The new BIM2050 Group of “future gazing” young professionals met for the first time last month. We asked three of its members, Alex MacLaren, an architect at Wyatt MacLaren, Alex Lubbock ICIOB, a BIM manager at Carillion, and Henry Fenby-Taylor, a landscape architect at Colour Urban Design, for their thoughts on the future of the industry.
What do you think the construction industry will look like in 2050?
AM Exciting. The production of energy and the re-use of waste are huge issues already and are only going to get more pressing. Our ways of living, travelling and working are undergoing rapid change and I think some current habits will transform unrecognisably. Ultimately it’s our industry that provides the spatial infrastructure for those activities, so we’ll be working on projects we find it hard to imagine right now. And the digital tools that enable us to design, procure and construct are evolving at an even greater rate: hopefully we’ll be harnessing those powers and be operating a lot more sustainably than we currently are.
AL Real progress would reflect an industry that does not exist as “construction”. What I mean by this is that we will have come to terms with the fact that we are providing a product/service to a customer and consumer and our processes and delivery will reflect a service-orientated industry and not a construction one. Construction is a complex transaction, but part of a transaction nonetheless. This may take a seismic shift in the types of organisations that operate to provide this service, but the impact of disruptive technology has created those seismic shifts in other industries so why should we be any different?
HFT In 2050 I think information will be the lifeblood of the project. At the moment we either have no information or too much information. In the future, data will be relevant, up to date and pertinent.
Advances in software will transform the industry. Just as the Art Deco architecture was defined by the tools of the era and cars by the machines that build them, the built environment is currently limited by its software. Once the industry is not limited by software designers will be free to design and engineers will be capable of unimaginable feats of construction.
What do you hope to achieve in the BIM2050 Group?
AM I want to really challenge the education and training sector to equip young people with the skills to lead our future industry. The report of the last BIM2050 Group set out a collaborative, responsive, digital future which excited me as a practitioner. But we don’t teach those things well in our current HE and FE courses.
AL To capitalise on the good work of the previous group and develop a strategic and tactical programme of deliverables that reflects that future. To make sure that the BIM2050 Group is an independent voice for industry and to make progress to harmonise our industry voice so we are all heading in the same direction.
HFT The future of the built environment sector is closer integration. Outlying professions of BIM, such as ecologists and archaeologists, have to be consulted, but often as an afterthought. I’d like to see these professions brought into the fold. Open data from the government, utilities and green assets and to show them that they have a part to play and benefits to reap.
How can the industry attract more digitally aware talent?
AM By demonstrating an openness to change and an excitement for innovation. We work with so many cumbersome processes currently: to a smart, entrepreneurial brain these are itching to be challenged, enabled and transformed by digital tools. Let’s welcome individuals who can see that opportunity.
AL Although 15 years later than other nations, now the school curriculum focuses on coding and engineering with technology rather than Microsoft office skills there will be a generational change where people will come to market more digitally aware. That does not solve the problem of how our industry attracts that talent. We have an image problem that needs to be resolved and we need to re-brand. A good comparison would be the challenge within the defence sector and the exercise they are going through to meet their 2020 challenge. Question is, where is our industry-wide tactical plan to deliver against the objectives set?
HFT Industries in the built environment can have a traditional impression. However, we need to show that it is exciting and ground breaking, as well as offering the talent of tomorrow the sort of benefits they expect from a career. We need to be forward looking and be seen to be forward looking. The high-tech elements of the industry need to be emphasised and shouted from the rooftops.
What do you find annoying/challenging about working in the current industry (as a young person)?
AM First, I’m delighted to still be considered a young person! I’m frustrated by what I see as the gaps in my own education and that of colleagues; our training didn’t equip us with the skills and knowledge to effectively impact and develop current industry practice.
AL That “time” is a good enough reason not to think about delivering in a different way rather than doing the same old thing.
HFT I accept things as they are…
If you could change one thing in the industry what would it be?
AM The big one for me is to start effectively teaching “collaboration”: I think it will transform waste and disputes in the industry. If we continue to educate almost wholly in specialist professional silos, students pick up a tacit understanding of their industry co-professionals as “other”, and go out to work ready to fight their corner for their discipline. That’s not the open, communicative, collaborative attitude that we need to foster to innovate and succeed in the global marketplace.
AL Governmental Procurement Strategy. Quite a big topic but focusing in on procuring for whole-life assets. There is little incentive to think longer than a political term and this is key building block to making a strategic change to smart cities and delivering on the Construction 2025 targets and beyond.
HFT If I could click my fingers and change the industry I would snap my fingers and in an instant all our software would be able to share geometry and information automatically and without error.