Back to the future: digital innovation in the built environment

The construction industry has mostly survived without incorporating computational design or digital
technology into their workflow until very recently, but we’re now at a point where it would be
foolish to ignore the capability that these solutions offer, and are starting to embrace these tools.
Immersive technology is now readily available, cost effective, and being used in design offices and on
building sites; cloud computing is allowing more complex calculations to be carried out in a fraction
of the time; robotics and 3D printing is becoming a reality for making building components; access to
live building data is starting to reveal a new understanding of how people interact with the built
environment… the list goes on.

But is this BIM??? The following ramble‐chat proposes that a lot of the confusion has come from the
welding together of “information management” and “digital technology”. These two things go
together, but they’re not the same thing. BIM is the meticulously structured and organised part;
digital technology is what allows us to innovate and break the mould. Without the structure, the
innovation can’t really flourish, and without the innovation, life is boring.
With the rapid uptake of BIM has come many different definitions and interpretations, and although
the label has been useful for giving traction to a much needed review of our methods, it’s also
grouped many other things under one banner. Perhaps it’s more helpful now to look at the
constituent parts in their own right…

The UK Government’s Level 2 BIM requirements are a very useful framework for how we can
provide consistent structured information (Better Information Management, as many people like to
say). This is great; thanks Government. To make the best use of data, consistent standards are
essential in ensuring that computers can make like‐for‐like comparisons. Of course, artificial
intelligence and image recognition could potentially do away with these standards altogether, but
that’s for another blog… The important thing is that data juggling can be very boring for human
beings to deal with, but it’s exactly what computers are there for. So we have to use computers
properly to help us deliver consistent information and to allow us the time and space to create and
imagine.

Right now, the people in the digital mind‐space are still emerging from the dark corners of the office,
and starting to find their place within project teams, like fish growing legs and joining the human
race. Only in this case, the digital skillset is the natural evolution of the engineering toolbox. But like
a fish out of water, it’s taking time for them to find their feet.
One of the current challenges we’re facing is aligning digital skills with BIM tasks. We have BIM
consultants, BIM coordinators, 3D draftsmen, information managers, Revit technicians, BIM
technicians…. another endless list of people with widely varying skills and different places in the
project team. And many of our traditional project teams are still spinning from when BIM came
flying through the door a few short years ago with cries of “it’s a process”, “it’s a digital revolution”
and “the millennials are taking over”…

So although our understanding is quite spread out along the see‐saw of change, it feels like our
collective mass is now fast approaching the fulcrum, and nobody knows what’s about to appear on
the horizon. We all have an opportunity right now to set that picture; the digital era is only in its
infancy for the built environment, so we can influence and shape how we want to be working in the
near future.

After all, remember the whole reason for doing this: because we can… No, because we need to
better understand buildings to provide healthier, happier places with lower impact on our
environment. The built environment teams of the future will work alongside building owners to
optimise the running of their facility, constantly reviewing occupant wellbeing via wearable
technology and sensors, and energy performance via meters, to assess opportunities for
improvement. Design options will be calculated instantly, the optimised solutions will be presented
for the team to choose their favourite, and the components will be printed and installed overnight
by robots. A futuristic vision from a few years ago that now seems eerily tangible.

With all this in mind, we can see that the skillsets are changing from carrying out detailed
calculations and routing by hand, to focussing on optimising concept designs and operation of
spaces. The most valuable skills in 10 years will be a mixture: those associated with data analytics
and computer programming, and the wider ability to tie all these solutions together.

In 2017, we’re very much in the transition phase, and so our main focus needs to be on preparing
the foundations that will make the above utopia a possibility. And that is BIM: the idea of putting
structured data into a computer model. Once we can all do this, together, collaboratively, as a team,
the possibilities of digital innovation can take seed and grow.

Fit for purpose – Big data reveals the construction knowledge gap

The construction knowledge gap.gif

Big data exposes a widening construction knowledge gap

Analysis of 6 million pieces of data has revealed that the knowledge framework underpinning the construction industry is no longer fit for purpose. Practitioners do not have easy access to critical knowledge, and so it is inevitable that mistakes will be made.

Designing Buildings Wiki, the construction industry knowledge base, has undertaken the first ever comprehensive mapping of construction industry knowledge. The startling results have been published today in a major new report ‘Fit for purpose? Big data reveals the construction knowledge gap’.

Fit for purpose front cover.jpg

The report includes a series of remarkable visual maps giving never-before-seen insights into how construction knowledge works and where it fails.

The key findings of the report are:

  • The industry is lacking the strategic leadership needed to coordinate the creation and dissemination of knowledge.
  • The emergence of the internet has fundamentally changed the way practitioners access knowledge, but the industry has not kept up.
  • Knowledge that is difficult to understand, buried in long documents or locked behind pay walls will not be used – even if it is critically important.
  • Practitioners need accessible, practical, easy-to-use guidance to help them carry out everyday activities.

In the wake of the Edinburgh schools defects and the fallout from the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the report suggests the industry needs to get organised and stop leaving the dissemination of knowledge to chance – or more mistakes will be made.

Designing Buildings Wiki chairman, David Trench CBE FCIOB said:

“A lot of construction knowledge published at the moment is niche research aimed at making the top performing 1% of the industry better. But it is leaving the other 99% to fend for themselves. It is well established that construction performance in the UK lags behind other industries and other countries, this report gives some clues about why this is and what could be done to turn things around.”

Mark Farmer, CEO of Cast Consultancy and author of ‘Modernise or Die’ said:

“The concept of open data networks and the increasing democratisation of data and knowledge were concepts I explicitly referenced in my recent review of the construction industry ‘Modernise or Die’. The findings of this report reaffirm that current knowledge and innovation is not being captured in a way that is broadly and strategically accessible to enable industry at large to benefit. Knowledge & data ‘silos’ are a feature of our industry and we clearly need to break these open through more collaborative forums and platforms that have greater reach into the mainstream of our industry.

“The assertion that much academic work is not influencing industry’s improvement is one that I identify with and we need a step up in the vetting of what research is commissioned that has sufficient applied value for the wider industry rather than specialist interest groups that does not necessarily make it relevant or scalable.”

Andrew Morris, Senior Partner at Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners said:

“The likely impact of Brexit on the construction industry means it is vitally important to encourage the continued sharing of information and ideas, and ensure there are coordinated programmes of education and research. This timely report offers a number of strategic recommendations that can steer knowledge creation and promote the dissemination of knowledge to help the industry maintain its performance and improve its openness through a period of unprecedented change.”

Julia Evans, BSRIA CEO, said:

“The way information is accessed is changing so the way we disseminate information will need to change. Disseminating information is only part of the story, original authoritative content needs to be produced to ensure the industry continues to develop and deliver the sustainable buildings required now and in the future. There is a need to add value to information including primary research by providing the ‘what does it mean to me?’ angle.

“It is especially interesting to see the report suggests tackling the construction industry as a whole, rather than piecemeal, with strategic leadership to ensure that duplication of effort is avoided and gaps are plugged.”

Nathan Baker, ICE’s Director of Engineering Knowledge, said:

“Digital transformation is affecting every part of construction and it is important that the institutions work with industry and government to ensure that we adapt. Knowledge sharing and collaboration in particular will be vital in overcoming the challenges confronting the industry. This report provides fascinating insights to help steer our collective response to the new risks and opportunities we face, ensuring people at all points in their career have access to the right knowledge.”

Source = Designing Buildings

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