In early 2020, while the coronavirus was still restricted to China, the country moved at a lightning pace to quarantine Wuhan and combat the virus. The construction industry is now looking at how the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) managed to build two hospitals from the ground up in less than two weeks and what we can learn from their speed.
The two hospitals, Huoshenshan and Leishenshan, were built in 10 and 12 days, respectively and are credited for much of Wuhan’s success in preventing death. (China claims that Covid-19 killed fewer than 5000 people in the entire country. The number is disputed, but there is no doubt that China’s mobilization is impressive.)
The structures at the two hospitals were modular. They could be built and assembled in any number of ways to form various types of medical units. The space for medical staff and patients was divided to minimize cross-contamination. The patient rooms were pre-fabricated in factories and then assembled on-site, “put together like a set of building blocks,” the CSCEC said.
Much of the construction speed can be attributed to the structure of the Chinese economic system, for good or ill. The acquisition of tens of thousands of types of machinery, containers, construction materials, environmental systems, medical equipment, appliances, furniture and more were coordinated by the CSCEC’s close relationship with the government, showing China’s strength in organizing its supply chain in case of emergency. (The cost of this system, both in financial and human terms, was not disclosed by the Chinese government.)
CSCEC was benefitted from its digital regulation platform, the Intelligent Construction Site, which uses technologies like artificial intelligence, cloud computing and big data. Linking 17 information systems of five categories most commonly used by hospitals, it formed an “intelligent brain” that managed security, logistics, imaging and operations. In practice, this meant that an information system constituting 360,000 meters of cords and pipes were formed in a 3D model by the AI, which was then pieced out to more than 100 sub-contract projects, thousands of procedures, and allowed for a massive team of an estimated 40,000 workers to each fulfill their independent tasks.
CSCEC uses this technology on other large projects. One of them is China Zun, a new skyscraper that is notable for being the first structure over 500 meters tall to be at the highest seismic tolerance and able to withstand a force14 hurricane. CSCEC is also exporting this “intelligent brain” to Egypt to build its Iconic Tower, which has broken records for speed of aerial platform work.
It’s yet to be seen how this system will transform construction in other parts of the world, including the United States, but the incredible speed of the construction shows promise.