Building contractors will affirm that the number of cranes towering over a city offers a poignant commentary on its economic health. Building starts are a vital economic indicator, and the cranes, like the spires of so many industrial cathedrals, are a symbol of the faith investors have that builders will add wealth and deliver in time and on budget.
In Norway, efficient building practices helped garner contracts worth USD 17 billion in 2001 - a forest of cranes - achieved by employing high-quality materials, advanced building techniques and sound technology to drive down costs and erect constructions of value. Pervasive Norwegian innovation leads the way. In this new era of building, Norway's industry players are earning dividends of utility and value thanks to Information and Communications Technology (ICT). From the master-builders and engineering prowess of general contractors, to the durable building materials offered by sawmills and manufacturers, Norwegian companies employ state of the art to export a hard-won builder's advantage.
Even the smallest building industry players in Norway keenly use the latest ICT tools, a market-driven trend nurtured by government, industry associations and fed by leading Norwegian research bodies like SINTEF and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Increasingly, Norwegian building-industry companies of all sizes are receiving their baptism in research through ICT-enabled projects and finding access to Norwegian research coordinators as well as home-industry and European Union (EU) research projects. The result is safely built, environmentally healthy building and products that withstand precipitous climate change while harnessing unified yet flexible planning.
Good planning is crucial in the building industry to shorten completion times and control costs. The growing use of ICT in building planning is evidenced in the day-to-day operations of building firms such as Selmer Skanska-Bolig. A major player in the Norwegian housing market, the company utilizes 'Internet hotels' to bring together the parties and key ingredients of a building project: customers, consultants, digitalized architectural drawings and specs, building authorities, sub-contractors and the status of material deliveries are made accessible online to speed vital contacts for those directly involved. The full gamut of ICT solutions for building operations and administrative tasks envisions complete digitized information from the building sites and the clearing of accounts: contractors make electronic offers based on figures put online by lumber and other building materials suppliers. In their online database, NOBB, 240,000 products are codified to form an innovative tool for the whole building industry chain.
Building Blocks of Wood
Sales of building materials in Norway reached USD 4.5 billion in 2001, based partly on the success of the materials database. Quality and product range were other factors.
Norwegian wood, stress graded and kiln-dried, remains the backbone of building in Norway and in countries across the globe. Pine and spruce timbers, sawn or planed, plus panelling and trim in an array of dimensions and styles have long been Norwegian exports to every corner of the world. Elegant parquet and durable laminated wood flooring are part of a newer wave of stylish interiors already popular in much of Europe.
Norwegian wood products benefit from the commitment of Norway's sawmill operators to extensive research, education and international cooperation. The Norwegian Institute of Wood Technology, a research facility, is part of the research complex for wood that includes important links to major Norwegian centres of research. Well-managed Norwegian forests will continue to be the source of an incredible array of building products to prop up value in constructions of every conceivable sort.
Wood treated to keep out moisture is also treated to be fire-retardant, a valuable attribute and a Norwegian patent. Lightweight, super-strong, laminated wood (glulam) is a relatively new product for bearing considerable loads across lengthy spans. Delivered worldwide, glulam is expanding possibilities for the design of homes, large public buildings and even bridges. Using specs for an original Leonard De Vinci suspension bridge, one was recently brought into being in southeast Norway to illustrate the beauty and utility of glulam, leading Norwegian manufacturers of which are Moelven Industrier and Lamitech.
Beauty & Savings
Trees are also the stuff of a number of Norway's building component exports. Janex freights wooden windows and doors known internationally for quality derived in large from stringent testing and the Norwegian experience with heating homes in extreme cold. Uldals Trevarefabrikk, H-Gruppen and H-Tre all manufacture a unique variety of quality windows or balcony and sliding doors in aluminium, wood or PVC. Uldals top-swing, side-hung and Europrofile tilt & turn windows can be turned 180° for easy back-and-front cleaning from indoors. Such pre-fabricated or fully-assembled building elements are redefining the building process. In another example, elegant wooden staircases from Melby Snekkerversted are pre-ordered and custom-made as components in a larger building plan, rather than built-up by contractors. The result is building flexibility that enables buying freedom and averts costly construction slow downs.
Grouped as members of RIF, an organization of consulting engineers representing a true brains trust, Norwegian project leaders and consultants represent vast building experience, crucial in the building of non-residential structures.
Employing many of the Norwegian brands homebuilders swear by and the world knows - Permaform concrete wall systems, Profilteam designs for glass surfacing, Rikett contract flooring, Glamox lighting and a host of others - many of Norway's general contractors are adept at, and readily recommend, the flexible planning and ease of construction afforded by modular building systems.
Two million non-residential buildings, roughly one-third of which are for industrial use, are Norway's inheritance of large-project expertise, from which modular building springs. Several Norwegian manufacturers offer products that facilitate building using pre-fabricated systems. Emblematic of this way of doing things are outfits like Heimdal Byggsystem: the company's modular systems seem to anticipate the future, offering time savings of up to 70 per cent. Built in factories enabling production-line savings, the units are stacked on ordinary foundations and given exterior walls and a roof.
Norway's researchers are finding new places where modular technology might be ideal, as in earthquake zones and special aid projects. Meanwhile, Norwegian contractors, consultants and fabricators are winning new markets thanks to the technology. Recent successes include securing large-scale instalments of pre-constructed cottages. With climate-change research by Byggforsk helping evolve new building defences against the elements, future innovative building concepts from Norway are sure to follow.