2021 AEC Trends Report: 3 Key Takeaways + 2022 Industry Outlook

The AEC Industry

As we steer into 2022, a quick glance at the events that shaped the past year brings to light a new "normal" that the world is steadily embracing. The ongoing pandemic and an emerging shift in the way we live and maneuver every day has paved the way for imminent changes in our built environment and the AEC industry in 2022. As most workplaces adopt the hybrid work model, the existing building stock is undergoing substantial modifications to align with its occupants' changing lifestyles while also pivoting towards protocols that promote and facilitate wellness in the inhabited spaces.

Similarly, the AEC industry has also witnessed changes in global construction trends while incorporating innovative measures to keep greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in check. cove.tool's 2021 AEC Trends Report identifies several trends from an analysis of approximately 12,500 projects in the United States and Canada. The report reviews projects undertaken by AEC firms and the design decisions that have helped to continually reduce energy use intensity (EUI) in the upcoming projects. The following post highlights key industry trends from 2021, outlines the AEC report's top three takeaways, and provides an industry outlook of what to expect for 2022.

Data compiled in cove.tool's 2021 AEC Trends Report on the projects undertaken in 2021 reveals a recurrent rise in the education sector, continuing from 2020, whereas office and retail projects suffered a downward trend. This trend results from states needing to retrofit educational buildings to implement changes required by new health and safety regulations, along with remote learning continuing into 2021 across the country. The chart shows a constant fraction of educational projects throughout the year, with a spike in the numbers observed in January, September, and November. These spikes aligned with the ongoing sequence of events triggered by COVID-19.

Project types by month 2021 and 2020

The data also provides an interesting insight into the size of firms undertaking educational projects in the AEC industry. Small to medium-sized firms have been competing with larger firms, displaying a shift in their portfolios from primarily residential projects to include education buildings. Technology and software solutions like cove.tool have been primary drivers in expanding capabilities, providing a broad insight into the design, and enabling smaller firms to attempt projects previously undertaken by larger firms. Democratizing available data and enabling users to make design decisions backed by data has also proven beneficial in allowing firms to track the energy efficiency of the buildings and reduce carbon emissions from the AEC industry.

Project type in 2021 vs. 2020

Steady Decrease of EUI in AEC Projects

Energy use intensity, or EUI, is the amount of energy required that is consumed per square area of a building per year. The climate crisis has made it crucial for designers to lower the EUI of buildings by using renewable energy sources. The 2030 Commitment program designed by The American Institute of Architecture (AIA) is an important medium that helps firms achieve the Net Zero Carbon (NZC) goal in the construction sector.

The 2021 AEC Trends report shows a significant decrease in the EUI compared to 2020 data in all building types. The 2021 Report shows that the average EUI for each building type is below the US EnergyStar benchmark values. Education, apartment, and office buildings were more energy efficient in 2021 than the previous year. 

Interestingly, the EUI of all building types in 2021 was below 100. However, in 2020, the EUI of most building types hovered between 100 and 250. This positive trend may be due to the improved versatility of the platform, an increased sample size, and a higher number of new projects. A growing focus on meeting sustainability requirements coupled with sustainability regulations at the state level has encouraged designers to push for net-zero targets for their projects. cove.tool has allowed AEC firms of all sizes to take advantage of the comprehensive analysis tools, leading to EUI reduction in their projects.

Increased Application of Building Performance Modeling in the AEC Industry

Buildings are a major contributor to global CO2 emissions, accounting for approximately 40% of annual GHG emissions. Sustained efforts to bring these numbers down have led several states to establish sustainability initiatives, and building codes and regulations continue to become more stringent with each passing year. The immediate need to reduce carbon emissions has led the members of the AEC industry, including architects, engineers, contractors, and developers, to address the crisis by implementing measures that ensure EUI reduction early in the design process.

Now, more firms across the country are setting targets to reduce their carbon footprint and are starting to rely on data and analysis tools to enable a better decision-making process. Also, building performance modeling has become an important step in a growing number of design projects. cove.tool's 2021 AEC Trends report shows a substantial rise in users adopting new strategies and pushing the sustainability agenda forward by attempting to meet the 2030 Challenge.

AEC Industry Outlook for 2022

2021 has been a year of adapting to new building requirements and using data and analysis to address the changing needs of building occupants. Based on the points above, below are the few trends we can expect to see in the AEC industry in 2022:

  1. AEC firms of all sizes are positioned for growth by leveraging existing and emerging design tools and technologies. In 2022, we can expect to see smaller firms taking on larger and more complex projects enabled by automation and software solutions, bringing them on par with their larger counterparts.
  2. EUI in buildings will continue to decrease as building codes and regulations become stricter and we get closer to the 2030 deadline.
  3. Building performance modeling will play a more continuously growing role in how key stakeholders in the AEC industry move towards achieving the required energy efficiency in existing retrofits and new construction projects.