the ability of interblocs to adjust as needs change over time, but when I spoke with Jack Bright at the IPWEA Conference in Perth last August, he was more interested to tell me about their environmental and cost aspects, and – not for the first time – I noted how good ideas tend to address not one, but multiple issues.

1. Avoiding Waste

NZ and international evidence indicates that 2.5-3% of all ready mix concrete will end up as surplus to requirements. This is perfectly good concrete, however because of the perishable nature of concrete it ends up wasted. Traditional approaches to dealing with this waste is to dry it, crush it, and use as recycled concrete aggregate (which has a high embedded energy content), or is sent to landfill.   Jack explained that the Interbloc system was part of a larger sustainability iniative called Envirocon, a product stewardship scheme for the ready mix concrete batching waste streams.  Envirocon have developed technology to analyse each unique mix of concrete and put it to sleep for up to 72hrs, which allows the  aggregation of wet surplus concrete for transport back to a central processing plant where it is upcycled into precast concrete products.

The major benefit here is the reuse of a substantial waste stream with minimal extra processing. There are also a number of indirect benefits; an estimated 1.3 million km of truck movements are eliminated by enabling trucks to return direct to the plant; new jobs, compounding economic growth etc.

2. Re-Use and the Circular System

The design principles behind the precast concrete products also lends itself to this idea of a truly circular system. Both Interbloc and Stonebloc are modular wall systems which deliver greater efficiencies in the building process. While acting as a permanent structure when assembled, the blocks can be easily disassembled, reconfigured to suit changing requirements, and reused at the end of the structures life.   In New Zealand, where Interbloc Systems have been in use for over ten  years, there is even a buy-back guarantee.

3. Security and Reliability

Each block has a unique serial number so you can track the construction process including the original test data.    Intrigued?  Want to know more?  Here is a short company video.   Or go to or

Question this week:  What other commercial products do you know that allow adaptability?


Renewal is “So Yesterday”!


“Lasting” is not enough

It seems strange to us today, but 30 years ago little thought was given to infrastructure renewal.  Infrastructures looked so solid, and lasted so long, that little attention was paid to ‘how’ they lasted so long.  This was the mid 1980s, and for the past 25 years, the focus had been on construction.  As the world had recovered from WW2 and refugees and immigrants flooded into Australia, we had expanded and we had built.  In fact, we expanded so rapidly, that not only did we build but the focus of our building was speed, on how quickly we could establish the new housing, the new developments that were needed by our burgeoning population.  That was the background for the eight Public Accounts Committee’s Reports on asset renewal.  The purpose was to convince the Parliamentarians that they needed to pay attention to renewal.  It worked.  We started to forecast our renewal requirements and we started to manage our assets so as to contain our future costs. Maintenance improved. Decision making improved. We rethought our existing renewal practices and, in many cases, realised that our assets could last far longer than we had previously thought.

For the last 30 years we have focussed on trying to make our assets last as long as we could so as to reduce our life cycle costs.  It was a worthy ambition and it fuelled an entire discipline.  Asset management was born and it has flourished.

But now, as we look ahead, it is clear that the world is changing. Climate change and rising sea levels are producing problems since many of cities around the world have been built near the sea to allow for rapid sea transport. Demographic change is impacting service demand. Technological change is impacting not only consumption but production. With an internet connection, we can work most anywhere and this is changing our ideas about cities.

That is why I say that renewal is yesterday’s problem.  Renewal underlies the concept of longevity.  But tomorrow’s problems are around our ability to adapt to constant and rapid change.  They are about Adaptability.  This is where we now need to focus. And this is why our theme for December is “Adaptability”

Your ideas on this topic welcome!